Let’s begin here: If the United States fails to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in men’s soccer, it should probably abandon the U-23 program.
That’s pretty haughty considering the Yanks have failed to qualify in three of the last four tournaments including the 2012 Games in the United Kingdom and 2016 edition in Brazil, but consider the talent on show for this March’s friendlies against Egypt and the Netherlands in Spain.
There are Bundesliga upstarts Josh Sargent and Haji Wright, not to mention Celtic’s Tim Weah. Chicago Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is in the fold, as are defenders Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson.
And, oh yeah, they’ll get to add three Over-23 players while also potentially including several eligible players currently with the U-20s, full USMNT, or not called into March camp (Jonathan Lewis, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jonathan Amon, Luca de Torre). Even if the opposite happens and guys make the full USMNT or get injured, there’s depth here and plenty of it.
There have always been names when the Yanks have failed in qualifying, but hardly these degrees of depth and experience. In 2016 qualifying, Matt Miazga, Wil Trapp, and Emerson Hyndman were on the squad which couldn’t get the job done. 2012 saw Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd, and Bill Hamid.
But this group could be special, favored not just to qualify but to rival others for a spot on the podium. The hiring of longtime MLS boss Jason Kreis to oversee the group is another good decision, and he’ll have this crop of players (and more) from which to select his lineups.
Goalkeepers: Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose)
Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Jack Maher (Indiana University), Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United), Donovan Pines (DC United), Lucas Pos (Lausanne), Antonee Robinson (Wigan), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
Midfielders: Derrick Jones (Philadelphia), Cameron Lindley (Orlando City), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Keaton Parks (NYCFC), Eryk Williamson (Portland), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)
Forward: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Josh Perez (LAFC), Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Tim Weah (Celtic), Haji Wright (Schalke).
This is the first proper look at the U.S. men’s national team we have been waiting for under new head coach Gregg Berhalter.
Christian Pulisic has been named in the latest USMNT roster, as Berhalter’s first chance to call up players from his European contingent saw him jump at the chance to include the likes of Pulisic, John Brooks, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
Tim Weah, Brad Guzan, Josh Sargent and Bobby Wood are a few of the surprise omissions among this squad, as 15 players from MLS feature and veteran defensive duo Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez return.
Berhalter explained the thinking behind his selections, which is the last squad he will name before the 2019 Gold Cup this summer.
“Our goal is to keep making progress. Building on the themes of last camp, building on the style of play of last camp, but also now evaluating a new group of players,” Berhalter said. “We made progress in the first camp and it’s now asking if we can take it to another level. When we are done with this camp, it’s important that we have a good idea of our strongest group of players heading into the Gold Cup.”
After a strong January camp which saw the U.S. beat Panama 3-0 and Costa Rica 2-0, Berhalter’s playing style came through strongly with the group of MLS players he worked with. In these March friendlies he will aiming to kick that up a few notches and hope that the European-based players can add some extra sparkle to his possession-based style.
As for the friendlies, the first is against Ecuador in Orlando, Florida on Mar. 21, and the U.S. then host Chile in Houston, Texas on Mar. 26.
Below is the full 24-man squad.
USMNT roster for friendlies v. Ecuador, Chile
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge, BEL; 3/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 6/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 8/0)
DEFENDERS (8): John Brooks (Wolfsburg, GER; 36/3), Omar Gonzalez (Atlas, MEX; 48/3), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 2/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 4/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact; 2/0), Matt Miazga (Reading, ENG; 11/1), Tim Ream (Fulham, ENG; 26/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United, ENG; 57/0)
FORWARDS (6): Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 19/3), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 2/0), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; 2/0), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 25/5), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 2/1), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 42/6)
The United States was drawn to play Ukraine, Nigeria and Qatar in the Under-20 World Cup in Poland.
The U.S. opens Group D play against Ukraine on May 24, then faces Nigeria three days later and Qatar on May 30, according to Sunday’s draw. The first two matches are in Bielsko-Biala and the third in Tychy.
Sixteen teams advance to the second round – the top two in each group and the best four third-place teams. The final is in Lodz on June 15.
The U.S reached the quarterfinals two years ago with a roster that included Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Auston Trusty and Erik Palmer-Brown. Sargent scored four goals and earned the Silver Boot for the Americans, who were eliminated by eventual runner-up Venezuela.
Defending champion England failed to qualify.
The rest of the draw:
Group A – Colombia, Poland, Senegal, Tahiti
Group B – Ecuador, Japan, Italy, Mexico
Group C – Honduras, New Zealand, Norway, Uruguay
Group E – France, Mali, Panama, Saudi Arabia
Group F – Argentina, Portugal, South Africa South Korea
Four burning questions regarding Berhalter’s plans for USMNT
But what does he really think about the quality of the stars in MLS, and overseas? And does his work with the Crew tip his hand at all in terms of how he’ll line up the Yanks.
Personnel will dictate what he sticks with, but what formation gets first dibs?
Berhalter operated in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 for most of this season, switching to the latter for the last 10 starting lineups of the regular season and three MLS Cup Playoff games.
Part of that 4-3-3 was very much akin to a 4-2-3-1, with Federico Higuain operating atop a midfield pyramid.
It’s worth noting that no teams beat Berhalter’s Crew more often than Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls (7). It’s not a stretch to say he’ll have respected impressions of Tyler Adams, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Aaron Long, and their peers (Altidore, for example, has five goals and an assist in seven games against Berhalter).
Who has caught his eye abroad, aside from Pulisic, McKennie, etc? And is this an MLS litmus test?
When you consider the men from outside MLS set to star for the USMNT in future seasons, there’s little doubt about the new guard of Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and John Brooks, but who else might Berhalter have admired in studying those who followed his career path and spent most of the careers abroad?
A deeper look, though, raises the question of how many MLS players will get continued, deep assessments given how many USMNT players or prospects are in top European environments. For example, you could call up a 23-man roster based entirely on the continent and feel confident you’ve made few errors (assuming a transfer Steffen happens).
This isn’t a shot at MLS, who developed many of these players (I’ll denote that with a *). It’s rationality, and a compliment.
Goalkeepers (3): Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Zack Steffen* (Columbus->Man City – reportedly), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin)
Midfielders (8): Geoff Cameron* (QPR), Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie* (Schalke), Tyler Adams* (RB Leipzig), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Romain Gall* (Malmo)
Forwards (4): Bobby Wood (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (PSG), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Haji Wright (Schalke)
How big of a day is this for Wil Trapp?
The Columbus Crew defensive midfielder has already captained the USMNT eight times under Dave Sarachan. That’s 8-of-11 caps for a 25-year-old, and it’s been whispered that his continued inclusion may’ve been a sign Berhalter was coming for some time.
But is that simply connecting too many dots? Yes, Trapp was a mainstay for Berhalter with the Crew, but he’s often struggled to star when given the chance in a U.S. shirt at a time when few other players had the opportunity.
Trapp was the 12th-rated American defensive midfielder with more than 10 appearances in MLS this season, according to WhoScored. Taking away anyone not rated strictly as a holding or DCM, Trapp is behind six players: Russell Canouse, Sean Davis, Cristian Roldan, Tyler Adams, Jeff Larentowicz, and Benny Feilhaber. The first four are the same age or younger than Trapp, and 18-year-old Chris Durkin wasn’t far behind the Crew man.
Will any other Crew players get a chance to shine?
Gyasi Zardes, 27, scored 20 goals while leading the Crew in minutes this season, but Berhalter has had success with any number of strikers in his system. Ola Kamara and Kei Kamara each had prolific seasons for Columbus.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, 23, is already entrenched in the USMNT plans, whether he can outplay Ethan Horvath or not.
Aside from Trapp and the two above, there are not many other Americans under 30 who’ve seen many minutes under Berhalter since Ethan Finlay left town in 2017.
It’s also probably bad news for Kekuta Manneh, who washed out of Columbus and has yet to score for St. Gallen in Switzerland.
What will the roster look like? Sarachan noted a 35-player pool and said there shouldn’t be too many surprises as the Yanks step up in competition from recent rivals Ireland, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The U.S. did draw France 1-1 in its last outing.
“I would say the roster, if you’ve followed our team over the last six friendlies, will be composed pretty similarly to what we’ve done in the past,” Sarachan said.
And we probably won’t see Michael Bradley and several other veterans for a bit longer as Sarachan continues to give youth a chance.
We’ll bold our predictions.
Probable (2): Bill Hamid and Zack Steffen were both called in to face France, and are likely to return to the fold.
Possible: Toronto FC’s Alex Bono, FC Dallas’ Jesse Gonzalez, or Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath may join them, or a new face like LAFC’s Tyler Miller.
Possible: Eric Lichaj (Hull City) seems likely to remain in the mix, and Everton’s Antonee Robinson is getting regular minutes on loan at Wigan. Nick Lima has impressed with San Jose, while Tim Parker of RBNY is probably a numbers game victim at CB. Matthew Olosunde and Erik Palmer-Brown could get more looks despite getting little playing time with their clubs.
Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls could be a surprise addition to the squad, and ghost of USMNT’s past Edgar Castillo, 31, has impressed with Colorado. Graham Zusi is up in years, yes, but continues to be a force for Sporting KC.
Probable: Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Paul Arriola (DC United).
Possible: Here’s where things get crazy. Julian Green (Greuther Furth) is second in the 2.Bundesliga in shots per game and scored the lone goal against France. Kellyn Acosta looks reborn in Colorado. Joe Corona or Alejandro Bedoya would bring needed international camp experience to the group, while Lynden Gooch is tearing it up for Sunderland… in League One. Cristian Roldan, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Kenny Saief… what’s the goal? Will tactical ideas be the tiebreaker?
Probable: Bobby Wood (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (PSG), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew).
Possible: Jozy Altidore could be called into the squad given the veteran needs against Brazil and Mexico, while Christian Ramirez, Andriya Novakovich, and Josh Sargent could be outside shots.