- The U.S. men's national team's traditional January camp will take place despite all the turmoil and change in the offing at U.S. Soccer, and it's an opportunity for a bevy of new, young faces to get a look on the senior national team level.
These are not easy times for U.S. men's national team, whose players watched last week as the 32 nations that did qualify for the World Cup learned their respective group fates for this coming summer in Russia.
The USA's summer, by contrast, is going to be spent as both a tune-up opponent and as a spectator. France announced Thursday that it would be hosting the U.S. men in Lyon on June 9, and U.S. Soccer confirmed that while the contract is not yet signed, the agreement is being finalized and an official announcement from the U.S. end is forthcoming.
International fixture dates will still have to be filled, and the U.S., despite the change in the offing at USSF headquarters, will continue to oblige as it picks up the pieces of qualifying failure and looks toward the future. That quest began in Portugal last month, where a young, largely untested side battled a Cristiano Ronaldo-less European championship side to a 1-1 draw, and it will take its next step in January with the annual camp in California.
U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that interim coach Dave Sarachan and his staff will stay on to oversee the camp, which makes sense from a logistical and financial standpoint, but still feels a bit odd. Sarachan, after all, was Bruce Arena's assistant for years for both club and country, and with ties to that staff still in the mix, the process of fully moving on really can't begin to take place.
That said, the camp will go on and begin on Jan. 10, and roughly 30 players will be called in, according to U.S. Soccer. It will conclude on Jan. 28 with a friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina at StubHub Center, though, as with friendlies on non-FIFA dates, it's anybody's guess as to who will be made available for the Dragons, who also failed in their quest to reach Russia 2018. Don't count on the likes of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic making the trip.
So who might Sarachan turn to for this camp? It's traditionally made up of a majority of MLS players, given the time of year on the club calendar, and with the USA turning the page on a number of veterans and seeking a squad to build toward Qatar 2022, the older faces should be few and far between and the new ones–i.e., rising talents in their upper teens to low 20s–should be more prevalent. Would Clint Dempsey, who remains tied with Landon Donovan for the all-time USMNT scoring record, want to take part in such a forum and attempt to break the record in such a lousy circumstance? What about fellow MLS Cup finalists Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore? At 30 and 28, respectively, surely they have more to give to the national team, but after a long and trying year, and with Altidore playing on a bum ankle in the title game, perhaps a break is best.
So with all of that in mind, here's a group of 30 players you could expect to be in the mix for next month's camp:
Alex Bono (Toronto FC), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
Guzan is the lone veteran holdover, though at 33, it's hard to see him fending off one of his younger counterparts for a lead role in the coming years. It still helps to have a tested, experienced player in the mix, though, and Guzan fits the bill and can lend a hand to the up-and-comers. Bono, 23, has backstopped Toronto FC to MLS Cup and took part in January camp in 2015. Gonzalez completed his one-time FIFA switch from Mexico, and it's time for the USA to see what it has in the 22-year-old. Steffen, 23, was the breakout star of the MLS playoffs, and he's more than earned his chance on the next level.
Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), James Sands (NYCFC), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
There's a blend of semi-veterans and complete newbies here, albeit very heavy on the central defenders. The USA U-20 and U-17 national teams have featured some promising individuals, and RSL's duo of Acosta and Glad and NYCFC's Sands are among them. This is a no-risk look at seeing where they stand and if they're ready to make the leap.
If Birnbaum is cleared following the concussion that ended his season, he'd be a likely starter in the middle, while the FCD duo of Hedges and Zimmerman, despite subpar seasons during a weird year for the club, could challenge. Garza, whose season was cut short by a hamstring injury, should be bolstered by a fresh bill of health and his new Atlanta United contract and would be the top choice on the left, while Rosenberry could start on the right. This is admittedly light on fullbacks, but then again, isn't that a proper indictment of the U.S. player pool in recent years?
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Christopher Goslin (Atlanta United), Kekuta Manneh (Columbus Crew), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
If a changing of the guard is on the way, then the midfield backbone had better be a priority, and in Acosta, Adams, Arriola and Roldan, Sarachan has four players aged 22 or younger vying to be part of that new nucleus.
Rowe, 26, showed well at the Gold Cup and brings the playmaking quality so sorely lacking in the U.S. pool, while Trapp, who turned 25 next month, offers another sound option in defensive midfield. Nagbe, who most pegged for a more influential role in helping the U.S. during its qualifying campaign, still carries value at 27 and has the individual talent to succeed on the international level. Delgado, 22, gets overlooked at Toronto FC given the talent around him, but he has difference-making ability.
Manneh, meanwhile, earned his U.S. citizenship this past year and was a sparkplug for the Crew. He's on trial with Union Berlin in Germany, and should he make that move, a place in this camp would be unlikely. Gyasi Zardes, a player very familiar to Sarachan from their time together with the LA Galaxy, would be a candidate here, too.
As for U-17 World Cup standouts Durkin and Goslin, it's a chance to go a couple of levels up to continue their progression.
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Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United), CJ Sapong (Philadelphia Union), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen as of February)
Sapong starred vs. Portugal and was the highest-scoring American in MLS this past season with 16 goals. He's earned another look, though at 28, he'll be hard pressed to improve over the next five years.
Sargent is headed for Germany when he turns 18 in February, but the breakout youth star could use the camp to get in shape for his pro move while further integrating himself in the national side. Carleton, one of Sargent's U-17 national team teammates, enjoyed a strong World Cup showing and could be given a taste of the senior life, too.
Ramirez has been overlooked by the national team for some time, and his 14-goal campaign in Minnesota's expansion season did little to harm his reputation. Next month should be his chance to prove he belongs.
In Agudelo, Morris and Dwyer, Sarachan has three more well-known commodities to which he can turn.