Those looking for a few fresh faces to lend some intrigue to next week’s low-key friendly against Paraguay—and perhaps provide a bit of hope for the program overall—will be pleased with the U.S. national team roster unveiled Sunday. The average age is barely over 23, and about half the 23-man squad comprises young, untested internationals playing in Europe.
There’s no Christian Pulisic. U.S. coach Dave Sarachan said it was important for the 19-year-old to remain at Borussia Dortmund during a crucial stretch for the player and club. But Pulisic is an established USA regular at this point. Five months on from the World Cup qualifying disaster, Sarachan remains focused on exploring the breadth of the American player pool. While Pulisic’s absence will disappoint some—he hasn’t been capped since October’s loss in Trinidad—the likes of Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, Shaq Moore and Andrija Novakovich could prove to be just as crucial in the 2020s.
"With the calendar being what it is in 2018, there’s no replacing minutes that you can get with the national team in friendlies,” said Sarachan, who’s been in charge since Bruce Arena resigned in October. “The more times you can offer those opportunities to players that need those minutes, the better. Those players being a part of this roster represents a couple things. First, getting to know them, seeing them first-hand in training and giving them a real taste of being part of the national team from a day-to-day training perspective. Also, we hope there in an opportunity to get them minutes in the match that will help them further down the road.”
That match against Paraguay on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina, will represent the USA’s only action during this FIFA window. The team will train for a week at WakeMed Soccer Park, the home of North Carolina FC, starting Monday.
Here’s a look at Sarachan’s squad, which features seven uncapped players (and another four with just one), and five receiving their first senior call-up:
Alex Bono (Toronto FC), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
Hamid and Steffen shared the minutes in January’s 0-0 tie with Bosnia-Herzegovina and return to the U.S. fold along with Bono, who also was part of Sarachan’s winter camp. While Steffen and Bono are a few weeks into their MLS campaigns, Hamid has yet to see first-team minutes with his new club in Denmark. He has played for Midtjylland’s reserves on a couple of occasions, however.
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Ipswich Town), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Vitesse Arnhem), Shaq Moore (Levante), Erik Palmer-Brown (KV Kortrijk), Antonee Robinson (Bolton Wanderers), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
There’s a relative glut of experience at outside back, where Lichaj, Villafaña and Yedlin will add veteran influence and set the pace for Moore and Robinson, who will be with the senior squad for the first time. Yedlin will be aiming for his 50th cap next week.
Moore, 21, was at FC Dallas briefly before heading to Spain in 2014. The right back bounced around before landing at Levante. He’s played for the La Liga club’s first team eight times this season. Robinson, 20, is an English-born Everton product now on loan at Bolton. He’s eligible to play for the USA thanks to his American father. The left back already appeared for the U18 national team and will head to North Carolina having emerged as a Championship regular this season.
“Antonee has a lot of quality,” Sarachan said. “He’s comfortable on the ball, has good speed, decent size and is seeing regular minutes with Bolton in an environment where he’s learning all the time and there’s some pressure there. He’s an intriguing one that could add to the pool of players in a younger category for the future.”
There’s less experience and depth in the center of the American defense. Carter-Vickers, Miazga and Palmer-Brown have a combined five caps (four are Miazga’s), but Sarachan said he thinks they’re ready to take the next step. John Brooks remains sidelined with a knee injury.
“It’s a huge position up the middle of the field, and watching both Matt and Cameron, each have been logging significant minutes and playing important roles for their clubs,” Sarachan said. “Each made a good impression on me when we had them in our roster against Portugal last November, and I think this is just a continuation of giving these guys more minutes in a game in an important position for us. It’s a great opportunity for them.
“In Erik’s case, he’s had less time playing in a new situation playing on loan,” Sarachan added. “He’s a player I don’t know as well, but someone who has a great pedigree, captaining our U20 national team at the World Cup last summer. I’m looking forward to getting to know him throughout the week as well, knowing that he’s a good young prospect at that position."
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Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Kekuta Manneh (Pachuca) Weston McKennie (Schalke 04), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain)
Regarding Pulisic, Sarachan said, “I’ve had conversations with the sporting director at Dortmund and several with Christian personally about the timing of this friendly and where he is professionally at the moment with his club. He’s now feeling confident in playing an important role for Dortmund at a crucial time in their season, where they’re trying to lock in qualification for the Champions League. They also have a huge match against Bayern Munich on the back end of our match against Paraguay. So when I factored all of those things together, as much as we wanted him here, I felt it best suits the player to continue in the rhythm and form he’s currently in with his club.”
Pulisic started and played 70 minutes in Dortmund’s 1-0 won over Hannover 96 on Sunday, but he’s been in and out of the first 11 in recent weeks.
Turning to who’s in North Carolina, many eyes will be on Weah, the son of former FIFA World Player of the Year and newly-elected Liberian president George Weah. Tim Weah, 18, was born in New York City, grew up in New York and Florida and spent some time with the New York Red Bulls academy before moving to PSG in 2014.
The attacker signed a pro contract with the French power last summer and finally made his first-team debut March 3. Weah whet the appetite of USA fans at October’s U17 World Cup in India, where he scored a hat trick against Paraguay, of all teams, in the round-of-16.
Weah cannot be cap-tied to the USA next week.
“He’s playing for a high-profile club who has seen fit to give him first-team minutes, which is a great sign of his progression,” Sarachan said. “He’s a versatile player that can fit in at a couple different positions, and when you have speed and technical ability combined as a young kid, I think he’s an interesting prospect to offer an opportunity to.”
McKennie was excellent in his senior USA debut last fall and returned two weeks ago from a knee injury (although he then missed Schalke’s win at Wolfsburg on Saturday). He’s one of several promising midfield prospects included on Sarachan’s roster. Trapp was one of the USA’s better players against Bosnia in January, while Adams, Delgado and Roldan have played key roles in their respective clubs’ Concacaf Champions League runs.
Saief, a Florida native who was raised in Israel and switched his international allegiance last June but was injured just before the Gold Cup. He’s an offensive player who’s usually deployed on the left at Anderlecht, for which he’s been starting regularly since January.
“We feel he’s healthy, in good form and has a unique skill set that makes me excited to see him with us again, with the hopes he stays healthy and sees some minutes against Paraguay,” Sarachan said.
Andrija Novakovich (SC Telstar), Rubio Rubin (Club Tijuana), Bobby Wood (Hamburger SV)
Wood is the most experienced of the forwards by far, but he’s had a rough season at relegation-threatened HSV and hasn’t scored since late August. Novakovich lacks Wood’s pedigree, but he’s in form. The 21-year-old Wisconsinite had committed to play for Marquette but then opted to sign with Reading after spending time with the USA U18s. He’s now on loan at Telstar, which sits fourth in the Dutch second division, and he’s tallied 18 goals in 29 league games.
“You always pay attention to players domestically and overseas who are scoring goals, regardless if it’s in the first or second division,” Sarachan said of Novakovich. “Being 6-4, he’s a different type of forward than some of our other players that we have in this camp and in the program. He’s an intriguing one and obviously he’s young, so for me it’s about getting him in and seeing what he’s like now when he’s put amongst the national team players in training.”
Sarachan had hoped to call in Aron Johannsson, who finally returned to regular action for Werder Bremen at the end of January. He came on at the very end of Werder Bremen’s defeat of Augsburg on Saturday, but apparently suffered another knock and will be unavailable to travel.