Christian Pulisic returns to the U.S. national team after nearly eight months away, and he’ll be joined by good friend and Revierderby rival Weston McKennie, teenage attackers Josh Sargent and Timothy Weah, and long-lost World Cup 2014 veteran Julian Green on a youthful squad that’ll face Bolivia on May 28 outside Philadelphia.
That friendly will be the first of three the USA will play before watching the World Cup from the sidelines. Coach Dave Sarachan, who’s now been running the program on an interim basis since the Americans were eliminated last October, said he will make “numerous changes” to his team before heading to Europe for matches against Ireland (June 2) and World Cup-contender France (June 9).
None of the friendlies falls during a FIFA international window, so Sarachan’s access to MLS players will be somewhat limited (most European club campaigns have ended, and the Mexican season ends Sunday). There are only two MLS players on the Bolivia roster. Domestic veterans in frame to help the USA in Dublin and Lyon will skip the first portion of camp in order to reduce the number of league games lost. In addition, there may be players in Europe who were spared transatlantic travel immediately following their seasons.
Meantime, a very young team will begin training in Philadelphia on Monday and then take the field May 28 at Talen Energy Stadium. The average age of this USA roster is below 23. That’s appropriate considering the importance U.S. Soccer should place on the 2020 Olympics (a U-23 competition), which would provide meaningful tournament experience to the prospects expected to lead a return to the world stage. There are nine Olympic-eligible players on the 22-man team announced Sunday, including Pulisic.
“As I’ve talked about throughout this process, the theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program,” Sarachan said of the roster, which includes seven uncapped players. “We’ve had first-time call-ups in every camp since November, and this is another extension of that. We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well. Overall, these types of games provide great chances for players to bank key minutes in international matches.”
Regarding Pulisic’s return, Sarachan said, “The opportunity to have him a part of any group that we assemble is very important—not just for him personally, but for this group going forward. It’s very good to have Christian back in the mix.”
Here’s a closer look at the new USA roster:
Alex Bono (Toronto FC), Bill Hamid (FC Midtjylland), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
Hamid has been a regular during Sarachan’s three games in charge, seeing action in two and backing up Zack Steffen against Paraguay in March. Steffen will remain with the Columbus Crew this week, leaving Hamid as the most experienced goalkeeper in camp.
Hamid, 27, made only three senior appearances for Midtjylland after joining the club from D.C. United in January. The most recent came April 26 in the Danish Cup semifinal, which Hamid and Midtjylland lost, 3-1, to Brøndby.
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United), Erik Palmer-Brown (Manchester City), Antonee Robinson (Everton), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC)
Several of these players have just finished up loans and will hope to use their time with the USA as a springboard to minutes with their parent clubs next season. Among them are Carter-Vickers and Miazga, who could comprise a long-term pairing in the American central defense.
Carter-Vickers, 20, had a good spring at Ipswich Town and just signed a new contract with Tottenham that’ll tie him to the Premier League club until the summer of 2021. Miazga, 22, was a crucial constant (and even an occasional captain) for a Vitesse Arnhem side that finished sixth in the Netherlands and qualified for the 2018-19 Europa League.
Villafaña, who won the Liga MX championship with Santos Laguna on Sunday, and Lichaj provide a more experienced presence on the flanks. Olosunde, 20, will make his senior camp debut not far from his hometown. The Trenton, N.J., and New York Red Bulls product spent time with United’s U-23 reserve squad this season.
“He’s been on our radar as a young defender for a number of years, and obviously the club also saw something in him,” Sarachan said of Olosunde. “He’s a versatile defender that can play on either side. He possesses good size and strength, and now he’s a guy that has a number of minutes under his belt. He was available to be a part of this camp, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring him in.”
Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Julian Green (VfB Stuttgart), Alejandro Guido (Club Tijuana), Weston McKennie (Schalke 04), Keaton Parks (Benfica), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Rubio Rubin (Club Tijuana), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain)
Sarachan has deployed his team in a 4-1-4-1 in each of his three games in charge, so it’s not surprising to see a midfield-heavy roster unveiled. This is where the depth is, and the primary storyline ahead of the Bolivia game will be whether we see Pulisic and McKennie paired for the first time.
McKennie still has played only once for the senior national team, in the November friendly in Portugal. But it was a command performance, and it whet the appetite for a future in which his robust box-to-box presence complements Pulisic’s attacking flair. Corona, who along with Pulisic is the most experienced international in camp (20 caps), would make sense as the third member of a three-man central midfield, bringing a focus on ball movement and tempo.
Weah, 18, returns after making his senior USA debut in March. He’ll be hoping to see more than five minutes of action this time as he comes off his first Ligue 1 start for PSG in Saturday’s season-ending draw at Caen. And Green returns to the fold for the first time since November 2016. The surprise World Cup scorer has had an uneven career since netting that goal against Belgium, going on loan from Bayern Munich to Hamburger SV, signing with VfB Stuttgart then going on loan again to Greuther Fürth. He made an impact there, however, starting regularly and scoring three goals—including one in last weekend’s season finale that kept Fürth in the 2. Bundesliga. Green turns 23 next month.
Andrija Novakovich (Reading), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Sarachan has been using just one forward, and if he continues with that tactical trend he’ll have two untested ones to choose from against Bolivia. Novakovich, 21, spent the 2017-18 season on loan with Telstar in the Dutch second tier and scored an impressive 22 goals in 38 appearances. He made his senior U.S. debut with a second-half spell in the win over Paraguay in March.
Sargent just turned 18 in February and was ineligible to play for Werder Bremen after signing with the German club (thanks to rules regarding foreign nationals transferring as minors). His potential is clear, however, and in 2017 he became only the second American male to play in U-17 and U-20 World Cups in the same year (he scored in both) and he finished up with an invite to Sarachan’s senior camp in November.
“I’ve seen things in Josh where I felt it was a good moment to bring him into the senior team,” Sarachan said. “As a striker, he plays a position that hasn’t been all that deep and shown great promise at the higher youth levels in World Cup play and so on. I feel physically he has the power and strength to play at this level. Now it’s a question of can he adapt to the speed of play and physicality. The way he stepped into the U-20 squad just before the World Cup last year showed how he’s able to handle some bigger challenges, and so we thought this was a prime opportunity to give him an extended look with our senior team.”