Last month's fixture window provided a tease, but the final set of international matches for 2018 should finally give a glimpse into the real potential of the U.S. men's national team and its immediate future.
Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, who all had to withdraw from October matches vs. Colombia and Peru because of injuries, will suit up Nov. 15 against England in London and Nov. 20 against Italy in Genk, Belgium, after being included on Dave Sarachan's roster for the European friendlies on Monday.
Pulisic has played only 89 minutes for the national team in the last 13 months, so his inclusion, amid a strong run of form with Borussia Dortmund, will provide a nice jolt for a national team that continues to turn the page and look forward.
It's all coming full circle for Sarachan, who began his caretaker role as national team coach with last November's friendly in Portugal, the first match after the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He'll presumably finish his tenure with the return trip to Europe, as it is widely expected that he will not be given the full-time role by USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart. That role was supposedly going to be filled–or at the very least have a chief candidate for it identified–by Nov. 1, but that loose deadline has come and gone, with perceived frontrunner Gregg Berhalter still alive in the MLS playoffs as coach of the Columbus Crew.
Those playoffs have thrown a wrench into Sarachan's roster selection, too, with eight clubs still alive and featuring potential U.S. call-ups. That number of clubs will be reduced to four by next Sunday night, and with some MLS-based players arriving later in camp, Sarachan has expanded the roster to 28 players to ensure full training sessions while also giving opportunities to some newer faces.
Among the intriguing newcomers are a pair of midfielders in Fulham's 20-year-old Luca de la Torre, who has one cap, and Malmo's 23-year-old Romain Gall, for which this will be his first senior national team camp. Gall has impressed in Sweden in 2018, scoring 14 goals in 30 matches for Sundsvall and Malmo. Veteran and captain Michael Bradley, who had returned last month after a yearlong national-team hiatus, has not been included for this trip.
"With the availability of some players that we didn’t get to see in the last fixture window due to injury, the thinking is this roster gives us depth with young players that still need the experience of big games, especially games abroad," Sarachan said in a statement. "With Michael Bradley, there are a couple reasons. The first is that after having earned 142 caps, his need for these games is far less important than it would be for players with less experience. Secondly, Michael’s schedule the past two years with Toronto FC has been virtually non-stop and he has largely played without a break. At this stage, it made sense to give him some extra time off and also allow these games to be a platform for players that lack that kind of experience."
Here's a closer look at Sarachan's selections and the squad that will put a wrap on a year of transition:
Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
Steffen and Guzan appear to be the top two on Sarachan's depth chart, in that order, but it remains baffling that Bill Hamid isn't called into camp as one of the three options, especially with D.C. United out of the MLS playoffs. Bringing both Guzan and Steffen, whose teams could both advance, seems unnecessary, though the calls are merited based on their form. Steffen, at 23 and with more clutch playoff showings under his belt, remains the present and future of the No. 1 job.
As for the No. 3, which ultimately is of little consequence in these camps, Horvath has at least started Brugge's last two league games after a spell of inactivity and is getting the nod in Tuesday's Champions League match vs. Monaco, but he needs to show considerably more on a consistent basis to put his name back among the upper echelon.
John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Matt Miazga (Nantes), Shaq Moore (Reus Deportiu), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
This is more or less the same group that appeared last month, with Moore, Villafaña and Zimmerman joining and NYCFC's Ben Sweat being left behind. Villafaña should push the up-and-down Robinson for starter's minutes at left back, with the young Wigan player being beaten for pace by recent South American opposition while also showing the penchant for delivering a good ball while getting into the attack.
On the other side, Moore and Cannon should push Yedlin to start in at least one of the matches. Yedlin's familiarity with England's players from his time in the Premier League, not to mention his overall experience, would figure to give him the leg up in the opening friendly at Wembley.
With Miazga's recent struggles at Nantes and Long's solid showing vs. Peru, you wonder if the starting center back job next to Brooks is up for grabs, though.
Getting the opportunity to play in Wembley would be a nice bonus for Robinson and Carter-Vickers, who were both born in England.
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Luca de la Torre (Fulham), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Romain Gall (Malmo), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Tim Weah (PSG)
At last, Sarachan has his full complement of young midfielders from which to choose. Pulisic, McKennie, Adams and Weah figure to make up the nucleus of the national team for the foreseeable future, and this is the first time they've all been in a camp together. Barring any injuries picked up Tuesday in Champions League vs. Atletico Madrid or Saturday in the Bundesliga vs. Bayern Munich, Pulisic will make his first U.S. appearance since May and only his second since the World Cup qualifying failure. That's nothing new, but it's no less staggering of a fact.
If the four start across in the midfield, that would figure to leave Acosta or Trapp behind them in a No. 6 role, though Trapp, despite multiple apperances donning the captain's armband, has yet to show the consistent quality at the international level to lock down that spot. If given another chance, it's a good opportunity to prove his worth.
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96)
The thinnest part of the U.S. roster remains as such. There's no Andrija Novakovich, who had been present in past camps but never had the chance to make a dent on the field, while Jozy Altidore is dealing with an ankle injury that cut his season with Toronto FC short and prevented him from being reintegrated into the fold. Going down the line, the options are uninspiring and wholly inexperienced for the moment.
That leaves the 18-year-old Sargent, who opened eyes with his play vs. Peru and is looking to make headway with the Werder Bremen first team after shining for its reserves, and Wood, who scored a very nice goal vs. Colombia, to lead the line.
Getting Sargent, Pulisic, Adams, McKennie and Weah on the field together for as much as possible should be a chief priority in these two games. That they haven't had that opportunity in the last year, with untimely injuries a key factor in that, is one of the real disappointments of the transition phase.