- Gregg Berhalter's first camp as U.S. men's national team coach will begin in a month, and his call-ups and preferences could be quite telling.
Berhalter's first camp will begin on Jan. 7 in Chula Vista, Calif., when he gathers a large group of U.S. players together for a few weeks of training that will culminate with matches against Panama and Costa Rica on Jan. 27 and Feb. 2, respectively.
The caveat for the camp is that it's going to be comprised of almost entirely domestic-based players. The January camp always takes that form, save for the occasional exception or Scandinavia-based player who is out of season or on break. The camp typically involves around 30 players and ranges from the frequent call-ups to the new and inexperienced faces getting a taste of the national team level for the first time.
For Berhalter, has choices and preferences will be telling. Have we seen the last of some established veterans, like Matt Besler, Michael Bradley and beyond? Which players does Berhalter rate that past coaches perhaps did not? Who in MLS unknowingly made an impression on Berhalter that may have led to a national team call-up?
"We're going to be very meticulous at how we train the tactical periodization," Berhalter said on this week's Planet Fútbol TV episode (watch the full interview here with a free trial) when detailing his approach from the start. "We want to build these guys up, that after two weeks you can see 'O.K., we've made progress with this group.' And then it's about executing January camp and getting all the details right."
Here's a look at what Berhalter's squad could look like given the available players, the season that just unfolded and the continued desire to get younger and turn the page forward:
Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Guzan and Hamid are the leaders of the pack here, with Guzan coming off a run to the MLS Cup final and Hamid re-establishing himself at D.C. United after his return from a stint in Denmark. Gonzalez, 23, had a disappointing year at FC Dallas considering the expectations, but his upside is still quite high, while the 24-year-old Turner has earned the lofty praise of his club manager and former Berhalter international teammate Brad Friedel. There's usually a wild card goalkeeper in the January bunch, and Turner (or LAFC's Tyler Miller) would fit that bill.
Zack Steffen would've been a clear addition and No. 1 option, but with his pending move to Man City reportedly in the works for January, that removes him from consideration.
Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Tim Parker (New York Red Bulls), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers)
Berhalter likes his fullbacks to get forward and distribute–at least he did in Columbus–and in Cannon, Lennon, Lima, Garza and Villafaña, he has depth on each side that can do just that.
Elsewhere, the Red Bulls duo of Long and Parker lead a very green crop of center backs, with another pair of teammates, Philadelphia's McKenzie and Trusty, behind them. There's not a lot of experience in the back, meaning past call-ups like Besler, Walker Zimmerman or Matt Hedges could find themselves in camp as well.
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Russell Canouse (D.C. United), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Romain Gall (Malmo), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
There are a couple of obvious links here. First is Trapp, a captain under Berhalter in Columbus and a player with whom the manager is extremely familiar. Regardless of how he's fared in previous caps, you'd expect him to get a good run with Berhalter at the helm. The second is Gall, who was previously cut by Berhalter, but with his Swedish side out of season until April and considering his progress over the last couple of years, perhaps there's an opportunity to rekindle their working partnership.
Otherwise it's a slew of familiar faces, with the exception of Durkin, who showed quite well with D.C. United this season (though a potential winter move to Europe would remove him from consideration and perhaps help the chances of someone like the Red Bulls' Sean Davis). Durkin's teammate Canouse, likely deserved more of a look this fall after his strong campaign and should be included here. Bradley, meanwhile, showed that he'd answer the call despite an uncertain role when he made his return in October. Berhalter, a U.S. vet himself, will value the experience of having worn the shirt in pressure-packed circumstances before, and you'd expect 31-year-old Bradley to be in frame for him, at least in the beginning of his tenure.
In the playmaking role, the options are light (not a rarity for a U.S. camp without Christian Pulisic), but Lletget and Rowe have the skills to step into it for this camp if called upon.
Potential additions to the list could be young, Denmark-based Jonathan Amon and Emmanuel Sabbi, whose clubs will be in the midst of their winter breaks. Amon, who featured for the U.S. in October, accepted a U.S. U-20 call last January, and if Nordsjaelland agrees to release the 19-year-old winger, he could be part of the mix. The 20-year-old Sabbi, meanwhile, has five goals in 15 games for Hobro and is another enticing option on the wing.
Like with Steffen, Tyler Adams would have been a clear invitee if not for his move to RB Leipzig.
Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Christian Ramirez (LAFC), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
Baird, 22, is the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year after scoring eight goals and adding five assists and is the quintessential January call-up: a young U.S. player coming off an impressive MLS season. The same goes for the 21-year-old Ebobisse, who helped the Timbers reach MLS Cup and became a fixture in Giovanni Savarese's starting XI late in the season.
Zardes, the highest-scoring American in MLS this season with 19 goals, flourished under Berhalter in Columbus and will absolutely get another chance on the U.S. level despite uneven play in the past. Dwyer never really found his international footing after making a splash before and during the 2017 Gold Cup, but perhaps Berhalter can unlock his goal-scoring talent and make the most of a player whose movement and finishing ability could be useful. Ramirez, meanwhile, came to life under Bob Bradley after his trade to LAFC and should have a place here. All three will be in their early 30s when Qatar 2022 hits and have smaller long-term upside, but they can be contributors in the more immediate future at the very least.
Jozy Altidore's recovery from an ankle injury will determine whether he joins this group. When healthy, the 29-year-old is still one of the top options in the shallow U.S. forward pool, but he underwent surgery at the end of October. He hasn't featured for the U.S. since the fateful loss to Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017.
A wild card to watch out for would be Seattle's Jordan Morris, who underwent surgery for a torn ACL in March and is working his way back into the fold. Even if he's not ready to go full speed, the 24-year-old could benefit from getting re-acclimated in a U.S. camp setting.