With the full player pool at U.S. men's national team manager Gregg Berhalter's disposal for the first time, the coach elected to bring back some older faces, bring in some of the top stars on the rise and leave out a pair who figure to be fixtures going forward.
Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic will help lead the team in upcoming friendlies vs. Ecuador (March 21 in Orlando) and Chile (March 26 in Houston), while veteran defenders Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream are back and teenagers Josh Sargent and Tim Weah were left off of the 24-man squad, which was revealed on Tuesday.
Berhalter hinted in comments provided by U.S. Soccer that the omissions were in part due to lack of first-team playing time at the club level and also in part due to concurrent youth national team camps (both U-23 and U-20 gatherings are planned) that serve as preparation for competitions for which they're still eligible.
“We had to make decisions for this camp, and we looked at the players in a number of different buckets," said Berhalter, who recently spent time in Europe meeting with U.S. players, including Sargent. "For example, we have some younger guys that aren’t getting the game time that they would have expected and they’re still age-eligible for the Olympics ... We have other players that we have evaluated thoroughly in the January Camp and we’re going to bring back in the future, but not in this camp. That’s another group. Then we have some guys that are returning from injury and we thought now is not the right time to subject them to the intensity of international soccer and the national team.
“Having to select a 23 or 24-man roster for a camp isn’t easy. All it does is reflect a slice of time. I’ve had a lot of conversations with players not included in the camp and the message is ‘Keep working hard. Keep playing. Keep trying to get on the field for your club and good things will happen.’ Overall, it’s not an easy decision and we were focused on how we get a strong group for this camp, knowing we have a short window and we wanted continuity.”
Berhalter's aim is to craft a group that can win the Gold Cup this summer, and the March camp is really his only time with the full player pool prior to pre-Gold Cup camp. An earlier hiring would've helped alleviate that, but these are the cards he's been dealt. As a result, his March roster is a mix of young and old, established and eager players, 14 of whom impressed enough in January camp and subsequent wins over Panama and Costa Rica.
"We wanted to continue to develop our group and continue to evaluate players," Berhalter said. "That was the most important thing in this March camp. As we move towards the Gold Cup, we want to have a large pool of players evaluated.
“Our goal is to keep making progress. Building on the themes of last camp, building on the style of play of last camp, but also now evaluating a new group of players. We made progress in the first camp and it’s now asking if we can take it to another level. When we are done with this camp, it’s important that we have a good idea of our strongest group of players heading into the Gold Cup.”
Here's a closer look at his selections:
Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
There are no real surprises here, with Atlanta United veteran Brad Guzan being left behind again and D.C. United's Bill Hamid not getting the call-up he feels he deserves. Hamid just dueled Johnson to a scoreless draw in MLS and is the only GK with two clean sheets through two matches, but it's not his time just yet. Steffen, fresh off another penalty save for Columbus, enters camp as the No. 1, with Horvath next in the pecking order.
John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Omar Gonzalez (Atlas), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
Gonzalez and Ream return to U.S. camp for the first time since 2017, which is both a testament to their current form but also the dearth of reliable options that have come along since. The young crop of rising defenders has not received the first-team time necessary to supplant the veterans, and there's also the matter of the U-23 and U-20 camps to which they've likely been allocated. That opens up room for the veteran center backs, who will vie for places along with Long and Miazga next to expected starter Brooks. The Wolfsburg man has plenty to show given it's been some time since he's put forth regular, clean performances in a U.S. shirt, but his club form and his stylistic fit under Berhalter make him a top option.
"We have been saying all along that we thought it was important to have a veteran presence in the national team," Berhalter said. "I think it’s really important when you talk about the history, the heritage and culture of what it means to play for the national team. In Omar and Tim’s case, they’re both playing at a high level, they’re both playing every week and we thought this would be a good camp to evaluate their performance."
On the flanks, Lima was one of the biggest winners in January, emphasized by his return, though the starting right back job is still likely Yedlin's to lose. Lovitz, meanwhile, benefits from a left back depth chart that remains barren.
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
The midfield picture has been refined, with Berhalter pairing four January camp standouts with three Bundesliga-based rising stars. Pulisic, Adams and McKennie get their first looks under the new manager, and what remains to be seen is how he positions them and how the likes of Bradley fit in. Lletget was a difference maker in the win over Costa Rica and figures to be a spark off the bench, while Roldan and Trapp should provide depth in central midfield behind their counterparts.
The Chicago Fire's Djordje Mihailovic, one of the standouts in January, did not get the return call this time around but could be part of the U-23 group that is slated to gather instead.
Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Ramirez (LAFC), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
Morris makes his return to the national team after an ACL tear kept him out for the whole 2018 season. He had two goals in his season debut with Seattle, even showing finishing proficiency with his off, left foot.
“On the club stage is when you have small victories, when you see guys returning after long-term injury," Berhalter said. "On the national team, it’s equally as gratifying to be able to call a player up after he has had a good preseason and a great start to this season. We’re excited for Jordan."
He's joined in the attack by a slew of January camp holdovers, with Lewis and Ramirez making their contributions as substitutes, Baird and Zardes earning time as starters and Arriola proving to be one of the stars against Costa Rica.
The exclusion of Bobby Wood is an indicator of how far his form has dropped in a rough season with Hannover (he hasn't scored since Nov. 25), while a recovering Jozy Altidore hasn't returned to action yet for Toronto FC but remains in frame going forward.