U.S. U-20 standouts Sergino Dest and Paxton Pomykal and U.S. veterans Brad Guzan and Alfredo Morales join the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and others as the USMNT tunes up for the first Concacaf Nations League with two tough friendlies.

By Brian Straus
August 28, 2019

Gregg Berhalter’s first U.S. men's national team roster since the Concacaf Gold Cup, and his last before the start of the Concacaf Nations League, is a mix of 15 men who won silver at the continental championship in July and 11 who missed out, like defender John Brooks and forward Josh Sargent.

Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie return. Veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan is finally back in the U.S. fold as well as well. But Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Paul Arriola are among those left out, while Tyler Adams and DeAndre Yedlin, among others, are injured.

"The starting point is we’re able to maintain a core group of main players from the Gold Cup and continue progressing with that group, and then the next thing is bringing some new players into the fold that we feel have the potential to make an impact with this team,” Berhalter said.

The squad will convene on Sunday and Monday in New Jersey and train there ahead of the Sept. 6 friendly against Mexico—a rematch of the Gold Cup final won, 1-0, by El Tri—at MetLife Stadium. The USA will then head to St. Louis for Sept. 10 game against Uruguay (likely missing the injured Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani) at Busch Stadium. The two nations haven’t met since 2002.

Nations League play kicks off in October against Canada and Cuba.

“These are two good games,” Berhalter said. “Playing against Mexico is always a special game and doing it in New York is going to be a fantastic atmosphere. It’s something we’re looking forward to. For us, it’s an easy message because all we’re looking for is progress from the last game.”

He continued, “When you talk about Uruguay, it is a team with huge experience, great veteran players, a challenging, physical and veteran group. For us, it’s going to be about how are we going to compete against this team? What’s the mindset of the players? Can we perform at a high level to give Uruguay problems? That’s what we’re looking for and asking of the players.”

Here’s a look at Berhalter’s squad:

GOALKEEPERS

Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf)

Fresh off his U.S. Open Cup triumph on Tuesday evening, Guzan, 34, is back with the USA for the first time since Berhalter took over. Despite his absence, Guzan has always been the most likely challenger to Steffen for the starting role. Now he’ll get a look.

“Brad is a guy that I have a ton of respect for—respect for his career but more importantly, respect for what type of guy he is,” Berhalter said. “He’s a guy that we tried to get involved in January camp and Atlanta had some Champions League games that took precedent there, but we’re excited to bring him back. I’ve said all along that it’s important for us to maintain the heritage of the U.S. men’s national team by having experienced players that have been through World Cup qualifying or World Cups.”

Steffen started nine of the 12 U.S. games this year and has been in goal for Düsseldorf’s first three matches this season.

DEFENDERS

John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Sergiño Dest (Ajax), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Tim Ream (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC)

Brooks is the headliner here. The talented and imposing–but frequently fragile–center back missed the Gold Cup and has started just once for Berhalter. But he’s played start to finish in each of Wolfsburg’s three games this season and may be in frame to appear alongside Long—among the most significant revelations of the Gold Cup—against Mexico and/or Uruguay. The pair featured in a 1-0 win over Ecuador in March.

Also in the center back pool is Atlanta’s Miles Robinson, 22, who’s been excellent for the MLS (and now Open Cup) champs.

“Miles is a guy who we’ve been really impressed with watching league play,” Berhalter said. “He’s been dynamic in the back, is a real physical presence and has been working on breaking lines with his passing. When you evaluate it and look where Atlanta has gone as a team, he’s a big part of why Atlanta has turned things around.”

Missing through injury are Yedlin, center back Matt Miazga (a Gold Cup final starter) and, most critically, Adams, whose versatility and impact in both midfield and defense (as a hybrid right back) was projected to be a vital building block in Berhalter’s tactical foundation. Adams’s lingering groin injury has forced him to miss the start of the season at RB Leipzig.

The USA remains thin at outside back, although there’s an intriguing new face on the right in Dest, an 18-year-old, Dutch-born veteran of the U.S. U-20 side who’s now getting first-team minutes at powerhouse Ajax.

MIDFIELDERS

Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke 04), Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)

Bradley’s absence (Toronto FC has games on Sept. 7 and 11) may offer Berhalter the chance to get a look at one future version of the American midfield, as McKennie returns after a decent Gold Cup and rising FCD star Pomykal makes his senior U.S. debut. Pomykal, 19, has excellent technique, vision and range and appears ready for the next step.

Speaking of Pomykal and Dest, Berhalter said, “It’s nice to bring players through our system, see how they’ve done in major [youth] competition and then get a good look with the full national team. I think they’re both ready. They’ve both been getting first team minutes and are ready for this next challenge.”

Lletget is a shifty attacking midfielder Berhalter wanted for the Gold Cup, but he was hurt. Trapp is an option at the base of the manager’s midfield triangle, and Roldan is a decent two-way player who appears to have Berhalter’s trust.

Morales is an interesting choice. The Berlin-born son of a Peruvian-American father is at Düsseldorf with Steffen and hasn’t played for the USA in more than three years. Now 29, the defensive midfielder scored against Bayer Leverkusen last weekend.

“He’s done such a good job with Fortuna Düsseldorf, not only through the first two Bundesliga games, but we’ve seen reports from preseason where he’s been an outstanding player,” Berhalter said of Morales. “It’s nice to give a guy a reward like that—an opportunity again because of how he’s performing at his club.”

FORWARDS

Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)

It’s tough to call Sargent’s omission from the Gold Cup team controversial. He’s 19, has scant senior international experience and hadn’t been playing at Werder Bremen. But it was frustrating, in part because his potential is so high and in part because his invitation to the pre-Gold Cup camp precluded him from appearing at the U-20 World Cup. He was an option for both tournaments and played in neither.

But Sargent has appeared in two of Werder’s first three games this season, and now he’ll be back in camp with Berhalter. Even more, the St. Louis native will have the opportunity to be capped in front of the hometown fans next month.

Pulisic, who has enjoyed a promising start to his Chelsea tenure, is listed as a forward on the roster even though he played among the midfield three at the Gold Cup, often switching with the left forward (usually Arriola) when on the attack.

“We’re open to where we’re using him. We’ve used him centrally and on the wing before. All those things keep adding up to the fact that we want him affecting the game in a positive way,” Berhalter said.

Arriola will be absent from the friendlies for family reasons, according to The Washington Post. Boyd and Morris are obvious options in the wider attacking roles. In Altidore’s absence (see: Toronto FC's schedule), Zardes is the incumbent striker. Zardes’s 11 MLS goals this season are tied for the most by an American player (with Chris Wondolowski) and his four with the USA leave him as co-leader with Pulisic.

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