It's been a while since the U.S. men's national team was together. It's been even longer since something resembling a first-choice U.S. men's national team has gathered.
With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on–among many considerably more significant things—the international soccer calendar, Gregg Berhalter has had to sit and wait. The last U.S. camp the manager was able to run was the annual January exercise that takes place outside of the FIFA calendar and includes an almost exclusively domestic-based squad. It culminated with a 1–0 win over Costa Rica, with the lone goal—and thus far, the lone goal on the year—being scored on a penalty kick by Ulysses Llanez, then a Wolfsburg youth team product given the clearance to join in a window otherwise prohibitive to European-based talent. That group as a whole hasn't been available since last November.
The U.S.'s plans to return in the October international window with another domestic-based camp were scuppered due to the ongoing complications brought on by the pandemic, but as matches roll on in Europe, there's a significant chance that the U.S. will be back in action, at last, overseas next month.
U.S. Soccer has been working on pulling off a November camp in the U.K. for its European-based players, and, while it's been widely reported that Wales will be one of the opponents in a pair of friendlies, new Barcelona signing Sergiño Dest casually made mention Monday that Australia is the other foe being lined up.
[UPDATE: Australia's federation withdrew from its plans for a November camp in Europe due to the coronavirus. U.S. Soccer is in the process of arranging a second friendly. Wales-USA will be taking place on Nov. 12.]
The opponents, at this point, are rather secondary, though. Regardless of who the U.S. plays against, it'll be useful just to get a team together, period. Next year is slated to make up for lost time, with the Nations League final four, Olympic qualifying (and, if successful for the first time since 2008, the Olympics), the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying packing the calendar with important matches that will stretch the limits of the player pool. Any bit of training or time to build (and rebuild, in some cases) on-field cohesiveness will go miles further than any tactical session over video chat could, and with limited opportunities to iron out wrinkles before the games truly matter, Berhalter will need to make the most of the time he's expecting to have next month—with another international window in which European-based players will be available not scheduled until March.
So who might be getting the call? With an unprecedented number of Americans playing at elite European clubs, and 10 on UEFA Champions League rosters, there's a clear nucleus that is developing abroad, though a combination of available veterans and intriguing new faces make for some interesting selection options.
Here's a look at who may be in frame for the first U.S. camp in 10 months (this all, naturally, hinges on whether the state of the pandemic allows for camp to convene), with a clear theme throughout the squad being youth:
Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
Steffen and Horvath represent two of the top keepers in the U.S. pool, period, but the fact remains that there are slim pickings when it comes to the quantity of top-level U.S. goalkeepers based abroad. Even much of the U.S. youth national team contingent has retreated to MLS, with Brady Scott (Nashville SC, on loan to USL championship's Sacramento Republic) and Jonathan Klinsmann (L.A. Galaxy) leaving their European clubs.
John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Matt Miazga (Anderlecht), Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Wien), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Tim Ream (Fulham), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
After Dest's big move to Barcelona, a U.S. call should follow, though it remains to be seen on which side he'll feature. He's played as both a left- and right-sided fullback for the U.S. and made his debut for Barcelona as a left back in place of the injured Jordi Alba. With Barcelona thin at the fullback spots, it's possible he'll play more on the left in the coming weeks leading into camp despite the right being his stronger side.
Regardless, Berhalter has options. Cannon has stepped into Boavista's lineup and immediately become a fixture on the right, while Robinson has begun working his way into Fulham's lineup on the left after missing out on the first few Premier League games of the season, following his transfer from Wigan. Yedlin has been out of favor and out of action at Newcastle, though a veteran presence in a camp with so many young players—something that Brooks and Ream can also provide—can't be discounted.
Brooks would figure to have a hold on one of the starting center back jobs as long as he's healthy (which has not been a given), but the other seems up for grabs. Richards's emergence as a first-team option for Bayern Munich has thrust him into consideration, while Miazga will have been on loan for just over a month at his new club by the time camp kicks off. Palmer-Brown, meanwhile, has quietly gone about his business on loan in Austria, where he's started all three of his club's matches this season so far.
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Chris Durkin (Sint-Truiden), Julian Green (Greuther Furth), Richie Ledezma (PSV), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Alex Mendez (Ajax), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
U.S. fans have probably been dreaming of a midfield featuring Reyna in the playmaking role with Adams and McKennie stationed behind him, and that could come to fruition, presuming everyone is healthy (Adams missed RB Leipzig's last game with a back injury). This would be the 17-year-old Reyna's first senior national team camp (but if you take his word for it, he's more than ready for this stage), while Adams and McKennie have long been front-runners to man the two tempo-setting, defense-shielding, anchor-type roles in the midfield.
[UPDATE: McKennie tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, which could impact his availability.]
Mendez, meanwhile, cracked Ajax's Champions League squad, and Ledezma is getting first-team consideration for PSV, and both 20-year-old U.S. youth national team fixtures (who, oddly, were born on the same day) appear in line for the next step. Another 20-year-old, Durkin, has become a regular for his club in Belgium's top flight.
Green, 25, has reinvented himself in Germany's second tier, and six years after being the can't-miss Bayern Munich prospect who made the U.S.'s World Cup roster and scored in the last 16 vs. Belgium (which remains the last goal any USMNT player has scored in a World Cup), he should be back in frame to at least have his progress assessed.
Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen), Ulysses Llanez (Heerenveen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), (Heerenveen), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Sebastian Soto (Telstar), Tim Weah (Lille)
This is a young, mostly inexperienced group filled with promise that Berhalter will surely hope becomes fulfilled in short order. Pulisic, depending on Berhalter's tactical approach, would feature as either a midfield winger or as a more forward-stationed one as he is for Chelsea. Beyond that, there are roles up for grabs.
Sargent and Soto, a pair of 20-year-olds, represent the top center forward candidates, with the former scoring once in four appearances in all competitions for Werder Bremen so far and the later a dual-national reported to be courted by Chile. There have been conflicting reports over Soto's future, but he did not file for a FIFA one-time switch, nor did he join La Roja for the opening World Cup qualifiers this month, so if there's ever a time to attempt to solidify his commitment, it would be in the next possible camp. On loan from Norwich City in the Dutch second tier, Soto has scored three goals in his four appearances.
Gioacchini was, according to Yahoo Sports, under consideration for a March call-up for the camp in Europe that was supposed to happen before the pandemic rendered it impossible. The 20-year-old Missouri native has two goals in the second-tier French club's six games this season, and if he's going to get a first look, it would figure to be with more time built in before matches where Berhalter is more likely to turn to known commodities.
That leaves De la Fuente (who has yet to experience a senior national team camp but has worked his way to the fringe of Barcelona's first team), Llanez and Weah to compete for a place on the wings. Boyd also fits in that group, but he's essentially been frozen out at Besiktas due to a rule that limits the number of foreign players a club can register. With either no way out or no pathway to playing time until January, it's worth bringing him into the fold, but it's hard to envision a player with no competitive minutes in more than a month getting considerable match time.