Gregg Berhalter’s pursuit of young, intriguing dual-nationals, which was one of the storylines of November’s U.S. national team camp in Europe, will extend into December as the manager takes advantage of the dwindling number of clubs with MLS Cup prospects to gather prospective players for a few days in South Florida.
This ad hoc, non-FIFA window camp will comprise training this week and then a Dec. 9 friendly against El Salvador at the new Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The USA hasn’t played La Selecta since the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinals in Philadelphia, where the Americans advanced with a 2-0 victory.
Berhalter unveiled 22 players on Monday and may call in more upon the conclusion of this week’s MLS Cup playoff games in Seattle and Kansas City. Among those revealed Monday, 21 come from eliminated MLS teams while goalkeeper CJ Dos Santos, a 20-year-old product of the Philadelphia Union’s academy, will arrive from Portuguese power Benfica.
This U.S. team is young, averaging 22 years, 201 days of age. The most seasoned internationals, D.C. United’s Paul Arriola (33 caps) and Colorado’s Kelly Acosta (23), are familiar names but still only 25 years old. Meanwhile, the potential starting center backs, former MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long and current MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, are 28 and 27, respectively.
There’s some sense in calling in players with that kind of pedigree, whether or not they feature against El Salvador. Berhalter needs to deepen the pool. Next year is going to be complicated, and that’s even if the coronavirus cooperates. The USA has a pair of friendlies in March, the Concacaf Nations League finals in June, a Gold Cup in July and then the start of World Cup qualifying in September. Berhalter said this month that he doesn’t plan on bringing the same group to the Nations League and Gold Cup, meaning he may wind up building almost two distinct teams to compete in 2021. He’ll need some experience on both.
“Since returning to the field, the focus has been on continuing to build on our foundation and preparing the team for important competitions in 2021,” Berhalter said Monday. “We have utilized these opportunities to work with our core group while evaluating young talent in an effort to strengthen our overall player pool.”
The competitive glue might come from players like Arriola or Zimmerman, but the intrigue surrounding this U.S. team still is all about the young talent. And there are several noteworthy names on Berhalter’s list who haven’t finalized their senior national team choice. Here’s a look at those, along with the rest of the roster announced Monday.
CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake)
Both Dos Santos and Ochoa have represented the USA as U-20s, although Ochoa, 19, remains eligible to play for Mexico. He appeared just once this season for RSL. Hamid, 30, has played seven times for the senior U.S. squad and is back with the team after training under Berhalter at this year’s January camp.
Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Kyle Duncan (New York Red Bulls), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
McKenzie, who had a fantastic season in Philadelphia, will compete with Long and Zimmerman for time at center back. Vines is the only outside back with any senior international experience. He started the February friendly against Costa Rica.
Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Frankie Amaya (FC Cincinnati), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)
The Supporters’ Shield-winning Union’s upset loss to the New England Revolution left Aaronson available before his move to Red Bull Salzburg. Lletget is listed as a midfielder after playing up front for Berhalter in the recent 0-0 draw with Wales, where he was deployed as a withdrawn forward.
The son of Mexican parents, Amaya is a dual-national who played for the U.S. U-20s in 2018-19. The Southern California native left UCLA and signed with FCC in 2019. An attacking midfielder, he’s started 36 league games over the past two seasons.
[UPDATE: Amaya tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival at camp, which came after testing negative prior to traveling to Florida. He was not in contact with any other players or staff, according to U.S. Soccer, and has been replaced by Orlando City's Andres Perea. The 20-year-old Tampa, Fla.-born Perea is a USA-Colombia dual-national who previously represented Colombia at the U-20 World Cup and would require a FIFA one-time switch to play in games for the U.S.]
Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Daryl Dike (Orlando City), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Chris Mueller (Orlando City)
Akinola, Alvarez and Dike are all dual-nationals. Alvarez’s inclusion is the most eye-opening: The 18-year-old L.A. native tallied seven goals in 13 matches for Mexico’s U-17s and was a starter on the team that finished second at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup. He also played for the U.S. at the U-15 level. Alvarez had one goal and two assists in 16 Galaxy appearances this season. He's eligible to train with the USA but can't play until he files for an official one-time switch from Mexico, which he hadn't done as of Monday.
Akinola, 20, broke out at the MLS is Back Tournament and finished the season with nine goals for TFC. The striker was born in Detroit but also is eligible to play for Canada and Nigeria. While he’s turned out for U.S. junior sides and scored at the 2017 U-17 World Cup, he’s avoided announcing his senior intentions.
Dike, a 20-year-old rookie revelation in Orlando, also is eligible to play for Nigeria. Although born and raised in Oklahoma, Dike has a brother, Bright, and a sister, Courtney, who’ve represented Nigeria.