To kick off a uniquely busy year, the U.S. men’s national team will conduct a pair of uniquely busy January camps that start Saturday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
With up to five competitions scheduled over the next 11 months—the Concacaf Nations League, Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying, Olympic qualifying and the Olympics themselves—USA coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff face the prospect of putting together multiple rosters while evaluating player availability and form across multiple continents.
To that end, he capped 42 players in only four games in 2020, the same number that appeared across 18 matches the year before. And on Tuesday, he unveiled two January camp squads—one of 12 senior players who will prepare for a to-be-announced friendly against Serbia (most likely) at the end of the month, and another of 26 U-23 players who will train with coach Jason Kreis ahead of the Concacaf Olympic qualifying competition that’s expected to happen in Guadalajara in late March. On Jan. 24, several U-23s will move up to fill out the remainder of the senior side.
“This is an important year for our national team programs, and we are looking to maximize every possible opportunity,” Berhalter said. “For the senior team players, this is an opportunity to continue to develop as a group and build on the foundation of a busy and challenging year. Being alongside our U-23 team gives that group a chance to prepare for Olympic qualifying while further integrating into our culture and game model.”
Like previous January camps, the roster(s) are dominated by MLS players who are out of season. There are two European-based players on the U-23 list—defender Chris Gloster from PSV Eindhoven and midfielder Bryang Kayo from Wolfsburg. Olympic competitions aren’t included in FIFA’s international calendar, meaning clubs aren’t required to release players for them. Even though a significant portion of Berhalter’s first-choice team is Olympic eligible—he fielded 28 U-23 players in 2020—there’s a good chance they won’t take part. Chelsea isn’t going to allow Christian Pulisic to just run off for a few weeks during the stretch run of the Premier League campaign, for example. So it’s likely the bulk of the Olympic qualifying roster will come from MLS.
Berhalter will then have to juggle his senior team between the Nations League (June) and Gold Cup (July) as he prepares for the start of World Cup qualifying in September.
The most intriguing selection among the senior players is veteran striker Jozy Altidore, 31, who hasn’t played for the USA since the 2019 Gold Cup. He had two goals and one assist in 14 games for Toronto FC last season. Berhalter also is continuing his pursuit of dual-national players who aren’t yet committed or tied to the USA. LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo, Orlando City midfielder Andrés Perea and Orlando striker Daryl Dike are among the U-23 selections who remain eligible for multiple national teams.
This month’s camp will mark the first time since March 2020 that Kreis has been able to bring the U-23s together, and it probably will be the last before the Olympic qualifiers. They’ll train separately in Bradenton between Saturday and Jan. 24.
“With Olympic qualifying approaching quickly, this training camp is a great opportunity to prepare ourselves and evaluate some new faces,” Kreis said. “While 2020 was a very challenging year, it was impressive to see so many U-23-eligible players make major strides on the field. Some of them have been involved with the senior team over the last few months and it’s exciting to now get our players and staff back together in camp alongside Gregg and his group as we prepare for a very important qualifying tournament.”
Here’s a look at the two January camp squads:
The only newcomer on the senior list is LAFC right back Tristan Blackmon. New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner has been called up before but remains uncapped. Sebastian Lletget was the only player to appear in all four 2020 friendlies.
Notable omissions include Columbus Crew forward Gyasi Zardes, who’s been a staple under Berhalter, underwent a minor medical procedure and isn't fit, and D.C. United goalie Bill Hamid, who started last month’s 6–0 exhibition win over El Salvador.
Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Tristan Blackmon (Los Angeles FC), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Mueller (Orlando City)
Eight of the 26 players have been capped by the senior team and nine were involved in last month’s camp that preceded the El Salvador friendly. There’s also considerable youth—seven players will be age-eligible for the 2024 Olympics as well.
Two noteworthy dual-nationals who Berhalter called up in December are not on this month’s lists. Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola, 20, accepted an invite from Canada to join its January camp, which, ironically, also is taking place in Bradenton. Akinola scored against El Salvador.
Also absent is Galaxy forward Efrain Alvarez, 18, who played for the USA U-15s and then Mexico’s U-17s before accepting Berhalter’s invitation last month. Alvarez was ineligible to play against El Salvador because he hadn’t filed a one-time change of association. Likewise, Perea is unable to play this month because he previously represented Colombia at the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups.
Meanwhile, the absence of 21-year-old Philadelphia Union center back Mark McKenzie, a 2020 MLS Best XI selection, suggests a transfer to Europe may be imminent. Similar reports surrounding FC Dallas right back Bryan Reynolds—some of which link him to Juventus—weren't sufficient to keep him off Kreis's list, however. His FCD teammate, midfielder Tanner Tessmann, is set to train with Bayern Munich following camp, according to ESPN, as part of a relationship between the clubs that already resulted in Chris Richards's move to the German champions.
JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Austin FC)
Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), George Bello (Atlanta United), Chris Gloster (PSV Eindhoven), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire), Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)
Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United), Bryang Kayo (VfL Wolfsburg), Andrés Perea (Orlando City), Tanner Tessmann (FC Dallas), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Daryl Dike (Orlando City), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Benji Michel (Orlando City), Djordje Mihailovic (Montreal Impact)