Moving Pieces, Late Sparks in Form Color USMNT Entering March Friendlies

Sergiño Dest and Christian Pulisic enter after some resurgent attacking performances, while the composition of the U.S. continues to be tweaked for a pair of friendlies.
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If there's one constant for the U.S. men's national team as its March camp picks up steam before a pair of friendlies, it's been change.

There's been the change in form for Christian Pulisic, who leaves Chelsea for camp on a high note after his strong showing in the FA Cup quarterfinals and his assist in the Champions League knockout stage. There's been the change in attacking capabilities and expectations for Sergiño Dest, who combined with Lionel Messi for his first career goal in La Liga and then scored again to do his part as Barcelona continues to stay alive in Spain's title race.

Then there's the change in the actual composition of the U.S. squad. Late Friday came word that midfielder Tyler Adams and forwards Tim Weah and Nicholas Gioacchini were forced to withdraw from national team consideration this month "due to quarantine requirements in their respective areas," resulting in late additions of the uncapped Christian Cappis and Jordan Siebatcheu. Gioacchini, however, was re-added on Monday. With FIFA easing its guidelines on clubs being forced to release players during official international windows if those players are required to quarantine for a minimum of five days upon their return, it's created a logistical and personnel puzzle for national team coaches all over the world. 

The U.S.'s situation is no different, and on top of the inability to call in some players who otherwise would've been in camp, there have been compromises struck to have players in through only the first friendly.

It's a lot to keep track of, and it alters the personnel possibilities for friendlies against Jamaica in Austria on March 25 and vs. Northern Ireland in Belfast on March 28. In short, camp will peak this week with 26 players and shrink to 24 after the Jamaica game. That's considerably better than the initial plan to shrink to 19 based on who was originally supposed to be participating.

Considering all the moving parts and pieces, here's who's left to represent the U.S. and the form for their clubs with which they enter camp:

Sergiño Dest celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring for Barcelona

GOALKEEPERS

Zack Steffen made one save in shutting out Everton in the FA Cup quarterfinals, maintaining his duty as Manchester City's domestic cup keeper and helping the club keep its quadruple dream alive. Man City will be facing Pulisic's Chelsea in the semifinals, something Steffen is evidently going to relish.

Ethan Horvath has returned to active duty for Club Brugge after experiencing COVID-19, but that entails backup patrol for the Belgium top-flight leader. Chituru Odunze, meanwhile, remains off the radar for Leicester City's first team, with the 18-year-old continuing to play for the Foxes' youth sides.

DEFENDERS

It doesn't get much better than what Dest was able to accomplish Sunday. In becoming the third U.S. player to score in La Liga (Jozy Altidore and Yunus Musah being the others, and Musah hadn't yet committed to the U.S. at the time of his goal) and the first to have a multi-goal game as part of his double vs. Real Sociedad, Dest continued to enjoy the freedom he has in Ronald Koeman's 3-4-3 in which he's a wingback.

"This system is really good for me and is going well for the team," Dest told the club's Barça TV after the 6-1 win. "I have more space and I am more involved. I am really comfortable, playing almost as a winger, and it's really easy for me to play in this team."

It wasn't just the goals, either. Dest dipped into his bag of tricks to split a pair of Real Sociedad defenders, and having a bigger attacking role that makes him the beneficiary of assists from Messi can only do wonders for his confidence.

In Germany, center back John Brooks helped Wolfsburg go eight points clear of fifth place in the club's quest to return to the Champions League stage with a 2–1 win over Werder Bremen, while Chris Richards bounced back from a bad giveaway that led directly to a goal to assist on one for Hoffenheim in defeat to Mainz.

Two other center backs, Matt Miazga and Erik Palmer-Brown, are operating on less glamorous stages in Belgium and Austria, respectively. Miazga has been a lineup fixture for Vincent Kompany's Anderlecht, while Palmer-Brown has done the same at Austria Vienna—which this past weekend leaked five goals. Brooks will depart camp after the Jamaica game, creating an opening in the lineup vs. Northern Ireland. Richards was initially planning on leaving too, but he's received clearance to stay throughout.

Bryan Reynolds is still getting his feet wet at Roma, having appeared in just one match for a 30-minute stint since arriving from FC Dallas. To ensure he's playing on the Champions League stage next season, Roma will have to shake its recent dip in form to come out triumphant in what appears to be a five-team race for third and fourth places.

On the flip side of the table, Reggie Cannon, Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson are all hoping to help their clubs avoid relegation. Cannon's Boavista is one of three Portuguese teams on 21 points at the bottom of the Primeira Liga table. He continues to be a fixture at right back, with 21 starts on the season, and he'll return to his club after the Jamaica match. Ream and Robinson's Fulham also sits in the drop zone, sitting two points off safety but having played a game more than the club it's chasing, Newcastle. Ream hasn't had a Premier League appearance since October, though he did make two FA Cup starts in January, while Robinson has ascended to become more of a regular for Scott Parker's club.

Aaron Long, meanwhile, has been in preseason with the New York Red Bulls.

MIDFIEDLERS

With Weston McKennie already out and Adams no longer included, Brenden Aaronson is poised to play a bigger role in both friendlies than perhaps was expected. He's assimilated to life in Europe well, has two goals in his last four games in all competitions and went nearly the distance in Salzburg's 1–0 win over LASK on Saturday.

All eyes, though, will surely be on Musah after his decision to represent the U.S. He came on for mop-up duty in Valencia's win over Granada on Sunday and has just three starts since the turn of the new year.

Christian Cappis, a late addition Friday, is in Denmark's second tier with Hobro until a summer move to the country's top flight with Brondby. The 21-year-old previously appeared with the senior U.S. squad in January camp in 2020 but didn't play in the camp-closing friendly.

The two other midfielders are Luca de la Torre and Owen Otasowie, with the former impressing and carving out a regular role upon leaving Fulham for Heracles in the Netherlands' top flight, and the latter remaining a work in progress who gets the occasional cameo with Wolves in the Premier League.

Kellyn Acosta and Sebastian Lletget have been in preseason with their respective MLS clubs, the Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy. They're the two most experienced midfielders in camp, with 25 and 18 caps, respectively. The other five have six caps combined.

FORWARDS

Pulisic turned in a man-of-the-match performance for Chelsea in its FA Cup quarterfinal win over Sheffield United, earning the start on the heels of his assist off the bench to cap the Blues' Champions League progression at the expense of Atletico Madrid. After a rough go of it under Thomas Tuchel, there are signs that Pulisic's slump is coming to an end.

Gio Reyna played the opening 66 minutes in Dortmund's disappointing draw vs. Koln, which kept the club four points out of the top four in the Bundesliga. On the plus side for Reyna, it was his first start since Feb. 27.

Josh Sargent scored for a fourth time in five games—only this most recent one went into his own net, with the own goal opening the scoring for Brooks's Wolfsburg in a 2–1 defeat. Even so, Sargent has been trending in the right direction, and Berhalter effectively confirmed last week that the 20-year-old would be starting vs. Jamaica. It's a win for Berhalter that both Reyna and Sargent will be available for both friendlies after initially only being cleared for the first one.

Daryl Dike suffered the taste of defeat for the first time since going on loan to Barnsley, with the Tykes falling to Sheffield on Wednesday but remaining in the promotion playoff places. Dike, who was coming off a two-goal performance and has five goals in England's second tier, played the full 90 minutes.

Jordan Siebatcheu celebrated his first call-up with another goal for Young Boys in Switzerland, his 10th in league play to go with three vs. Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Europa League.

The run of form and goal total would have led some to expect Siebatcheu to be called in originally, only for him to be a replacement when Weah and Gioacchini were ruled out. Berhalter had initially indicated that Siebatcheu would have had to miss the second game in the window and he didn't want to bring him in for that brief period, but evidently there are no more restrictions on his availability. 

Gioacchini's return Monday offers a change of pace for a place who has struggled some since his two-goal performance vs. Panama in November. The 20-year-old has just two goals since in France's second tier. His yellow card over the weekend resulted in a one-match suspension due to accumulation, which may have also helped his cause in being able to take part in camp.