A frenetic, challenging and historic year for the U.S. men’s national team will conclude with a bit of an anticlimax—a relatively low-key friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina. The game on Dec. 18 at the LA Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park falls outside a FIFA window and therefore will feature mostly domestic league players.
There will be some familiar American faces however, because the stakes surrounding the team remain high even if the Bosnia match matters little. The next group of World Cup qualifiers is coming quickly—the second-place U.S. will play El Salvador, Canada and Honduras Jan. 27-Feb. 2—and MLS players who may be involved need to stay sharp. This ad hoc December camp affords them that opportunity, while allowing coach Gregg Berhalter to get a look at a new crop of up-and-comers.
"It's been a good year so far, but it's not done," Berhalter said Friday. "We have another game in December and the second and third thing is we get to evaluate some new faces—guys we haven’t seen before that we’re really interested in working with. And then finally, keep the guys, the core players of this domestic group, moving. We play again Jan. 27, and it's essential that when we hit the field on Jan. 27, we have guys that are ready to compete at a World Cup qualifying level."
The 26-member squad unveiled Friday will gather this weekend in Southern California and begin preparing for Bosnia. It features several men who were involved in qualifying this fall or in the successful Concacaf Gold Cup run over the summer, as well as 12 uncapped players. Included in that dozen are seven who will be taking part in their first senior U.S. camp.
Among the veterans headed to L.A. are forward Jordan Morris and center back Aaron Long, who were key figures in Berhalter’s set-up before suffering long-term injuries. Morris (ACL) finally returned to action with the Seattle Sounders toward the end of the MLS campaign and Long (Achilles) will be available for light training.
For Morris, 27, this month's camp will mark the second time he's returned to U.S. duty following an ACL injury. After missing almost all of 2018, Morris helped lift Seattle to the 2019 MLS title while featuring regularly for the national team and scoring five goals. Berhalter said he's hopeful that the talented forward has another resurgence in store.
"If we don’t bring him into this camp, he has no chance of playing in qualifiers," Berhalter explained. "So our job now is to work with him these next four weeks when we’re in camp, to get him ready to see if he can make an impact in World Cup qualifiers. We know his talent level. We know what he brings to the team. He gives us a a different dimension, and it would be nice to get him in a place where he can perform in these games. But we just don’t know yet."
MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Matt Turner and Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman are on board, as are qualifying regulars like Kellyn Acosta, Ricardo Pepi and Cristian Roldan. Those taking part in this weekend’s MLS conference finals were omitted. Center back Miles Robinson and striker Daryl Dike were among the more recognizable names excluded for reasons of rest and recovery, the manager added. LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastien Lletget, who's been practically ever-present under Berhalter, also was left off.
Three players based in foreign leagues will make the trip. Defender Bryan Reynolds has been playing sparingly at AS Roma. Midfielder Johnny Cardoso will be released by Brazil’s SC Internacional, whose season is nearly over, and forward Taylor Booth, 20, has been starting regularly for Bayern Munich’s reserve team. Reynolds and Cardoso aren't expected in L.A. this weekend and will arrive closer to the Bosnia game, Berhalter said.
There are also two campers from the second-tier USL Championship, including Jonathan Gómez, the 18-year-old Louisville City fullback who was named the league’s Young Player of the Year. He’s already sealed a move to Real Sociedad.
"It's important for us to get a good look at him," Berhalter said of Gómez, an FC Dallas product and dual national who's already represented both the U.S. and Mexico at the youth level. "Left back has always been an issue of depth for us. And we think he's a talented player and we think he could be ready to make an impact now. So it will be great to see him and great to get to work with him."
The camp finishes off a year in which the U.S. tied a program-record for wins (16) and claimed two titles, the Gold Cup and the inaugural Concacaf Nations League. The Americans are currently ranked 12th in the world by FIFA. It’s the first time the U.S. will finish a year as Concacaf’s top team since 2013.
If this month's camp helps unearth additional talent, Berhalter said he'd be ready to introduce them to a group that gained valuable experience this year and which is aiming for greater heights in 2022.
"I would love to have that problem. It would be great if a guy came into camp and just blew us away and made a case to be a starter in World Cup qualifying. Anything can happen. I’m not ruling anything out. We have some good young talented players," he said. "The objective is to look at new faces. What comes from that will come, and then keep guys moving. And we’re open to any possible scenario that happens."
Here’s this month’s roster:
Goalkeepers: John Pulskamp (Sporting Kansas City), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders: George Bello (Atlanta United), Justin Che (FC Dallas), Jonathan Gómez (Louisville City), Kobi Henry (Orange County SC), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Kevin Paredes (D.C. United), Bryan Reynolds (AS Roma), Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Taylor Booth (Bayern Munich II), Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
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