Sargent? McKennie? Portugal friendly offers chance for next U.S. generation
The reconstruction project that is the U.S. men's national team has to begin at some point, and that time appears to be a Nov. 14 friendly at Portugal. In terms of a prospective roster, there are all kinds of possibilities.
There will be a strong tendency to simply say "play the kids" and disregard anyone over the age of 26. To be clear, this is an opportunity to gauge the progress made by some of the younger elements of the player pool, and the roster makeup should trend strongly in a youthful direction. But there should also be some older hands in the mix, to fill a leadership void that would present itself if only young players are present.
Another factor impacting matters is that, by the time the November window opens, the MLS Cup playoffs will have just been reduced to the final four. That is likely to occupy some heretofore mainstays, who might provide the experience needed to help some young players navigate their initial foray into the international game. Those still involved in postseason play should not be called in for a mere friendly, period.
Meanwhile, in terms of the Americans' Liga MX contingent, with the playoffs approaching it seems a long way to travel for one game, so getting a first look at, say, Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez might have to wait for another day.
There will be an impulse to call in members of the U.S. U-17 team, who were 5-0 victors over Paraguay on Monday and are now in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. But while there is one member of that squad who is on the list below, patience is needed.
It's worth remembering that, with or without Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal's team will be comprised of seasoned pros, many of whom won Euro 2016. Playing U-17 youngsters en masse would do more harm than good and possibly damage confidence.
With that in mind, here's a prospective U.S. roster.
Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City)
Horvath, 22, has been getting steady playing time and is a candidate to be the heir apparent to Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Hamid has been one of the best keepers in MLS for some years, but injuries have limited his U.S. opportunities. Melia should win MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, and assuming he's recovered from a hamstring injury and is free of club commitments, it's time to bring him in for a first taste of international soccer.
Outside backs: DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Tim Ream (Fulham), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Danilo Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes)
Yes, this is a position where depth is still wafer-thin. Yedlin and Ream are both experienced, but the same can't be said for the next level of candidates. Adams brings skill and versatility, though his future might lie more in midfield. Vincent has shown a greater ability to contribute to the attack this season; he had two assists against Philadelphia on Sunday. Acosta has been among the players to strengthen RSL's defense over the second half of the season, especially with his one-on-one defending. Lima was in the frame for Rookie of the Year before injuries struck, but has shown good instincts on both sides of the ball.
Center backs: Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Matt Miazga (Vitesse), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Sheffield United), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City)
Cameron can provide know-how to a young group of defenders. Miazga has been making steady progress the last two years in Holland and is at the forefront of the next generation of U.S. central defenders. Carter-Vickers has gotten increased playing time with Sheffield United, starting five of the last six games. Glad has been a stabilizing force in the back for RSL since returning from injury. Palmer-Brown has found playing time difficult to come by in Kansas City, but his exploits with the U.S. U-20s have seen him sign a pre-contract with Manchester City, ahead of an expected loan move to PSV Eindhoven.
Center midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Bedoya's work ethic is second to none, and since the Union missed out on the playoffs, he'll be available to provide leadership. Acosta has had his ups and down in a U.S. shirt, but has shown enough to look like a contributor for the next cycle. Five years is a long time to look forward to the next World Cup, but McKennie is a prime candidate to take over the midfield and is getting playing time with Schalke. Assuming he's recovered from a thigh injury sustained just before the last international break, he should be included. Hyndman hasn't been able to crack the lineup at Bournemouth, but he did have a successful loan at Scottish side Rangers last season. Roldan got a taste of the international game at the Gold Cup, and he should get a look, assuming he's available.
Wide/attacking midfielders: Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake)
Pulisic will be the hub around which the U.S. is built, and it is time to start playing him in a 4-2-3-1 more consistently. Arriola has had some good spells in a national-team shirt but needs to find more consistency in the attacking half. Gooch has been playing mostly as a substitute for Sunderland and has even filled in at forward on occasion, so he'll provide versatility. Rowe had some bright moments during the Gold Cup and has been effective in wide and central positions. Lennon has impressed for RSL and the U-20s with his mobility and crossing ability.
Forwards: Bobby Wood (Hamburg), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen), Haji Wright (Sandhausen), Josh Sargent (joins Werder Bremen in 2018), Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United)
Wood is only 24, has scored some big goals for the U.S., and has shown the ability to be effective in a single-striker formation. Johannsson has struggled with injuries, but while he's struggled for first-team minutes, he has been getting playing time with Bremen's reserves. He's had bright moments for the U.S. in the past and, at 26, still might have something to give. Wright and Sargent appear to have bright futures, though the point at which they'll contribute regularly is still a few years away. The window is closing for 26-year-old Ramirez, but his 14 goals in MLS this season are tied for the highest by an American with Jozy Altidore and C.J. Sapong.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.