U.S. seize opportunity to name young, inexperienced squad to face Portugal
Dave Sarachan may only be a caretaker manager for the U.S. men's national team, but he has struck the right balance in naming his roster for the Nov. 14 friendly against Portugal.
In the wake of the U.S. team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, there was certainly a "throw the bums out" mentality permeating the U.S. soccer community. The anger and frustration is understandable but if the U.S. is to really turn the page from the debacle that was the 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago last month, there will need to be a hand-off of sorts from more experienced performers to younger ones. To do otherwise is to risk a shellacking that will damage confidence.
"The one word that I would use in reference to all of this is opportunity," said Sarachan. "It's an opportunity for many players who haven't been in the picture that we feel have a bright future with the national team to get to measure themselves in a game against a quality opponent. It's an opportunity for our national team to finish out 2017 in a positive way.
"It's also just an opportunity to move on. As much as we're still gutted from how things turned out with qualifying, we have to look ahead and finish out the year the right way."
So there is still value to having an Alejandro Bedoya around to pass along his knowledge to the likes of Schalke's Weston McKennie and New York Red Bulls' Tyler Adams. Yes, they both are talented and have loads of potential but they still have plenty to learn, even for a player like McKennie who is at a major Bundesliga club.
To be clear, Sarachan has rightly leaned on youth to comprise most of the roster. With 12 of the 21 players age 24 and younger, Sarachan is clearly looking to the future even if his involvement with the national team is set to perhaps last just this one game.
"It was a combination of things in terms of availability, timing and having an opportunity to look at players that have been on our radar and in some cases haven't had a chance to get a look," said Sarachan about the construction of this roster. "Obviously the European-based players are available with this international break and the idea was to bring in those players to balance that out with a few MLS players that are available.
"We are steering clear of those that are still involved with the [MLS] playoffs. Beyond that, we've also tried to bring in a few veteran players who can lend leadership -- guys that have been involved with the national team and have played in what I would call higher profile games to give us a little leadership in this camp and for this particular game."
In goal, the process of finding a replacement for Tim Howard has been delayed for too long, and now FC Dallas' Jesse Gonzalez, new FC Midtjylland signing Bill Hamid and Club Brugge keeper Ethan Horvath will get the competition going.
Most of the U.S. roster's experience is in the back, where you have performers such as John Brooks, Tim Ream, Jorge Villafana and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks, Villafana and Yedlin in particular figure to part of the solution going forward, so there is every reason to include them in the current roster. Center-backs Matt Miazga (on loan at Vitesse) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (on loan at Sheffield United) figure to get long looks when the 2022 World Cup cycle begins in earnest.
In midfield, there is a great deal of focus on the presumed debut of McKennie. The FC Dallas academy product has done plenty to impress with Schalke, starting seven of his team's 11 matches. That kind of breakthrough is rare indeed for an American teenager, even if the exploits of Christian Pulisic (who is being rested during this international window) have made it seem more common than it actually is.
Lynden Gooch is another intriguing prospect who has been called in. Danny Williams provides a bit of experience though at the age of 28, it remains to be seen just how much of a future he has with the U.S. squad. As for Kellyn Acosta, this is a chance for him to finish an up and down year on a bit of an upswing.
Most of the forward options are either occupied by the MLS Cup playoffs or nursing injuries. Included in that list is Bobby Wood, while Pulisic is being rested. "Christian has really pushed the limits mentally and physically," said Sarachan. "With those things in mind, we felt this was an opportunity for Christian to get a break and recharge for the rest of an important campaign with Dortmund.
"Bobby was excited about the opportunity to come into this camp and was on board to be a part of it, but he has had a lingering knee issue that has gotten to the point where it needed to be addressed. He was excited to be a part of this last game of 2017 but like with Christian, we felt it was better for Bobby to get a little extra time to rest and recover."
As a consequence, the U.S. forward line looks a little thin. Juan Agudelo is the most experienced call-up with 26 caps, while Philadelphia's C.J. Sapong wins this roster's Man Who Came in From the Cold Award, having last appeared for the U.S. back on Jan. 25, 2012. That said, Sapong is coming off an outstanding season that saw him score a team-high 16 goals. Dom Dwyer gets another look after having some bright moments at last summer's Gold Cup.
Josh Sargent, who becomes the first player in U.S. history to appear in a U-17 World Cup, an U-20 World Cup and a senior men's national team camp in the same calendar year, is another player to keep an eye on.
If there is one minor disappointment, it is the absence of Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez. The 18-year-old has been an ever-present force this season for Los Rayados, starting 13 of 16 games so far. It would have been interesting to see how he would have fared in a U.S. national team camp. Mexico has reportedly been dangling a one-time switch in front of Gonzalez, a dual citizen who represented the U.S. at U-20 level. Yet the Santa Rosa, Calif. native has remained steadfast and with the Liga MX playoffs fast approaching, the decision was made for Gonzalez to remain with his club.
That said, there are plenty of other players on the roster who U.S. fans have wanted to see at senior level. That opportunity should present itself in Portugal.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.