U.S. questions vs. Paraguay: GK battle, Kenny Saief, chances for youth
Work on a foundation is as critical as it is tedious. There's little in the way of a visual or emotional payoff, but progress is impossible without it.
This is the work that is currently going on with the U.S. men's national team and it's as good an explanation as any as to why it needs to play matches ahead of a World Cup in which it won't feature. Sure, a new manager (and a new GM for that matter) still needs to be hired, but now seems an opportune time for the process to begin for some and continue for others.
To that end, it has fallen to Dave Sarachan to do the necessary heavy lifting. He's called in a new generation of players and will help them take the first steps with the national team program. He almost certainly won't be around to witness the fruits of his labor but at least the process will be that much further along when a permanent coach is hired.
Here's a look at how things stand with the current squad ahead of next Tuesday's friendly against Paraguay.
The goalkeeping competition heats up
Columbus Crew SC shot-stopper Zack Steffen seems to have put himself in front, though this is due more in part to others falling back. Ethan Horvath is buried deep on the bench at Club Brugge and wasn't even called in. Bill Hamid's situation at Danish side Midtjylland isn't as dire but he has yet to make a first-team appearance since joining his new club in January. Alex Bono is coming off a treble-winning season with Toronto FC but still has some catching up to do in terms of national team opportunities, as he didn't get on the field in the January friendly against Bosnia Herzegovina.
That leaves Steffen. His performances during last year's playoffs got him noticed and now Steffen has the chance to further cement his status as the goalkeeper of the future, though Hamid will no doubt do what he can to state his case as well.
Can Adams and McKennie take the next step? Who will join them?
It was back in November that Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie made their respective debuts for the U.S. senior side. Adams got stronger as the game went on, while McKennie marked his first cap with a goal. Given the general feeling that the U.S. midfield needs to be revamped, showing a sign or two of progress will confirm the belief that Tyler and McKennie are the future.
On that night, McKennie had an experienced performer in Danny Williams by his side. The options next Tuesday won't have as many international games under their belt, though Darlington Nagbe does have 24 international appearances. Wil Trapp and Cristian Roldan could state their case, though in very different ways. Trapp is more of the deep-lying playmaker, though Roldan provides more of a box-to-box presence.
It will be up to Sarachan to determine which style will better complement McKennie on Tuesday.
Time for some spine in defense
John Brooks' continued injury problems have created an opening for a trio of center backs. Matt Miazga, currently on loan at Vitesse, looked sharp in last November's 1-1 draw against Portugal and any revamped spine of the team looks certain to include him at this stage. Cameron Carter-Vickers showed well alongside Miazga in the same match.
The wild card is Erik Palmer-Brown, a mainstay with the U20s -- albeit as a central midfielder at the U20 World Cup -- who recently got his first minutes on loan at Belgian side KV Kortrijk. Palmer-Brown's progression at club level will decide his fate but he has a chance to make a good first impression in this camp.
Saief gets his chance
A solitary friendly appearance against Ghana, one that lasted all of 19 minutes, is the sum total of Kenny Saief's international experience. Hernia surgery and some ensuing complications have prevented any subsequent call-ups until now.
In that game against Ghana, Saief looked a crafty operator and he's got some trickery about him as well. The wide midfield spots have been crying out for a bit more creativity and Saief may just be the man to provide that kind of spark.
How much will youth be served?
Sarachan is on record as saying that the camp is a get-to-know-you exercise for the five uncapped players on the roster. But the opportunity to secure playing time will be there even if it requires climbing over some veterans to do so. Outside-backs Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson have the toughest task given that the position features some of the more experienced players on the roster like DeAndre Yedlin, Jorge Villafana and Eric Lichaj.
Marky Delgado could find the going tough as well though his versatility in midfield helps his cause. Tim Weah, 18, could have the clearest path given his speed and ability to play out wide. Forward Andrija Novakovich, 6-foot-4, has size and skill, too, though he'll need to supplant at least one of Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin.
Speaking of Wood, he returns to the national team fold having scored just two goals at club level all year for Hamburg, with none since the end of last August. As such, HSV is a candidate to be relegated, a seemingly annual occurrence. But Wood has shown a knack for scoring big goals in the past and at age 25, he still has plenty more to give to the U.S. team. He's also revealed an ability to play as a lone striker and given the apparent glut of central midfield players on this roster, that could be the role he's given this Tuesday.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.