The real work begins for the US Men’s national team to start figuring out how it will avoid the disappointments of a year ago the next time World Cup Qualification roles around. The USMNT have two friendlies this month against Columbia (Thursday 7:30 PM on FS1) and Peru (Tuesday 7:30 PM on ESPN2). Interim Coach Dave Sarachan has bucked the youth trend a little and called in some familiar names for better or worse. Also some minor injuries to big players sour the mood going into this one. I’m going to run through the roster and give you my thoughts and then give you the Starting XI I would like to see.
The below roster information is from ussoccer.com’s official roster announcement
DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 58/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 2/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)
As far as I am concerned the race for the No. 1 shirt is between incumbent Brad Guzan and challenger Zac Steffen. The third goalkeeper called in for this camp, and likely future camps, might as well be a dart throw.
Since last year’s World Cup Qualifying snafu, Zac Steffen has been the presumed top option as the best young goalkeeper for the U.S. Tim Howard is essentially taking a victory lap in 2019 with the Colorado Rapids, which really only leaves Guzan when it comes to older keepers with national team experience. Over the long term, I expect Steffen to takeover fully, but I would not mind Guzan being the starter for the next year or so, especially if he’s one of only a few veterans to stick around.
DEFENDERS (8): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 34/3), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 0/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City/WAL; 5/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Matt Miazga (Nantes/FRA; 9/1), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG; 4/0), Ben Sweat (New York City FC; 0/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 54/0)
Everyone should be happy Miazga and Brooks are both getting called in again. I think they are the clear starters going forward, and that they need to build chemistry. Meaningless friendlies are a good place for that. As a Red Bulls fan its nice to see Aaron Long get called back in and I hope he gets his first cap. As for Cameron Carter-Vickers, it seems that he is a favorite of Sarachan’s. I think he’s in the mix to be a back-up behind Brooks and Miazga, but I would not mind if other prospects got opportunities.
Similar to Brooks and Miazga, I think most of us agree that Yedlin and Robinson are the starting fullbacks for the time being. Yedlin is more solidified than Robinson but Robinson is younger so he has more time to develop. Again, friendlies are a great time for this entire back line to build chemistry. The backup fullbacks are both new to the national team. I think Reggie Cannon has definitely deserved his call-up, starting all season for FC Dallas at 20 years old. Ben Sweat is NYCFC’s starter but he’s older (27), and so I do not fully understand his inclusion over Jorge Villafana who’s the same age but was the USMNT starter this time last year. The friendlies are being played in Tampa and Sweat is a Tampa native so maybe its to help the attendance? Either way, there’s no use in crying over who our back-up left back is in a friendly under an interim head coach.
MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 19/1),
Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 7/1), Jonathan Amon (Nordsjælland/DEN; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 140/17), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth/GER; 12/4), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 6/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 21/9), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 2/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 8/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain; 5/1), Fafa Picault (Philadelphia Union; 1/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC; 2/0).
This is where stuff gets interesting, especially with recent injuries to Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic. Honestly, those are the only three midfielders whose names I had written in pen on the team sheet. Their absences totally changes how I view this camp. Marky Delgado and Fafa Picault were brought in as replacements. Similarly to what I said above about Brooks and Miazga, I wanted to see Adams and McKennie get more reps together to build chemistry. Its unfortunate we won’t get to see that this time.
I was also really excited for Pulisic to be rolled into this young core. We’ve all had him there in our heads but he hasn’t been in camp with everyone else yet. He can elevate this group from “giving people hope” to “getting people excited.” I cannot wait to see him Adams, and McKennie all on the field together and now I’ll have to wait at least one more month.
Green, Acosta, and Delgado have been called in before by Sarachan and I think all of them will figure into the national team in the current World Cup cycle. However, I do not know how prominently any of them will figure. If Adams, McKennie, Pulisic, Miazga, and Brooks were a first tier of players, where I want/expect them to start as many games as possible, Green and Acosta would be in the second tier. Delgado hasn’t played as much and is probably just behind them for minutes. All three should be in the rotation for now but I won’t be upset if any of them don’t start. Perhaps they can elevate themselves into that first tier, or perhaps they will set the floor for our national team.
After that we have some new additions for Sarachan including Jonathan Amon, Kenny Saief, and now Picault. Saief has been injured since the 2017 Gold Cup. He’s a starter for the Belgian giants Anderlecht and is one of our few left wing options. If he stays healthy, he could be a dangerous attacking piece. Jonathan Amon is coming in for his first ever camp and he’s definitely earned it, scoring half a dozen goals so far in the Danish League. Similar to Saief, Amon is a left winger. However, Saief is a more technical player with good passes, a nice touch, and he can curl a nice cross. Amon, on the other hand, uses his speed to get past defenders. It works in the Danish League, we’ll see if he can make it work at a higher level. Picault is a starter for a Philadelphia Union team that is having it’s best season ever. He is 27 so he could play a role over the next few years. I think he sets a nice floor for us on the wing.
Lastly, there is the inclusion of Michael Bradley. When I saw his name on the roster my gut reaction was negative. I’m trying to go into these friendlies with an open-mind but there are two main reasons I don’t like that he’s on the roster.
- There have been recent reports that his personality can be toxic in the locker room. That link will take you to former USMNTer Jimmy Conrad dropping some truths on everyone, calling Bradley “a super alpha male know-it-all.” There was also Bradley’s recent interaction with Zlatan on the field. Afterwards Zlatan said “[Bradley] thinks he is the philosopher of football”. Then there was the scrum outside the Toronto FC locker rooms in the 2017 playoffs where Bradley and Jesse Marsch exchanged some heated words (around the 30 second mark of that video, you can see Bradley, number 4, pushing Marsch away from the scrum). Overall, the common thread is Michael Bradley. I don’t want his toxic personality to infect the young core who have both thoroughly enjoyed these camps and played with some mental toughness up to this point.
- Bradley has been bad in MLS this year. To be fair he’s been played out of position for much of the season in order to cover for injuries, but he is giving the other team the ball waaaayyy too often. To put it simply, he’s lost a step. There are other MLS defensive midfielders who could have been called in who are playing better than him right now (e.g. Russell Canouse of DC United).
Like I said though, I’m going in with an open mind. I hope he provides some veteran leadership in some way. This is admittedly more needed now that many of the natural leaders (Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic) are out injured.
FORWARDS (3): Andrija Novakovich (Fortuna Sittard/NED; 2/0), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 3/1), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96/GER; 41/12)
Nice to see Novakovich back again as he’s youngish (22) and still scoring in the Dutch league. I’d put him in that second tier with the likes of Green and Acosta: he’s been called-up frequently, but hasn’t wowed us yet. One could argue the same for Bobby Wood. He’s older (25), but he’s getting starting minutes in the Bundesliga for Hannover and scored two goals last week. Both goals were headers in the box. Watching those goals confirmed by opinions on Wood: he’s a good player when he has the service. I would not expect him to create many opportunities on his own. But when we have a player like Pulisic on the field, he won’t have to.
I’m glad Sargent is here too. Still in his teens, he has yet to breakthrough into Werder Bremen’s game day plans. Despite that, he’s likely to get minutes at some point this year and he has the highest ceiling of these three forwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started, but I also wouldn’t be disappointed if he came off the bench.
It’s worth noting Sarachan’s comments that Jozy Altidore would have been in camp if it were not for recent injury concerns (leaving his last two game early with muscle strains). I feel more comfortable with Jozy returning than Bradley in terms of his personality (although it is worth noting that Jozy was the one who ended up with a red card at the end of the above-linked Toronto-New York scrum; he also had en epic stare down with Tyler Adams in that game). Additionally, Bradley is currently 31 years old, and Jozy about to turn 29 in November. Therefore, I’d expect Jozy to be more useful for this team over the next few years, especially since we don’t have a clear first choice striker right now. Meanwhile Adams and McKennie look ready to man the midfield in place of Bradley.
My Starting XI: 4-2-2
Yedlin – Miazga – Brooks – Robinson
Picault – Trapp – Acosta – Saief
Weah – Wood
Subs I would bring on: Sargent for Wood, Green on for Picault, Amon for Saief, Cannon on for Yedlin, Delgado for Acosta
Steffen/Guzan is really a coin-flip at this point. I hope one starts the first game and the other starts the second. The defensive four name themselves. The midfield is weird without Adams and McKennie, you could talk me into something else. I’d prefer if Bradley didn’t take minutes away from Acosta. The real question mark in attack is who plays well with Pulisic, but we can’t answer that with this lineup. We haven’t see Weah as a true striker yet so I’m curious if he and Wood could play off of each other well. As for Saief, I think he’s the most skilled of the left wing options, but I could see Amon getting the start over him as well.
Worth noting: this is the line-up I would LIKE to see, not necessarily the roster I EXPECT to see. Honestly, I’d be okay with most any line-up Sarachan throws out there, because these friendlies are still close to meaningless. Again, I just don’t want to see Bradley out there. We can’t and shouldn’t be relying on him any more. He should be appearing in a cameo role at most.