It’s not the full-strength roster U.S. men’s national team fans were hoping see on the eve of the 2018 World Cup, but American supporters still bitter over their county’s failure to qualify for Russia can take some solace in the youngest U.S. squad in recent memory.
Interim head coach Dave Sarachan named 22 players Sunday for the USMNT’s upcoming friendlies against Bolivia in Chester, Penn. on May 28, and early next month at the Republic of Ireland and World Cup contender France.
The average age is just 22 years, 256 days.
“The theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program,” Sarachan said in a news release. “We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well. Overall, these types of games provide great chances for players to bank key minutes in international matches.”
Christian Pulisic is the headliner, as expected. The 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund star is back with the U.S. for the first time since that now-infamous loss to Trinidad and Tobago last October that cost the Americans an eighth consecutive World Cup trip. Pulisic will join his U.S. teammates in the Philadelphia area late this week, following Dortmund’s friendly at MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC on Tuesday.
“The opportunity to have him a part of any group that we assemble is very important, not just for him personally, but for this group going forward,” Sarachan said. “It’s very good to have Christian back in the mix.”
There is no shortage of other promising youngsters. Here’s the full roster:
Full 22-man U.S. roster
Goalkeepers (3): Alex Bono, Toronto FC; Bill Hamid, Midtjylland (Denmark); Ethan Horvath, Club Brugge (Belgium)
Defenders (8): Cameron Carter-Vickers, Ipswich (England); Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest (England); Matt Miazga, Vitesse (Netherlands); Matthew Olosunde, Manchester United (England); Erik Palmer-Brown, Kortrijk (Belgium); Antonee Robinson, Bolton (England); Jorge Villafana, Santos Laguna (Mexico); Walker Zimmerman, LAFC
Midfielders (9): Joe Corona, Club America (Mexico); Julian Green, Greuther Furth (Germany); Lynden Gooch, Sunderland (England); Alejandro Guido, Tijuana (Mexico); Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany); Keaton Parks, Benfica (Portugal); Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund (Germany); Rubio Rubin, Tijuana (Mexico); Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Forwards (2): Andrija Novakovich, Telstar (Netherlands); Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany)
USMNT roster analysis
Hard-running midfielder Weston McKennie, 19, returns to the fold after making 22 appearances for Schalke and helping the club to a second place finish in the Bundesliga.
There’s imposing 22-year-old central defender Matt Miazga, who on Saturday scored a goal that sent Dutch side Vitesse into next season’s Europa League.
Andrija Novakovich, who bagged 21 goals in 37 games in the Netherlands’ second tier, is also included. So is Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent, 18, one of seven players looking for his international debut. The Americans lack of depth up top was one of the reasons Sargent was called in.
“He plays a position that hasn’t been all that deep, and [he’s] shown great promise,” Sarachan said of the former U.S. U-20 standout. “I feel physically he has the power and strength to play at this level; now it’s a question of can he adapt to the speed of play and physicality.”
While these are the players that the U.S. program is likely to lean on as it reloads in preparation for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar — qualifying games for that event begin late next year – other important youngsters weren’t called in.
MLS is in full swing before going dark during much of the first round in Russia, so the roster features only two players based in the domestic league: Toronto FC keeper Alex Bono and LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman. Other MLS standouts, such as the New York Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams and the Columbus Crew’s Gyasi Zardes – currently tied atop the MLS scoring charts with eight goals this season – could be added for the overseas games.
“It has been challenging to build the roster given that we have these three matches – one domestic and two in Europe – while trying to be sensitive to the fact that MLS teams are in currently in season,” Sarachan said. “Having players available for all three games was a big ask.”
As many as 10 changes are expected before the U.S. heads to Dublin for its June 2 match against Ireland. But U.S. veterans like Fulham’s Tim Ream and Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley still might not be among them, leaving leadership responsibilities at this camp to be provided by the likes of Pulisic, Joe Corona, Eric Lichaj, Jorge Villafana and Julian Green.
The 22-year-old Green, who scored a memorable goal against Belgium in the second round at Brazil 2014, is the lone invitee with World Cup experience. Green just helped keep Greuther Furth in the German second tier with a goal on the final day of the season.
Overall, this is exactly the type of squad U.S. fans have been clamoring for since the qualifying disaster, even if it’s as much to do with circumstances as it’s by design. Sarachan had gone with more of a mix of experience and youth in the three friendlies since then. The U.S. has been trending younger, though; the squad for a March win over Paraguay was only slightly older, with an average age just under 24.
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