For the U.S. Men’s National Team, position battles will be the norm for the next several years. It’s a consequence of missing the World Cup. New faces come in, older faces are ushered out and the status quo is changed over a period of time as young stars are integrated.
There is perhaps no position quite as open as the forward position, though, and several youngsters will have the chance to stake their claim in an upcoming friendly against Paraguay.
A total of five totally new faces are set to join the USMNT for the upcoming camp as Timothy Weah and Andrija Novakovich earned call-ups to the senior team for the first time. They join a forward pool that includes Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood in a camp littered with young players.
When it comes to the position, Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris very much remain in the mix despite their absences but, as things stand, the position is up in the air.
“The forward position is a very important one,” interim boss Dave Sarachan said, “and I’ve always felt in general – not just with our National Team, but in our country as a whole – that you can’t have enough depth there.”
Weah joins the national team fresh off his breakthrough with Paris Saint-Germain. The 18-year-old attacker recently earned a pair of first team appearances with the French giants, impressing in each by creating a late-game chance.
The forward, son of Liberian legend George, also impressed at last year’s U-20 World Cup, where he scored a hat-trick against Paraguay.
“Tim has obviously been very successful with our Youth National Teams,” Sarachan said. “More recently with PSG, he’s playing for a high-profile club who has seen fit to give him first-team minutes, which is a great sign of his progression.
“He’s a versatile player than can fit in at a couple different positions, and when you have speed and technical ability combined as a young kid, I think he’s an interesting prospect to offer an opportunity to.”
Novakovich has taken a different path. After joining Reading in 2015, the 21-year-old striker has gone out on a pair of loans with the current one at Dutch club Telstar proving an overwhelming success. He has scored 19 goals in 29 total appearances in his time with the club.
“You always pay attention to players domestically and overseas who are scoring goals, regardless if it’s in the first or second division,” Sarachan said of the forward. “Being 6’4”, he’s a different type of forward than some of our other players that we have in this camp and in the program. He’s an intriguing one and obviously he’s young, so for me it’s about getting him in and seeing what he’s like now when he’s put amongst the National Team players in training.”
When assessing the position, it’s also easy to look at the players that missed out, and Aron Johannsson is probably the most deserving among them. The veteran forward has found new life at Werder Bremen, as he recently returned to the club’s first team plans. However, an Achilles injury kept him out of camp.
Also missing are up-and-coming striker and Joahnnsson’s Werder Bremen teammate, Josh Sargent, as well as the man charged with setting up those forwards in Christian Pulisic, who will remain with Borussia Dortmund.
“He’s now feeling confident in playing an important role for Dortmund at a crucial time in their season where they’re trying to lock in qualification for the Champions League,” Sarachan said of Pulisic. “They also have a huge match against Bayern Munich on the back end of our match against Paraguay, so when I factored all of those things together, as much as we wanted him here I felt it best suits the player to continue in the rhythm and form he’s currently in with his club.”
“I’ve been in communication with Tab Ramos who is also leading a U-20 MNT camp during the same time in Spain,” he added of Sargent. “Since Josh isn’t able to play professional matches for Werder Bremen until next season, along with the fact that he’s still an important player for that age group, I felt because of the timing it made better sense for him to get full games with the U-20s for this particular friendly date. For our next set of games, the idea then would be that he’d have more of an opportunity to be a part of our senior team.”
With the Paraguay friendly looming, Sarachan is looking forward to getting eyes on each of the new faces while giving the veterans a chance to continue on as leaders with the new-look group.
“With the calendar being what it is in 2018, there’s no replacing minutes that you can get with the National Team in friendlies,” Sarachan said. “The more times you can offer those opportunities to players that need those minutes, the better.
“Those players being a part of this roster represents a couple things. First, getting to know them, seeing them first hand in training and giving them a real taste of being part of the National Team from a day-to-day training perspective. Also, we hope there’s in an opportunity to get them minutes in the match that will help them further down the road.”