The U.S. Men’s National Team kicks off every year with the annual January camp, a gathering designed to identify and develop the next group of domestic stars. It’s far from sexy and the 2018 gathering, in particular, was from from the most consequential.
With a friendly against Paraguay looming, the focus turns away from the group of MLS-based prospects and towards a group littered with players plying their trade abroad. It’s an opportunity that won’t present itself often this season, and one the U.S. is looking to take full advantage of.
Of the 23 players called in to face Paraguay next Tuesday, a total of 16 ply their trade abroad in nine different countries. Five of those players are joining camp for the first time, as the FIFA window allowed the U.S. access to newcomers like Timothy Weah, Andrija Novakovich, Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson following their senior breakthroughs in Europe.
“Having the FIFA window allows us access and when you have access that you normally wouldn’t, you take advantage of that,” said USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan. “We’ve done that with a number of new faces, guys that have slowly emerged as potential candidates down the road.
“We felt it was a great opportunity to give them a taste of the national team and international football with a friendly.”
As expected, the heavily Euro-based roster is a young one. The average age of the squad is 23 while just three players have more than 20 caps. The squad was slated to have a few more experienced players in, but injuries to John Brooks and Aron Johannsson paired with the decision to leave Christian Pulisic with his club opened the door for several new faces.
While the camp and friendly are a chance to integrate some totally new faces, they’re also a chance to give some other players additional looks and opportunities to seize their own spot. Tyler Adams and Zack Steffen rejoin the team after emerging as potential starting options, as do players like Matt Miazga, Weston McKennie and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Meanwhile, veterans like DeAndre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe and Jorge Villafana look to hold onto their spot heading towards a new cycle.
“I wouldn’t call it sink or swim,” Sarachan said. “For some, it’s an introduction to us as a staff, to the pace of the national team and international football. It’s just one step. I wouldn’t say if they have a great week that they’ve made it or if they have a lousy week that they haven’t. It’s just a starting point to get their feet wet and keep moving along.”
Thanks to the international break, Sarachan will have his squad in camp for over week leading up to next Tuesday’s friendly against Paraguay. In that time, he’ll be given a chance to introduce some younger guys to the group and see what they’re made of on the international level.
It’s a welcome opportunity to get everyone involved, one that won’t come often in 2018 due the USMNT’s failure to make the World Cup. The group will reconvene in May and June but, after that, the next chance to get together won’t come until September. By then, plenty will have changed and, for some, the upcoming friendly can serve as a launch point for the start of next cycle.
“A lot of new faces, young faces,” Sarachan said. “Enthusiasm, energy, but now let’s see what the soccer looks like. That’s the purpose of bringing them together early for this whole week of training in preparation for Paraguay.”