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Five thoughts on the USMNT January camp roster

The U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp roster was one filled with surprises, and one created with a clear eye toward the future. Just how far into the future remains to be seen.

Teenagers like Ulysses Llanez and Bryang Kayo were surprising inclusions, to put it mildly, but seeing Gregg Berhalter call up prospects so young had to excite some USMNT fans who may have feared a January camp roster loaded with all the same faces we have seen Berhalter call up many times before.

Sure, there are plenty of familiar veteran faces, but there was more than enough new blood to feel as though Berhalter was serious about taking a deep and thorough dive into the talent pool, even if it means looking at some prospects who might be several years away from being USMNT contributors.

Of course, we don’t know what sort of roster Berhalter would have called in if no MLS teams balked at releasing players (Atlanta United confirmed that it rejected call-up requests for Miles Robinson, Brad Guzan and Brooks Lennon), but if those missed opportunities opened the door for some younger options, it could wind up being a blessing in disguise.

Here are some more thoughts on the USMNT January camp roster:

Courting the dual nationals

It is no coincidence that 18-year-old prospects Ulysses Llanez and Julian Araujo are being called into USMNT camp even though Llanez has yet to make a first-team appearance for Wolfsburg and Araujo only just broke through with the Galaxy first team in 2019. Along with both being members of last summer’s U.S. Under-20 World Cup team, they are both dual nationals sure to be on the radar of the Mexican national team.

Llanez has already spent time in Mexican youth national team setups before, and Araujo has reportedly been approached by the Mexican federation, so it is smart of Berhalter to have a look at both and take the opportunity to establish stronger connections with them. It shows them both that they are taken seriously as prospects, and moves the USMNT well ahead of El Tri, which isn’t about to give either of them a look at this point in their budding careers.

Of course, the call-ups aren’t exclusively about their dual national status. The winger position is one in dire need of new blood and Llanez is one of the most exciting wing prospects in the pipeline. As much as he may not necessarily be close to breaking through with Wolfsburg’s first team, he’s an 18-year-old with bags of talent and potential, and it isn’t far-fetched to believe Llanez can break through and see first-team minutes in 2020.

As for Araujo, he heads into 2020 with a chance to try and stake his claim to a starting role with the Galaxy. He made 10 starts in 2019, but never quite earned the full faith of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, even with the Galaxy’s well-publicized defensive struggles. With another year under his belt, and now with a chance to go through a USMNT camp, Araujo could be poised for the type of year Reggie Cannon had in 2018, when he broke through at FC Dallas.

Hamid’s return long overdue

It doesn’t matter that it may have come only because of Atlanta United’s unwillingness to release Brad Guzan, what matters is the fact that Bill Hamid finally has his chance to fight for a place in Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT setup.

Hamid was arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS in 2019, but he continued to be overlooked by the USMNT last year, with the excuse being that his poor distribution was keeping him behind other candidates. Berhalter’s possession-based system requires the goalkeeper to be able to pass the ball well and Hamid has never had to develop that part of his game playing at D.C. United.

So what has changed? At a certain point you can’t overlook Hamid’s strengths. His shot-stopping and ability to cover his penalty area have few rivals in the USMNT pool, and we have seen with players like Sean Johnson and Brad Guzan that it is possible for a goalkeeper to strengthen their passing ability by joining the right team, or playing for the right coach.

That change may not be coming for Hamid at D.C. United just yet, but he has done more than enough to have Berhalter take a closer look.

Atlanta United’s stonewalling could prove costly

Can anybody really blame Atlanta United for balking at USMNT call-up requests for the January camp? Nobody in Atlanta has forgotten how the injury suffered by Miles Robinson while on national team duty last fall may have single-handedly derailed Atlanta United’s quest to repeat as MLS Cup champions.

Could it come back to haunt Atlanta’s players? Absolutely. Robinson heads into 2020 as a good candidate to push for minutes with the USMNT, but missing January camp will give some of his competition a leg up in that race. Lennon is the kind of prospect Berhalter surely wants to look at in a right back/wingback role, but now he will look at a younger prospect in Araujo, who could be in line for a breakout 2020.

Then you have Guzan, who finished 2019 as the number two goalkeeper behind Zack Steffen. Sean Johnson was already likely to push Guzan to regain the number two spot, but now Guzan’s absence opens the door for both Hamid and Matt Turner to show Berhalter he can start thinking about younger options.

Guzan is 35, and it was probably already time to start looking at some new options, but Atlanta United’s call-up rejection just might wind up helping speed up Guzan’s exit from the national team picture.

Young attacking midfielders take their shot

Paxton Pomykal and Brenden Aaronson represent a rare breed of American playmaker, having both enjoyed breakout 2019 seasons in MLS. They head into January camp ready to face a pair of veterans in Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan in a depth chart battle that will be one of the storylines of 2020.

Berhalter needs attacking midfielders for the dual 10 roles in his system, and with Christian Pulisic looking more and more likely to spend most of his time deployed on the wing for the USMNT, the race is on to fill the central void. Weston McKennie’s injury, and recent shift into a centerback role at Schalke has only added to the sense that there is a growing need for more number 10 options.

There are European-based options on the radar, from Duane Holmes to Julian Green, as well as the fast-rising Richie Ledezma, but this January camp will offer both Pomykal and Aaronson the chance to show Berhalter they’re capable of fitting well into his system.

Among the big questions for both players is can they strengthen their defensive contributions to be true two-way players? Pomykal showed real improvement in his work rate in 2019 so his defensive qualities aren’t as much of a question mark, but if he is going to close the gap on Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan on the depth chart, then he will need to show that willingness to cover ground when the team doesn’t have the ball.

One of the big knocks against Aaronson is that he is a defensive liability, but his creativity and clever movement has helped make him a valuable player for the Philadelphia Union, and intriguing prospect for Berhalter. The January camp will be Aaronson’s chance to show he can handle the kind of two-way work required on the international level.

The camp isn’t just important for the young playmakers. Lletget made real progress in 2019 in terms of staying healthy and showing himself to be an effective USMNT option. Roldan struggled to make a similar impact, and there is a growing sense that he is probably better-suited for a defensive midfield role than attacking midfield role. If he’s going to remain in the attacking midfield picture for Berhalter then he will need to have a strong January camp to fend off the youngsters coming for his spot.

Planting some defensive midfield seeds

Two of the more surprising call-up inclusions were Bryang Kayo and Christian Cappis, and it isn’t a coincidence that they are both promising defensive midfield prospects.

Michael Bradley’s days with the USMNT are winding to a close and as much as Tyler Adams is clearly the future of the defensive midfield position,  Berhalter has to be looking at the overall pool at the position and this camp should give him a good long-term look.

Cappis is 20, but has already amassed a good amount of experience with Danish club Hobro, and while he has seen a good amount of time in attacking roles, he spent a good amount of time in his formative years as a defensive midfielder, and recently showed well in that role with the U.S. Under-23 team.

Kayo is only 17, but showed Berhalter some very promising signs when he was a guest player in the USMNT preparatory pre-Gold Cup camp last May. The 6-foot-1 D.C. United academy product is expected to sign with Wolfsburg in the summer, and is another important member of the next Under-20 cycle.

The camp should be an important one for Jackson Yueill who closed 2019 with momentum as a rising defensive midfield prospect. He heads into the January camp with a chance to solidify his place, and continue adapting to Berhalter’s system.


  1. My take away of the Atlanta Block and the overall player selections for this camp:
    1) Atlanta’s block – I’ve got no issues with blocking call-ups for meaningless camps like this as long as there is a justifiable reason. Atlanta’s desire to launch their pre-season earlier in order to prepare for the CONCACAF Tournament is a reasonable excuse. Now if this behavior spills over into the Olympic Qualification Tournament than I’ll be concerned.
    a) M. Robinson – His missing this camp shouldn’t hurt his standings as he is clearly well thought of by Berhaulter & his staff. IMO he’s not at risk of losing his ranking to either Glad or McKenzie.
    b) Brooks Lennon – While this may hurt his ability to integrate with the Sr. Team, he should still have an opportunity to impress with the Olympic Qualification team. IMO he’s still well down the overall pecking order, so not really worried about his not attending.
    c) Guzan – Honestly his time with the Sr. Team should be coming to an end. Steffen & Horvath are likely to be 1 & 2 by 2021, so we’re talking about he 3rd string keeper.
    d) Hyndman – Was the 1 Atlanta player I was really hoping would get a shot during this camp. We are thin at creative/attacking CM’s and thought he could have been a possible option/solution to the problem. To me he had the most to gain, and therefore likely lost the most.
    2) “Michael Bradley’s days with the USMNT are winding to a close and as much as Tyler Adams is clearly the future of the defensive midfield position, Berhalter has to be looking at the overall pool at the position and this camp should give him a good long-term look.” This is a very accurate and telling statement when combined with the absence of Trapp. Yueill has clearly moved up the depth chart but having additional options would be to our advantage.
    IMO our CDM depth chart currently would be: Adams, McKennie, Bradley/Morales. If Pomykal or Aaronson can make the leap during this camp to overtake Roldan I believe our options/performance at the # 8 position would improve drastically (Holmes, Pomykal, Green, Aaronson) and allow McKennie to shift to the # 6 role when Adams is unavailable. If Cappis can emerge as a 3rd string option more power to him….but I still have hope that Parks will get a shot at the 8 position at some point.
    3) While not mentioned in this article, I’m happy that Berhaulter is finally exploring new options at Left Back. I’m glad that Lovitz was not included. Vines & Gasper may not be our best options (Dest, A. Robinson, Gloster); they are at least new faces and young enough that they could grow into depth options over the next couple years.

    I’d have liked a slightly larger camp where Berhaulter could potentially have experimented more with formations (3-5-2 or 5-3-2), but really don’t see that possible with the players that were called up. Maybe we’ll see something more in-line with the strengths of our player pool during the March Window.

  2. It would seem our talent pool is better suited for a 4-3-3 at this point than Berhalter’s 3-5-2, given our dearth of quality central MF. Pulisic and Weah are wasted if they are playing back too deep.

    • Berhalter rarely lined the crew up in a 3-5-2. Finlay and Meram were always offense first wingers and although Afful often go well up the pitch in possession he was a FB. He had Artur deeper than where McKennie was during the GC. He’s slid that 8 role deeper this fall closer to Artur’s positioning.

  3. The US really has too many defensive midfielders. Way too many, it forces guys like the very much hated Roldan and others out of position. Maybe it is the reason GB wants Ryan Adams at right back.
    The US has NOONE that creates, takes over a game, controls the tempo. NOONE is probably harsh, but probably accurate too.

    • Roldan is not a DM for Seattle, he fills in there from time time but that’s not where the prefer to play him. I think it’s a look into our development and MLS roster issues. DM is a spot MLS will play younger players because they get more time to make decisions laying deeper and aren’t required to be technical finishers. MLS prefers to buy average South Americans or Spaniards to play the attacking positions.

    • The vision most seem to have for a DM is the Jermaine Jones model, strong physical play, hard tackles, and lots of running around. I think Bradley has gone too far in the direction of being a cerebral player who does not earn enough yellow cards of the nasty variety. Probably Beckerman had the best balance of the two, if only he had been quicker and more skillful…
      Too many seem to think that it is enough to be a Jermaine Jones type and so are willing to throw any young guy, who is willing to run a lot and fly into tackles, into that position.
      I think to do it well, it requires a better balance between athleticism, skill, aggression and cerebral play than any of the present crop have yet shown. (Of the lot, Adams, Yuell and McKennie seem to me to be the best, but all need to get better in terms of thought process, concentration and skill.)

  4. My takes–“The winger position is in dire need of new blood.” Really? Ives goes on to say Pulisic is likely going to be used as a winger, hopefully Weah will eventually recover to play winger, and then there is Morris and Arriola. While I like Llanez, I don’t exactly see a dire need for new blood. I think Morris is 25, and the oldest of this group. Second, I personally prefer Hamid over Johnson, so glad to see him called in. Finally, while Ives talks of Yueill as a defensive midfielder, what impressed me most about him was his passing. I think he might be wasted as a defender, but then Berhalter seems to like to play people out of position. BTW, can’t help but make an editorial comment here. While Klinsmann also was roundly criticized for playing people out of position, he did it to fill holes or needs, like FJ at LB instead of winger. Berhalter does it to fit a pre-conceived system. That’s a significant difference to me.

    • Yuiell plays that position for San Jose. Think of it’s deep midfield instead of defensive midfield. More in a Pirlo style than Gattuso (I know he’s not that good). Other than Adams in the RB/DM hybrid not sure who else is being played at a different position. Yedlin for a few minutes I guess. Who else are you referring too?

    • playing Williams on the flank was to fill a need? flat out joke…simply call in LD. Play MB as the 8? Squandered his prime years as a 6 by playing him out of poisition and accomplished nothing with it. your constant defense of JK’s ineptitude is weird

  5. Ives will you be continuing with the videos this year? There’s something cathartic about sitting on the toilet while your giant head talks to me about soccer. Seriously, thanks for the work you do. Happy new year.

  6. “Atlanta United confirmed that it rejected call-up requests for Miles Robinson, Brad Guzan and Brooks Lennon”
    wait- just those three?
    does this mean Gregg had no intention of calling in Emo?

  7. Pomykal had surgery at the end of Oct. that was projected to take 6 weeks recovery. That means he has about 6 weeks of time to get ready for January. I wonder how well his recovery and return to fitness go.

    • It might be overstating it to say he was worse than all of Trapp’s past performances. But I agree, why is he on this roster? Does GB think he will suddenly get much better?

    • Roldan is good enough for most of our CONCACAF opponents. When you get to the quality of CR, Mexico, or top SA or European nations, he is wholly inadequate. So, he could be of some use in qualifying against lesser teams, IMO.

      • Agree for the most part but as bad as he was against Canada not sure he’s good enough for hex level opponents.

    • You would have thought the match in Toronto would have been enough. Roldan is more successful in MLS than the other US #8 options but it becomes more and more clear with each appearance that that I’d do to Lodeiro not Roldan. There’s not a lot of great #8s in MLS Kellyn Acosta I guess but he shot himself in the foot getting sent home last year and not really doing much for Colorado. Servania and Dotson but both are young and you already have plenty of young midfielders.


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