The U.S. Men’s National Team roster for the December training camp just might be the most promising collection of young talent ever put together for an MLS-dominated camp, and the reason there is a different feel about this group than past MLS-heavy squads is because of how many of these prospects have tantalizingly high ceilings.
From Brenden Aaronson, who is headed to Red Bull Salzburg in January as a 20-year-old on a $6 million transfer, to Mark McKenzie, who is coming off an MLS Best XI-caliber season as a 20-year-old central defender, and Ayo Akinola and Daryl Dike, a pair of young strikers who have the combination of speed and power scouts rave about, the December USMNT squad is stacked with blue-chip prospects who just might be ready to start pushing older players on the national team depth chart.
Above all, Gregg Berhalter is looking for options, and looking for players to help fill the long list of roles that will be available for an impossibly busy summer ahead.
There are some players missing from this group, but before we start talking about snubs we should consider that a January camp still seems likely, so players like Jackson Yueill and Miles Robinson are good bets to be part of that group.
Here is a closer look at the top takeaways from the USMNT December camp roster:
Boosting the striker pool
Daryl Dike and Ayo Akinola were two of the MLS season’s breakout attacking players, emerging as dominant goal-scoring strikers, thriving on two top teams in Orlando City and Toronto FC.
They are also both eligible for multiple national teams, with Akinola reportedly listening to overtures from the Canadian national team program, and Dike, whose older brother Bright Dike played for Nigeria.
The duo could help answer the question of who will step forward to fill the void when Jozy Altidore’s USMNT career ends, and while there is a growing list of promising European-based strikers, like Josh Sargent, Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto, Dike and Akinola boost the speed-strength combo that generates closer comparisons to Altidore.
Berhalter wants strikers who can be effective at holding up the ball, and distributing to runners, but those are skills both Akinola and Dike need to continue to develop after making strides in that area during the year.
Breakout seasons rewarded
Chris Mueller was one of the 2020 MLS season’s biggest breakout players, emerging as an elite-level attacker and one of the driving forces behind Orlando City’s impressive first season under Oscar Pareja.
What should have Berhalter excited is the dynamism Mueller displayed on the wing, and just how good a fit he could be operating as a wide forward in Berhalter’s 4-3-3 formation. Mueller isn’t known for his crossing, but his overall passing and selectivity with his passing improved considerably in 2020, and he set new highs in goals and assists.
Mark McKenzie was in last January’s USMNT camp, and made his national team debut after that camp, but he now returns to the national team setup having established himself as one of the best defenders in MLS and a top transfer target.
The 21-year-old could make a transfer move this winter, but his focus in the coming days will be making a case for the starting centerback role next to John Brooks with the full USMNT. That spot is up for grabs, and with Aaron Long entering the December camp as a leading candidate to retain the role he held at the 2019 Gold Cup, McKenzie has a chance to show he is the
Cole Bassett emerged as one of the more promising young American playmakers in MLS as one of the standouts on Colorado’s run to the playoffs. The U.S. Under-20 national team standout is being pursued by European clubs, and could leave MLS this winter, but his playmaking ability and nose for goal making a great fit for one of the attacking midfield roles in Berhalter’s midfield setup. The 19-year-old will be a leading option on the U.S. Under-20 team in 2021, and could play himself into the Olympic qualifying picture if he continues to impress.