Editor's note: This piece originally ran on Oct. 16, 2017, just under a week after the US national team's elimination from 2018 World Cup contention and after the announcement of their friendly against Portugal on Nov. 14. The squad for that friendly will be announced on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
The USMNT reached rock bottom last month. We are now, currently in the long, dark, tea time of the soul.
The job of finding a way out and into better times has already begun. I've taken solace in results at the youth level – the US thrashed Paraguay, 5-0, in their best performance of a solid U-17 World Cup before bowing out to eventual champions England – and enjoyed the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
I also watched results from around Europe and Liga MX featuring US players with interest, and with even more interest considered the USMNT's move to play a friendly at Portugal during this month's international window.
And so the 2022 World Cup cycle begins now. It's painfully early, but a page has to be turned.
A few notes before my roster picks
1. PART OF "TURNING THE PAGE" HAS TO BE ...
... moving on from the older generation. Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey should/will all get testimonials at some point, and last Tuesday's disaster shouldn't obscure the legacy each of them have left with this program.
But it's past time to turn the page.
2. THE FIFA DATE FALLS IN THE MIDDLE OF ...
... the MLS Cup Playoffs, which could/should/will majorly affect availability for certain teams and players. Whoever the coach is – we'll get to that in a minute – should not call in guys from teams that are still going at it in the postseason.
3. WHILE A RETURN TO THE WORLD CUP IN 2022 IS THE BIG TARGET ...
... let's not forget two things: 1) Winning the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup would guarantee a berth in the 2021 Confederations Cup, and 2) There is a veeeeery good chance we'll get a reprise of last year's Copa America in 2020, one that features all 10 CONMEBOL teams and a half-dozen CONCACAF teams.
This squad – every squad for the next 12 months, really – should be put together with all of the above in mind. By that I mean no kids who don't really play professional minutes no matter how great they're looking at the youth level (much as I love Andrew Carleton and Josh Sargent... no, not yet, guys).
Which is not to say that it shouldn't be a very young roster. It absolutely should be! But the corner that's been turned recently in the US is that yes, there are more young players getting minutes than ever before.
4. PEOPLE DYING TO APPOINT A PERMANENT COACH ...
... need to dial it back. There is no reason to rush into a full-time hire before next summer's World Cup.
Let the interim (likely Tab Ramos, which I'm fine with even though I don't love the style his U-20 teams have played) steer the ship for the next eight months with the express purpose of finding a new, young core to build around for at least the next five years.
Update: Assistant coach Dave Sarachan, a holdover from Bruce Arena's staff, will coach the USMNT in their friendly vs. Portugal.
Here's my 23-man roster
Zack Steffen would be an easy pick here, but with Columbus Crew SC still in the playoffs, FCD's Gonzalez gets the call instead.
- Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna)
- Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire)
Sueño (Villafaña) wasn't great against Trinidad & Tobago, but he wasn't bad, either. And that's a fine enough starting point at this perpetually troublesome position.
Vincent might end up being the better option. His defense is above "very good" and his ability to get forward has been a weapon:
Other options: either RSL's Danilo Acosta or former RBNY academy product and current Manchester United youth teamer Matthew Olosunde (who is right-footed, but has played a ton on the left). My issue with Acosta is that he seems to lack international-caliber speed, while Olosunde is still playing for the ManU U-23s. He's not done it against full pros yet.
- Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)
- Matt Miazga (Vitesse)
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (Sheffield United)
- Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake)
Cameron – who should've started in Trinidad – is the one grizzled, truly old vet I want to call in here. He'll be 34 by the time the next Gold Cup comes around, and as he proved in September against Costa Rica (as well as against Portugal in 2014) he's capable of some truly fascinating mistakes at the back.
But one thing about testing out young players is that it's almost always better to do so when they're paired with a "been there, done that" veteran. So please give me Cameron next to Miazga, who is doing real work at center back in the Eredivisie right now and could end up being a 10-year starter.
For what it's worth, I'm not sold on Carter-Vickers, but he's been much better with Sheffield than I'd have guessed. Glad, meanwhile, still need to add strength, but he's been the best young defender in MLS by a mile this year.
If John Brooks gets healthy by next month, he's in here, too.
- DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
- Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls)
Yedlin's an obvious foundational piece going forward, and no right-sided player in MLS has been better than Adams over the last few months. With the Red Bulls out of the playoffs, he should be in the squad even if he's much more of a right wingback than a right back (and even if he'll swear to you he's a central midfielder, not a wide player at all).
Shaq Moore, who is starting to make matchday rosters for Levante in La Liga, is an option here as well. But like Olosunde, he's only really played against youth and reserve teams.
Matt Polster is another good shout at this spot with the Fire knocked out.
- Jonathan Gonzalez (CF Monterrey)
- Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town)
Gonzalez, who's from northern California, is the starting d-mid on the best team in Liga MX, and a dual-national. El Tri have noticed:
They're going hard after Jonathan Gonzalez, "about 5-6 U-17 players" and a pair of uncapped guys, per my source.— Eric Gomez (@EricGomez86) October 11, 2017
He's an Ozzie Alonso-type who keeps things simple, completes a ton of passes and covers a ton of ground. He's also steadfastly maintained that he wants to play for the U.S., which is the reason he signed with Monterrey rather than Chivas.
But Mexico are going to the World Cup and the U.S. aren't, which is obviously a major incentive. Ramos and everyone else still involved in the USSF should be on the phone recruiting this kid Nick Saban-style. Every. Single. Day.
Williams is a natural call-in here if he's healthy enough to go. If not, I wouldn't mind seeing D.C. United's Russell Canouse with this group.
McKennie has been starting, at 19, in central midfield for one of the better teams in the Bundesliga when healthy, and by the eye test, he's the best US central midfield prospect I've seen since Claudio Reyna. In a perfect world we get to see a lot of him, Gonzalez and Christian Pulisic on the same field over the next decade-and-a-half.
Acosta had a stinker since the Gold Cup, but he's still part of the program's long-term future. Bedoya isn't, but he plays Cameron's role here for this group as the "been there, done that" grizzled vet.
- Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
- Paul Arriola (D.C. United)
- Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution)
- Kenny Saief (KAA Gent)
Rowe's actually a bit older than the rest of this squad, but I want him involved following his strong showing in the Gold Cup. The other guys pick themselves for obvious reasons.
I remain quite bummed that I shouldn't even mention Kekuta Manneh's name here. He's actually been fairly productive on a per-90 basis for Columbus, but has started just one match in the last two months. Lynden Gooch could argue for a look as well.
- Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
- Haji Wright (SV Sandhausen)
- Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United)
Wood was so, so disappointing vs. T&T, but anybody writing him off is crazy. Wright is a 19-year-old with a bagful of talent who's starting in the 2.Bundesliga, and his upside makes him worth the risk.
Ramirez is, like Rowe, older than most of the rest of this squad. But he's played his way into a look for this camp and for January's camp cupcake at the very least, and his track record of finding a way to score goals at every level while playing as a true No. 9 is dumb to ignore.
A stab at the Starting XI:
Ok folks – have at it from here.