January's annual USMNT camp and the subsequent friendly does not fall on an international date, and as a matter of fact falls right in the middle of the season for the bulk of leagues worldwide. This means that no team on God's green earth is required to release players for this camp.
I open with that because there's been some confusion on social media over the nature of this camp. DeAndre Yedlin isn't here because Newcastle United are playing EPL games right now, ok? Chrstian Pulisic isn't here because Borussia Dortmund are using their brief winter break to gear back up for the back half of the Bundesliga season, and the same goes for Weston McKennie at Schalke or Matt Miazga at Vitesse. Jonathan Gonzalez isn't here because... oof (more on this later).
Silver lining? There are lots of other good-to-great young players in the USMNT player pool, especially at central midfield! Let's take a look at the roster:
Two surprises here. First is that Hamid isn't already getting settled in with Midtjylland – though I wouldn't be at all surprised if he left halfway through to join them as they ramp up to the start of their own season. If he wins that starting job and is able to show out in the Danish league (which is heavily scouted), I suspect he'll end up in France or the Bundesliga by this time next year.
Second is that Jesse Gonzalez is not part of the camp. Everything that went wrong with the recruitment of Jonathan Gonzalez? Yeah, all of that went right with Jesse, who filed his one-time switch to change from Mexico to the US this past summer, when it was Bruce Arena who out-recruited Osorio.
Gonzalez would be here, but multiplereports say that FC Dallas decided not to release anyone for this camp. That makes a certain amount of sense given their struggles this past season, and the need to keep a tight locker room in 2018.
DEFENDERS (9):Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
Morrow, at 30, is actually the oldest player on the roster. Opara's 28, and just making his debut after finally playing a (mostly) healthy season.
The rest of this group ranges in age from 20 to 24, and there are no obvious omissions amongst that age group. I could've argued maybe a little bit for 25-year-old Aaron Long as well, but that's not a flagrant omission. Neither is the absences of 19-year-old Timbers left back Marco Farfan.
For what it's worth, any central defensive combination you could come up with out of Glad/Opara/Parker/Zimmerman would probably be the most mobile central defense in U.S. Soccer history. All four of those guys can move.
Also for what it's worth: Yay for actual young depth at left back and right back! Morrow and Vincent can give the US penetration on the left side:
Acosta at left back, and both right backs (Polster and Lima) are different kinds of players – zone movers who can beat defenders with their passing and off-the-ball movement in possession.
These are good options.
MIDFIELDERS (11):Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Russell Canouse (D.C. United), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC), Marlon Hairston (Colorado Rapids), Ian Harkes (D.C. United), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
The guys on the d-mid depth chart, where Gonzalez would be, are Trapp, Adams (I think) and Canouse. Adams played mostly out wide last year, and then a bit as an advanced destroyer – not really a d-mid – for the Red Bulls, and he was a pure No. 8 for Ramos during the U-20 World Cup. But long-term, there is still a feeling in Harrison that he will be a defensive midfielder. Perhaps this camp is where he'll first prove it.
Trapp was excellent over the second half of the season for Columbus, and while Canouse is kind of an unknown still with D.C. (is he an 8, or is he a 6?), he was both the starting defensive midfielder and captain for the 2015 US U-20 team, in the same group as the likes of Roldan, Delgado and Kellyn Acosta (another who wasn't released by FC Dallas). Harkes is in that same age-group, and is a pure No. 8.
On the wings, Arriola, Hairston, Lennon and Zardes are all cut from the same cloth: Energetic, committed two-way players.
Rowe – at 26, one of the older players on this roster – is also a guy who's spent more time on the wing than elsewhere, but I'm hoping he's used as a central playmaker here. And for the Revs.
FORWARDS (6):Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United FC), Rubio Rubin (Unattached), C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union)
It's an open competition here.
Sapong put in a great shift vs. Portugal, but he's the oldest of this group at 29. If we were preparing for Russia 2018, he'd be the favorite, but we're preparing for Qatar 2022, so that age works against him. Morris, Dwyer and Agudelo have all had good moments with the US in the past (on talent, I'd still take Agudelo over almost anyone else in the striker pool), and Rubin is a once-promising US U-20 player who's fallen on hard times.
Ramirez is obviously the "let's see if what he's got can translate" newcomer. He won multiple golden boots in the second-tier NASL before jumping to MLS last year and hardly missing a beat. Goalscorers get goals.
Seeing young players get a shot with the USMNT is exciting but the main story around U.S. Soccer on Monday involves a player who will not be with the team in January.
The US camp roster release has been overshadowed by the news, first reported by Univision Deportes, that Monterrey's superb, 18-year-old, California born-and-raised defensive midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez intends to file a one-time switch of allegiance from the US (who he repped at various youth levels) to Mexico. Gonzalez broke into Rayados' starting lineup at the start of the Apertura, was an ever-present, Ozzie Alonso-esque figure as that team finished atop the standings, and was named to the league's Best XI. Various folks I've spoken with confirm that he's been scouted by a double-handful of the world's best teams, up to and including Barcelona.
Losing him hurts, especially because he's so young and so good. Losing him hurts, especially since he elected to sign with Monterrey in the first place – over Chivas, who only field Mexican players, or Mexican-American players who've rejected the USMNT – because he intended to continue repping the US. Losing him hurts, especially since as recently as this autumn, even after the US were eliminated from the 2018 World Cup, he was all-in on the Red, White & Blue. Something changed between then and now.
Obviously the big change came on October 10, when the US failed as hard as is freaking possible down in Trinidad & Tobago. El Tri are going to the World Cup and the US are not, and that's alluring. The other big change was, reportedly, one month later when Gonzalez was not named to the US squad for a friendly in Portugal, a game that was essentially the start of the 2022 cycle.
The story I'd been told was that the US didn't call Gonzalez for that game at Monterrey's request. The US game at Portugal was on the November 14; Monterrey had a Copa MX semifinal against Club America on the 15th, and Gonzalez was crucial. Please leave him here for this huge game (it really was a huge game, one that Rayados would go onto win on penalties AET en route to just their second-ever Copa MX title).
The US could've forced Monterrey to release him, but didn't. This is all very reasonable. It's important to stay in a team's good graces – remember, Dortmund asked the US to leave Pulisic be for that game, and caretaker head coach Dave Sarachan et al thought that was a pretty good idea (it was). There's no need to overtax youngsters or alienate teams when we're literally years from games that matter, and you can hear Sarachan say as much here:
What's not reasonable is that all of this came to pass without cluing in Gonzalez himself. This decision was made, and the player himself was left in the dark.
"I wasn't called in, in November," Gonzalez told Soccer America last month. "Personally, nobody came and talked to me and let me know about that friendly. I just wasn't called in."
Is it reasonable to assume that being overlooked for one friendly was enough to change the kid's allegiance? Probably not – I think it's pretty clear that there are other factors involved here (he is a legitimate star in Mexico in the "walk down the street and get surrounded by adoring fans" kind of way). Nonetheless this is an abject failure of talent identification, cultivation and communication from the folks at US soccer. I know there's been a lot of upheaval over the past six months, but...
Folks who follow college basketball and football understand what's happened here: One team saw an opportunity to out-recruit another. One team went at a player with urgency and a plan, while the other – who thought they had that player wrapped up – took him for granted and got lazy. One coaching staff outworked the other. All due respect to Sarachan (who's a good guy) and Tab Ramos (who's done good work with the US U-20s, and should've been in Gonzalez's ear every day for the last six months explaining to the kid that he's going to be the star of the 2020 Olympic team and beyond), but this falls on them. Juan Carlos Osorio Calipari'd them because they were just begging to get Calipari'd.
What a disaster.
With that said, I need to make this point: "We should've called up Gonzalez for this camp!" is not an acceptable take. Liga MX players are almost never available for the January camp (Jorge Villafaña was an exception last year, as he was so far outside of his team's plans) because the Clausura starts in early January. Monterrey could not have been forced into releasing him. No matter who the US manager was this month, Gonzalez wouldn't have been in Carson, even if they called and called (which they say they did). That's just not how this works.
So lament that he probably won't be in future camps, not that he won't be at this one.
Now that I've gotten that out of my system, one last note from my colleague Abner Aceves, who is Mexican-American:
Maybe losing Gonzalez was inevitable, the same way losing Miguel Ángel Ponce was. I can accept that.
What I can not accept is that the process was so broken that the USMNT weren't even in the fight. Whoever the next fulltime head coach is, and fulltime technical director and hopefully fulltime general manager, has to fix that. It's very easy to communicate in this modern world of ours, and to lose a bigtime player even partially because of the inability to send a text or hop on Skype is... well, I'm going to be mad about this for a while. A good long while.
ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: #BarcoWatch continues in Atlanta, and the guys explain why the impending eight-figure transfer could change Major League Soccer forever. Plus, breaking down the USMNT January camp and Jonathan Gonzalez's decision to represent Mexico over the US. Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode! Have something to say? Call or text the #HotTakeHotline at 401-206-0MLS.
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