The US roster for the upcoming friendly against Paraguay is out, and as expected it's both young and experimental. This is obviously a good thing, given the state of the program and — all together now — the fact that we failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup this summer in Russia.
So like last November's friendly in Portugal and this January's Camp Cupcake in California, this game doesn't count for much and this group will likely never be together again. Right now there is nothing to build toward as a group.
Individually, however, this camp presents an opportunity. Whoever the next coach is will watch the tape, read some reports and get a feel for who distinguished themselves and who did not.
With that in mind, here are three things I like and one I don't about the USMNT roster caretaker head coach Dave Sarachan called in:
What I Like
1. The European Feel
This is an international date but a good chunk of MLS teams are in action, so credit to Sarachan et al for leaving those players with their clubs. A more Euro-based group makes sense given both that, and the fact that January camps was almost entirely MLS-based (as it always is).
This will be a chance to see if the leadership bona fides that rocketed Weston McKennie through Schalke's ranks will translate to the full national team, and if Matt Miazga can be the same kind of backline leader at the international level that he is in the Eredivisie for Vitesse. We'll also get to see where Kenny Saief fits in and if Antonee Robinson is part of the answer at left back. In all, 13 of the 22 players called in ply their trade in Europe.
One of them is Tim Weah. Hello!
It's been a banner month for US teenagers pretty much everywhere. Andrew Carleton's out there getting assists, Chris Durkin's changing games, and Auston Trusty's helping pitch shutouts. McKennie's playing big minutes for a big team. Even Christian Pulisic's ongoing slump can't take the shine off what looks like the beginning of a golden age for US youth players.
EDIT: In the first draft I straight-up forgot to mention Tyler Adams leading the Red Bulls to the CCL semifinals. The kid plays like such a vet at this point it's difficult to remember he's just turned 19.
Weah making his debut for PSG belongs in that same discussion. I'm not sure he'll ever be a fully PSG-caliber player, but I love that he's in the discussion and credit to Sarachan for bringing him in.
2. No Pulisic
If this were a real game, or if the US were prepping for the World Cup, Pulisic would be the first call-in and the first name on the team sheet. As high as I am on the likes of McKennie, Miazga, Durkin, Carleton, Weah and Adams, Pulisic is the odds-on favorite to be the best USMNT player for the next decade.
But he's not been good lately, and he looks kind of exhausted as Borussia Dortmund make their way through a Jekyll and Hyde season. They just got knocked out of the Europa League in pretty embarrassing fashion; at the same time, they're unbeaten in 12 in the Bundesliga and are tussling with Schalke for second place.
Pulisic's obviously a big part of that, and given Dortmund have a huge game at Bayern Munch on March 31, four days after the Paraguay game, it makes sense to leave the kid home.
Sarachan seems to agree with this assessment.
“I’ve had conversations with the Sporting Director at Dortmund and several with Christian personally about the timing of this friendly and where he is professionally at the moment with his club," Sarachan said. "He’s now feeling confident in playing an important role for Dortmund at a crucial time in their season where they’re trying to lock in qualification for the Champions League. They also have a huge match against Bayern Munich on the back end of our match against Paraguay, so when I factored all of those things together, as much as we wanted him here I felt it best suits the player to continue in the rhythm and form he’s currently in with his club.”
3. The Development Academy Connection
For good and obvious reasons there's been a ton of talk about what's wrong with U.S. Soccer over the last six months (and, for the record, I can confirm that "What's wrong with U.S. Soccer" has been a constant discussion in some circles for the past 35 years). There's a lot that needs fixing.
The right way to fix it is at the core of these discussions, and as an avowed incrementalist I'm a big fan of "Identify what's already working, and then figure out a way to scale that up."
The Development Academy is not perfect, but it's getting results. Kids from DA programs have been the foundation of each of the last two US U-20 national teams and not at all coincidentally both of those teams made it to the World Cup quarterfinals. Fast forward to this roster release, and we've got 15 of the 22 from the USSDA pipeline. It's not just the kids – "older" guys like DeAndre Yedlin, Bobby Wood and Alex Bono all come from what was then the nascent USSDA.
So that means somebody's doing something right. Pulisic might have had the good fortune of good genes and good coaching, but Pulisic and McKennie and Adams all coming from the same age-group doesn't happen by accident. Spread that over four or five age-groups, and it means you're building something sustainable.
The "fix" for US soccer is making sure that kids in traditionally underserved areas – too rural, too urban, too ethnic – have the same access to top coaching and high-level opportunities that the likes of Pulisic and McKennie and Adams and so-on down the list had/have. Just in terms of pure geography it is a daunting task, and one that will take generations to realize.
But this roster is a step. It is progress. It is an indication that the initiatives put into place a decade back are beginning to bear fruit.
What I Don't
No Keaton Parks or Jordan Siebatcheu: Have you heard of them?
Parks is 20, is a deep-lying midfielder (I haven't seen enough of him to know whether he projects better as a d-mid or a game-controlling No. 8), is from Dallas and has been getting regular minutes for Benfica, the biggest team in Portugal. They just inked him through 2022, and he's expected to compete for a starting job by the end of this season.
This is pure Kyle Beckerman in how he receives this pass:
Kid's got game sense and I would've liked to see him with this group. Perhaps in May.
Siebatcheu, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-3 center forward, is one of the top scorers in Ligue 2 (12g/7a in 27 games), and is a French/American dual citizen. He's slumped recently — no goals since January 19 — and then got hurt two weeks back, the latter of which probably explains his absence.
Like Parks, I hope to see him in May.
By the way, if you think I'm going to use this space to argue for the likes of Carleton, Durkin, Trusty et al to be with the USMNT instead of their club teams, think again. The best thing for them and for U.S. Soccer will be for those guys to push through and win starting jobs outright.
Once they do that, full national team call-ups will follow.