CARSON, Calif. – The US national team's January camp is wrapping up this weekend, closing with Sunday's StubHub Center friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina (9:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMas), and interim coach Dave Sarachan says he's pleased with how things have progressed.
There's nothing earth-shaking to report, just steady growth along the youngest US roster in perhaps a couple of decades as Sarachan and his staff begin identifying and testing prospects with an eye towards the 2022 World Cup.
Some 15 players are hoping to win their first cap on Sunday against an inexperienced Bosnian side guided by former Yugoslavia and Croatia star Robert Prosinecki, and led by Philadelphia Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin.
“The main thing that I want is for these guys to play without any fear,” Sarachan, who took charge when Bruce Arena stepped down following the World Cup qualifying failure and guided the Americans in the draw with Portugal in November, told MLSsoccer.com following Friday's training session at StubHub. “The message [against Portugal] was to play with no fear, play with confidence, be aggressive, and rather than let the game come to you, you come to the game.
“I think it's the same message here. I can tell you they're not going to get overcoached. I want them to really bring out their own personalities within a structure, but step on the field with an aggressive nature, with no fear, and get after it. That's the only way I think you can really tell how it can really look in a real game.”
The primary aim of the camp, Sarachan said, was to acquire a good sense of the younger players, get everyone “sort of on the same page,” develop the system that will be used Sunday and then use that as a platform to teach.
Sarachan overseeing the USMNT | Robert Mora/LA Galaxy
Which players will return for the next camp or grow into national team regulars isn't certain.
“I don't have a crystal ball in terms of these 29 players, of how this will look in six months, a year, two years,” said Sarachan, who coached the Chicago Fire to an MLS Cup final and won three titles as associate head coach under Arena with the LA Galaxy. “We have talented players all over the world, and as much as there's been a lot of rhetoric and talk negatively, I'm on the inside of this. I've seen the potential of what we have at the youth levels.
“Now what it's going to look like in two years, we don't know, but I'm very hopeful that we've got a next cycle of young players that will emerge and be very strong.”
Sarachan said the older players in camp – Toronto FC left back Justin Morrow, Sporting Kansas City center back Ike Opara, Union striker CJ Sapong and former D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, the only players on the roster born before 1991 – emerged as leaders over the past two weeks.
So did 23-year-old Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, who with Columbus Crew SC forward Gyasi Zardes and D.C. winger Paul Arriola is one of three players in camp to appear regularly in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Jordan Morris for a young guy has played in meaningful games,” Sarachan said. “He's a bright kid, he's a true professional in the sense that there's no ego, and I think if I were a young player in this camp, I would look at a guy like Jordan and go, 'OK, this is what I want to model myself after.' ”
Sarachan was asked about players who took a huge stride forward in camp.
Medunjanin and BIH | Action Images/Reuters
“I would use [Columbus holding midfielder] Wil Trapp as an example,” he said. “Will had been with us last year [during the January camp] as well and was maybe in the middle of the pack, getting his feet a little wetter. This time around, he has come in with a lot more confidence and presence, and he's been consistently solid in the camp, and he's very focused.
“I single him out, but I could name others.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina, which narrowly missed Europe's playoff round in World Cup qualifying, has brought an inexperienced team for Sunday's game and Wednesday's against Mexico in San Antonio. Prosinecki, making his debut as Dragons coach, has just six players with national team experience, and only three who have played more than one international match.
Medunjanin, who started five games during the Bosnians' qualifying campaign, has 56 caps. Azerbaijan-based goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic, who backed up Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic throughout the qualifiers, has six, and Croatia-based midfielder Zoran Kurzic has four.
Prosinecki's roster also features 19-year-old midfielder Marijan Cavar, who last week joined Eintracht Frankfurt, and 19-year-old Iowa-born forward Elvir Ibisevic, formerly with Sporting KC's academy and in the US under-17 residency in Florida. Ibisevic, whose cousin Vedad Ibisevic was part of Bosnia's 2014 World Cup squad, was the top scorer last fall as a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, helping the Mustangs into the NCAA tournament.
“Teams like Bosnia, Eastern European teams, they're always technically good,” Sarachan said. “They have a very young team, and so I suspect that they will come out with a purpose of making it hard on us. The speed of play will be, I would think, pretty good. So we have to be on our toes, but they're always a technically good group of athletes.”
All of the US players aside from Hamid, who will join Danish club FC Midtjylland, and the unattached Rubio Rubin, whose next club destination is still to be determined, will head to their MLS clubs' preseason camps after the game. Sarachan and his staff will follow their treks ahead of the March international fixture dates, when the Yanks are expected to play two matches in Europe.
A match against France at the start of June is tentatively on the schedule, but the US could have a new head coach by then.