For almost every player who travelled to Florida for the US men's national team's final game of the year against El Salvador on Dec. 9 (7:30 pm ET | UniMás, TUDN), the camp is a reward for a strong MLS season. USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter admitted as much after the roster announcement this week, but the reward goes hand-in-hand with a challenge to continue improving, as many of these players have during the course of the MLS season.
For Berhalter, the RB Salzburg bound Brenden Aaronson is the most emblematic of this point. The midfielder truly established himself in a year of accomplishments that include his first national team cap, an MLS Best XI presented by Home Depot selection and lifting the Supporters' Shield with the Philadelphia Union.
"When I think back to January when he made his national team debut to now, he’s had a fantastic season of improving his performance almost weekly so I think he’s done a great job," Berhalter said in a video conference call with reporters. "What we’re looking for him now is to validate it. Validate it on the field. It’s a good opponent we play. Against El Salvador, it's going to be a tight game and this is where he should be able to be very effective. We’re really looking forward to him capping off a strong season with a good performance against El Salvador."
While Aaronson has put himself in a position to be the USMNT's most important player come next Wednesday, much of what Berhalter said about the midfielder rings true for the other young players in camp. Berhalter described Chris Mueller's inclusion as "a classic case of a guy getting rewarded for his performance on the field" after enjoying a 10-goal season for Orlando City and lauded Mueller's teammate Daryl Dike for showcasing "a lot of potential."
"We really like to work with potential," Berhalter said. "We like to get potential through the age and see what we can do with it. He’s an example of that."
That potential could also help the USMNT ahead of Olympic qualifiers as the team looks to participate in the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008. Berhalter tipped Chicago Fire FC'sMauricio Pineda, among others in his camp, as a possibility for that team.
"He had a fantastic season," Berhalter said. "People thought he was going to have a hard time playing in MLS and he fit right in and did a really good job. He's still eligible for the Olympic team and for him it's a case of getting him into this environment and see how he copes with it because he’s someone who can make an impact certainly on the Olympic level."
Above all, Berhalter has one message for the young players in the USMNT's pool.
"They’re here for a reason, they’ve here because they’ve earned this call-up based on what they do well and keep doing that well and we’ll fit them in to what we do," Berhalter said. "That’s the important message for these guys."