The cold shadow of the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup still hangs heavy over the US national team, but this month’s friendly at Portugal can help turn the page.
That’s the message from caretaker coach Dave Sarachan as he announced the youth-inflected 21-player roster that will face the defending European champions in Leiria on Nov. 14 (3:45 p.m. ET | FS1, UniMas, UDN).
“The one word that I would use in reference to all of this is opportunity,” Sarachan told ussoccer.com in a Q&A released alongside the roster. “It’s an opportunity for many players who haven’t been in the picture that we feel have a bright future with the national team to get to measure themselves in a game against a quality opponent. It’s an opportunity for our national team to finish out 2017 in a positive way. It’s also just an opportunity to move on.
“As much as we’re still gutted from how things turned out with qualifying, we have to look ahead and finish out the year the right way.”
Sarachan, who is leading the program on an interim basis while the federation conducts a thorough search for former boss Bruce Arena’s long-term successor, called on eight MLS standouts, but elected to leave out anyone still involved with the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“It was a combination of things in terms of availability, timing, and having an opportunity to look at players that have been on our radar and in some cases haven’t had a chance to get a look,” he said. “Obviously the European-based players are available with this international break, and the idea was to bring in those players to balance that out with a few Major League Soccer players that are available. We are steering clear of those that are still involved with the playoffs.”
Sarachan’s squad features many young faces, as well as solid 2017 performers with little USMNT experience like Philadelphia Union striker CJ Sapong. So he’s relying on a select few experienced players like Sapong’s Union teammate Alejandro Bedoya and former Seattle Sounders fullback DeAndre Yedlin to provide leadership and guidance for the newcomers.
He’s also urging all involved to make the most of a rare chance to play a world-class opponent, even if Portuguese megastar Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t taking part.
“We’ve also tried to bring in a few veteran players who can lend leadership – guys that have been involved with the national team and have played in what I would call higher-profile games,” said Sarachan.
“For a lot of the younger players coming in this is the start of a new era in our program and so it’s important to set the right tone and make sure they all really get a grasp of what this means and the honor that comes with playing for your national team. It’s not something to be taken for granted. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. That understanding will be important for all the players that come into camp.”