FAIRFAX, Va. – Gregg Berhalter appears ready to play his kids, or at least a good chunk of them, as the US national team kick off Concacaf Nations League play vs. Cuba at Audi Field on Friday (7 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, TUDN).
Berhalter told reporters at Thursday’s pre-match press conference that 19-year-old Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent will start Friday’s match, which would mark the St. Louis native’s sixth start and 10th senior international cap since making his debut vs. Bolivia in May 2018.
“Josh will start the game tomorrow, so he has a great opportunity,” said Berhalter at the USMNT’s training base at George Mason University. “We believe in Josh, we think he’s a player with a lot of potential. It will be nice to see how he can perform tomorrow in the context of the team performance. But he’s been doing well so far in the Bundesliga and we’re excited to see him tomorrow.”
With stars Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie also expected to play key roles in both of this month’s CNL matches, that’s three of the four youngest players on the current squad at or near starter status. The fourth is new arrival Brenden Aaronson, the 18-year-old Philadelphia Union Homegrown who drew warm praise from Berhalter but may have to wait a little longer to see significant USMNT minutes.
“He’s been good,” said Berhalter of Aaronson. “It’s less about us seeing him, that’s one component, but it’s about exposing him to this environment, him seeing, being around these pros, these long-term pros, understanding what it’s like to be part of the men’s national team. He’s done a good job, though. it’s been great to see him in camp.”
Fans and pundits will be watching to see if two other promising youngsters, Atlanta United center back Miles Robinson and San Jose Earthquakes central midfielder Jackson Yueill (both 22), will also earn meaningful playing time this month. USMNT veteran Gyasi Zardes suggested to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday that age is not a dominant factor in Berhalter’s evaluations.
“For me, it doesn’t matter how old you are, I think you can always challenge for a spot, whether you’re trying to compete against a veteran guy or a newcomer, it doesn’t matter,” said the Columbus Crew SC striker. “If you’re giving your all, I think the coaching staff will take notice of that.”
Meanwhile the United States could field a more grizzled presence in the nets, with starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s training activities limited for much of the week.
“He’s fine, it’s just managing his workload,” said Berhalter of the former Crew ‘keeper, who’s already logged seven starts for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf this season. “He’s played a lot recently and for us it’s just getting him a little bit of rest in this time, being cautious with him and making the right decision. But he’s fine.”
That could hand an opportunity to Brad Guzan or Sean Johnson, especially given the relatively quick turnaround to Tuesday’s key visit to Toronto to face Canada (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN in US). The USMNT will remain in the Washington, D.C. region to conduct recovery and regen work after the Cuba match, then fly north on Sunday.