Armchair Analyst: First USMNT camp of the 2020s a sign of what's to come

The January US men's national team camp, which is always an extended camp and never falls even partially during an international break, is a time for experimentation. In the past that experimentation has usually meant new faces at the fringe of the roster – guys on the verge of working themselves in for real, or out for good – or tactical tweaks, or the introduction of a new head coach. Last year's camp, the first under Gregg Berhalter, was a time for all three.

This year's camp has an almost entirely different feel. First off, it's not in Carson, California, the traditional winter palace for Camp Cupcake. Rather, the bulk of the camp (January 5 through 25th) will be in Doha, Qatar, theoretically in preparation for the 2022 World Cup.

Second, this camp roster has much more of a youth national team(s) influence than past camps. There are 14 U-23s mixed into the 25-man roster, and three of those guys are actually U-20s. Two of those have never played a first-team minute.

So it is a wildly experimental group, one that seems to say "we really are trying to integrate our programs from both the bottom up and the top down." Let's take a look at it through that lens:

The full-time USMNTers

Sean Johnson is either second or third on the goalkeeper depth chart. Reggie Cannon (U-23 eligible) is second or third on the right back depth chart. Aaron Long is a starter at center back and Walker Zimmerman is third or fourth on the CB depth chart.

Sebastian Lletget is the starting No. 10 as of now, and Cristian Roldan is second or third on the No. 8 depth chart. Jackson Yueill (U-23 eligible) is second on the No. 6 depth chart.

Jordan Morris is a starting winger, while Paul Arriola and Jonathan Lewis (U-23 eligible) are probably third and fourth on the winger depth chart. Gyasi Zardes is second or third on the center forward depth chart.

The fringe guys pushing in

Matt Turner and Bill Hamid are both there to challenge Johnson and try to leap ahead of Brad Guzan. Turner was called in back in November as well, while this is Hamid's first US camp with Berhalter.

The only field player on the roster that fits this mold is left back Chase Gasper, who's in his second straight camp after a strong rookie season for Minnesota United. Gasper's just about a year too old to be U-23 eligible, otherwise he'd be in this next group...

The U-23s

Cannon, Yueill and Lewis have already been mentioned. There's also Quakes Homegrown 'keeper J.T. Marcinkowski, who's played a bunch in the USL Championship the past couple of years and seems to be the No. 1 choice at 'keeper for the U-23s. I will admit surprise that Philly's Matt Freese isn't on this list, but there are only so many places up for grabs.

Center backs Justen Glad and Mark McKenzie have both been at US camps before, though neither has made an appearance. Know who's not here? Fellow U-23 eligible CB Miles Robinson, who has made a full US appearance but was injured (hamstring) back in October while doing fitness training after a USMNT game in which he didn't play. Atlanta weren't happy about it publicly, and my guess is they were livid about it privately.

Twelve weeks is usually plenty of time to recover from a hamstring strain, and they have their own January camp opening up on the 11th ahead of their CCL campaign. Plus it seems like they’re no longer wild about releasing players unless they absolutely have to.

Left back Sam Vines had an understated and solid – and sometimes defensively outstanding – age 20 season for Colorado. He's not a game-breaker out there, but he's not a match-loser, either.

Paxton Pomykal has been capped once, and is healthy after an October procedure to clean up a lingering muscle issue in his lower abdomen. Brenden Aaronson's been to a camp but hasn't been capped, and Christian Cappis has performed well – sometimes as a No. 8, sometimes as a No. 6 – for both his club in Denmark and the US U-23s.

I still don't know what position Jesus Ferreira is best at. What I do know is that he had one of the most productive seasons by a teenager in MLS history, registering 8g/6a while playing some as a No. 9, some as a winger and some as a central midfield playmaker. This is his first camp after officially earning US citizenship.

The U-20s

Here's where it gets kind of fun: The inclusion of LA Galaxy right back Julian Araujo, Wolfsburg U-19 winger Uly Llanez and unattached D.C. United academy product Bryang Kayo (there are rumors he'll be signing with Wolfsburg) seems to be Gregg Berhalter's way of saying "we want to integrate as large a part of the core of the next U-20 group into the full program as quickly as possible."

Araujo, who played 900 minutes for the Galaxy this year, was born in 2001, as was Llanez, who's been tearing it up in the German youth ranks after developing in the Galaxy academy. Kayo's a 2002. It's a very, very good bet that all three of those guys will be part U-20 qualifying, which is in June. It's close as hell, and so let's get these kids bloody.

A few notes:

• Contrast Wolfsburg letting Llanez go with Borussia Dortmund presumably refusing to release Gio Reyna, who's made the 18 for them in the past. That suggests Llanez isn't quite ready to break through into the first team, which is obviously just fine – he's still a kid.

Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp were regulars for the US in 2019, but neither are here, nor is Jozy Altidore, nor is Guzan (who wasn't released). I wouldn't bet even a small amount that this means Berhalter has permanently moved beyond those guys (there's a good chance Bradley is still rehabbing after the injury he picked up in MLS Cup), but I wouldn't be entirely shocked, either.

• Conspicuous in their absence are a pair of MLS-based U-23 strikers, Jeremy Ebobisse and Mason Toye. Ebobisse just had surgery, so that explains that. Toye... it's tougher to say. He had a scorching run this summer, but struggled mightily in his most recent U-23 camp.

Olympic qualifying is in March, by the way. For all of these age-eligible guys, the time to start performing is right now. Anybody who comes out of the gates slow in 2020 is at risk of losing their spot.

• Another U-23, Cappis's Hobro teammate Emmanuel Sabbi, is also conspicuous in his absence. My guess is Hobro intend to sell him next month (there have been rumors for a year now), which is why he's not there.

• Remember, before you lose your minds in the comments section below, that the January camp is not held during an international date and therefore clubs are under no obligation to release players. That especially includes European clubs, almost all of whom have their seasons re-starting this month and are holding camps of their own.

Here's the roster:

Pos. Player Club
GK Johnson, Sean New York City FCNYCFC
GK Hamid, Bill D.C. United
GK Marcinkowski, JT San Jose EarthquakesSan Jose
GK Turner, Matt New England RevolutionNE Revolution
D Araujo, Julian LA Galaxy
D Cannon, Reggie FC Dallas
D Gasper, Chase Minnesota UnitedMinnesota
D Glad, Justen Real Salt LakeRSL
D Long, Aaron NY Red Bulls
D McKenzie, Mark Philadelphia UnionPhiladelphia
D Vines, Sam Colorado RapidsColorado
D Zimmerman, Walker LAFC
M Aaronson, Brenden Philadelphia UnionPhiladelphia
M Cappis, Christian Hobro
M Kayo, Bryang Unattached
M Lletget, Sebastian LA Galaxy
M Pomykal, Paxton FC Dallas
M Roldan, Cristian Seattle SoundersSeattle
M Yueill, Jackson San Jose EarthquakesSan Jose
F Arriola, Paul D.C. United
F Ferreira, Jesus FC Dallas
F Lewis, Jonathan Colorado RapidsColorado
F Llanez, Ulysses Wolfsburg
F Morris, Jordan Seattle SoundersSeattle
F Zardes, Gyasi Columbus Crew SCColumbus
Series: 
Topics: