The words youthful, developmental, experimental, inexperienced, and more plainly young. Dave Sarachan, interim head coach of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT), announced his 22-man roster for an international friendly against Bolivia scheduled for Memorial Day night in Chester in hopes of sorting out the future of American soccer.
In a way, Sarachan and US Soccer staff alike seem dead set on gearing up for the next generation of US Soccer. By deploying a team stacked with under-20 talent, US staff and fans alike get a glimpse of what’s next. After all, isn’t that the most important question for US Soccer considering the recent failure to qualify for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup? Everyone should be ready to turn the page, write the new chapter, and let the young kids run loose for the country.
The past week of training featured a continuously rotating of guest players like John McCarthy, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper, along with the set 22-man roster. The University of Pennsylvania’s Rhodes Field was the setting for Sarachan’s and his groups’ trainings. They arrived last weekend and have taken over Penn’s athletic fields for roughly 2-3 hours each morning, starting Monday. Media availability was granted each day except Thursday, including an open practice Wednesday which allowed media members to stick around for the entirety of training.
It’s been a big week for Philadelphia soccer writers. Many sites like Pro Soccer USA, Philly.com, and The Athletic Philadelphia have granted soccer fans with some great features on players and coaches alike. There is a buzz surrounding the youth-filled club. Everyone seems excited to see what could be next.
The average age of the roster as of this week calculates out to just over 22 years and 290 days. In March, the average age of Sarachan selected players was just 24.
10 players have suited up in the past during Youth World Cups while 13 graduated from US Soccer Developmental Academies.
None of the players have earned more than eight starts with the senior team. There are only two players born before 1990, defenders Eric Lichaj and Jorge Villafana – born in 1988 and 1989 respectively. The highest number of appearances with the national team is 20, from Christian Pulisic and Joe Corona.
Feel old yet?
Sarachan explained the thought process behind the roster selection to ussoccer.com last week. Sarachan said, “As I’ve talked about throughout this process, the theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program. We’ve had first-time call-ups in every camp since November, and this is another extension of that,” the interim national team coach mentioned.
Three players earned their first invites into the national team camp and conversation this week. Alejandro Guido, Matthew Olosunde and Keaton Parks all trained this week while donning the US Soccer crest. In addition to the three brand new players, seven others hope to earn their first cap with the USMNT. Goalkeeper and former Reading United AC member Alex Bono, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson, Josh Sargent, and the three newcomers Guido, Olosunde, and Parks all have yet to appear for USMNT in a match.
“We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well. Overall, these types of games provide great chances for players to bank key minutes in international matches,” said Sarachan.
The incredibly dramatic shift in roster make-up is part of a long thought out process. All in the hopes of ‘what if’ thinking. At this point though, there is no other logical way to decipher how effective the next generation’s talents. They have to see the pitch and play for the senior team eventually. So what better time than now, during a friendly with no real major tournament to prep for.
At goalkeeper, three players made the cut. Of the three, just seven caps have been earned. One keeper, Alex Bono, is with the team for the first time.Bono played sporadically for Reading United AC, as part of Philadelphia’s developmental structure. He was later selected by Toronto FC. Bill Hammid, former D.C United keeper currently fighting for minutes each week in the Danish League with FC Midtjylland. Hammid made his European debut back in early April. The third keeper on the squad also plays his pro soccer in Europe. Ethan Horvath plays in Belgium for Club Brugge. The potential is sky-high with this group.
Along the back line, Jorge Villafana and Eric Lichaj anchor that grouping. The two of them combined have 30 caps with USMNT. The rest of the back line players combine for just nine caps. Erik Palmer-Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers will look to make immediate impacts as both are enjoying first team football in England at the moment. Carter-Vickers actually signed a contract extension recently to extend his future with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur thanks to his play.
The middle of the pitch for Sarachan and USMNT is by far the most exciting grouping to watch. That grouping showcases the only player on the roster with FIFA World Cup experience, Julian Green. Green plays his pro ball in Germany.
Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, and Joe Corona are a few of the names to watch from the midfield group. Pulisic, of course, is known globally at this point. The Hershey, PA native has captured the hearts of US Soccer fans all over the nation while garnering global acclaim with German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.
Corona plays in Mexico’s top league, Liga MX, with Club Tijuana. Corona, along with Guido and Rubio Rubin, complete a Club Tijuana midfield trio for Sarachan’s side.
Tim Weah is also a name fans will be paying close attention to. Weah’s father, George, won the 1995 FIFA Player of the Year and is currently the president of Liberia. Weah recently earned his first start for French side Paris Saint-Germain about a week ago.
At the striker position, Andrija Novakovich is the man with the plan. Novakovich made his first USMNT appearance in March. Recently finishing a strong season on loan with Danish side, Telstar, Novakovich looks to takeover as the next goal scoring finisher for USMNT. His 21 goals in 37 matches aided Telstar to a playoff appearance and promotion.
Matchup vs. Bolivia
Avid soccer fans know very well that South American soccer is all about technical abilities. Sarachan understands this as well. He briefly discussed facing a team like Bolivia earlier this week with ussoccer.com.
“Any time you play a team from South America you can expect a group of players that are technically good, and in this case Bolivia will have a squad of younger players that are eager to show well for their manager,” said Sarachan. “This is going to be a group that’s out to prove themselves and I’m sure they will provide up a good challenge on the day for our team,” he said.
Both teams are young. Both teams are hungry.
In that same conversation with ussoccer.com, Sarachan expressed how he expects his youth-filled roster to respond Memorial Day night in Chester.
“The expectation is that the players respond well to the challenges they’ll face on the day against a team that will punish your mistakes,” Sarachan said.
One thing to keep an eye out for: freedom and creativity in the attacking third.
When a team full of youngsters takes the pitch, there’s a distinct tendency to play a straight-laced, almost tense, variety of soccer. Why? Fear of mistakes.
However, the hope is that Sarachan has instilled confidence and a sense of arrogance in the young roster. All roster invites clearly have showcased their skills in effective ways to get them where they are this weekend. Sarachan needs to provide that extra jolt of energy in hopes of continuing the recent run of good from his USMNT side.
Kickoff is set for 6:30PM Monday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
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Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports