One month since its World Cup qualifying fiasco, the U.S. men’s national soccer team Tuesday began turning toward the long-term future with the announcement of a young roster for a friendly at European champion Portugal next week.
The 21-man squad includes 12 players age 24 or younger and a dozen with three or fewer senior appearances. The group, however, will not have star attacker Christian Pulisic, 19, who was given time off after a demanding period since last winter juggling assignments with German club Borussia Dortmund and the U.S. team.
“Christian has had a very long year,” said Dave Sarachan, the U.S. assistant coach who is overseeing the team in the wake of Bruce Arena’s dismissal last month. “He has probably played more total games than almost anyone in our pool this year, and in doing that, Christian has really pushed the limits mentally and physically. With those things in mind, this was an opportunity for Christian to get a break and recharge for the rest of an important campaign with Dortmund.”
Pulisic is the U.S. squad’s leading scorer in 2017 with six goals, plus four assists, in nine starts. At Dortmund this season, he has appeared in 16 of 18 competitive matches (13 starts) and contributed three goals. His club has not won in four consecutive league matches and is winless through four UEFA Champions League group games.
Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will also skip next Tuesday’s friendly in Leiria. FS1, UniMas and Univision Deportes will provide coverage, starting at 3:45 p.m. Eastern time.
Even in Pulisic’s absence, there is no shortage of young hopefuls. Among the call-ups were Josh Sargent, a 17-year-old forward who will join Germany’s Werder Bremen this winter; Weston McKennie, a 19-year-old midfielder playing regularly for Schalke in Germany; Tyler Adams, an 18-year-old midfielder for the New York Red Bulls; and defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, 19, a Tottenham Hotspur prospect on loan to Sheffield United.
Sargent, McKennie and Adams were invited to the senior squad for the first time. Sargent, a Missouri native, is the first U.S. player selected for U-17, U-20 and senior assignments during the same calendar year.
Bill Hamid, the longtime D.C. United starter who will join Danish club Midtjylland in January, is the most experienced goalkeeper with three caps. The others are Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath (one) and FC Dallas’s Jesse Gonzalez (none). Veterans Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando were passed over.
Seven players from the squad that lost at Trinidad and Tobago last month, which ended the U.S. streak of seven consecutive World Cup appearances, are in camp, including first-choice outside backs DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafaña. In addition, center back John Brooks returns from a thigh injury that sidelined him for 2 1/2 months.
With such an inexperienced group, Sarachan will turn to Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (65 caps) for leadership. He is likely to captain the squad.
Four regulars were ruled out because of injury: Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, D.C. United wing Paul Arriola, Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris and Hamburg forward Bobby Wood.
No players from MLS teams still involved in the playoffs (Toronto, Columbus, Seattle and Houston) were chosen, even though the league is on break for two weeks because of the FIFA international match window. That ruled out prospects such as Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen and Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan.
Aside from Hamid, one other player with D.C. roots was selected: Philadelphia Union forward C.J. Sapong, 28, from Manassas, Va., and James Madison University. He was the top-scoring American in MLS this regular season with 16 goals. It’s been almost six years since he last appeared in a U.S. match.
“The one word that I would use in reference to all of this is ‘opportunity,’ ” Sarachan said. “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 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.”
Goalkeepers: Jesse Gonzalez, FC Dallas (22 years old, 0 caps); Bill Hamid, Midtjylland (26, 3); Ethan Horvath, Club Brugge (22, 1).
Defenders: John Brooks, Wolfsburg (24 years old, 32 caps); Cameron Carter-Vickers, Sheffield United (19, 0); Eric Lichaj, Nottingham Forest (28, 13); Matt Miazga, Vitesse (22, 3); Tim Ream, Fulham (30, 26); Jorge Villafaña, Santos Laguna (28, 14); DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle (24, 48).
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas (22 years old, 16 caps); Tyler Adams, New York Red Bulls (18, 0); Alejandro Bedoya, Philadelphia Union (30, 65); Lynden Gooch, Sunderland (21, 2); Weston McKennie, Schalke (19, 0); Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution (25, 3); Danny Williams, Huddersfield Town (28, 22).
Forwards: Juan Agudelo, New England Revolution (24 years old, 26 caps); Dom Dwyer, Orlando City (27, 3); C.J. Sapong, Philadelphia Union (28, 2); Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (17, 0).