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Following a solid World Cup and messy aftermath, USMNT releases winter camp roster

Club America's Alejandro Zendejas, right, is among the players seeking to make their U.S. men's national team debut next week in friendlies against Serbia and Colombia. (Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images)
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The U.S. men’s national soccer team’s first gathering since the World Cup will include 11 first-time invitees and seven players from abroad, a record for a winter camp, when out-of-season MLS candidates typically fill almost all roster slots.

It features five World Cup holdovers, a new U.S. citizen (Julian Gressel), the younger brother (Paxten Aaronson) of an established national team attacker and an emergent MLS scorer (Brandon Vazquez).

It also will include assistant coaches running the show as the U.S. Soccer Federation weighs whether to retain coach Gregg Berhalter following the expiration of his contract and a messy off-field situation that has threatened to overshadow World Cup gains.

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The 24-man squad will begin workouts Saturday in the buildup to friendlies against Serbia on Jan. 25 in Los Angeles and Colombia on Jan. 28 in Carson, Calif. Because the annual camp falls outside official international windows, Europe-based regulars, such as Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, are not available. Their next appearance is likely to come in March.

Serbia and Colombia also will field experimental squads.

“As we were putting this roster together, the focus has been around identifying positions within our team that would benefit from more depth,” Anthony Hudson, an assistant at the World Cup who is caretaker for this camp, said in a statement. “And then given the time of year, it gives us an opportunity to look at some real high-potential young players and also some players that have been on our radar for some time.”

Thirteen call-ups have never appeared in a U.S. match and two others have played once. From the World Cup squad comes goalkeeper Sean Johnson; center backs Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long; midfielder Kellyn Acosta; and forward Jesús Ferreira.

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Four MLS-based World Cup players are not in camp: Midfielder Cristian Roldan and forward Jordan Morris will remain with the Seattle Sounders to prepare for the FIFA Club World Cup, which is set for Feb. 1-11 in Morocco. Right backs DeAndre Yedlin and Shaq Moore didn’t make the list.

Winger Paul Arriola, one of the last World Cup roster cuts, accepted an invitation.

The German-born Gressel — a 29-year-old wing back who joined the Vancouver Whitecaps from D.C. United this past summer — became a U.S. citizen in November.

Vazquez, 24, will try to make a case for regular work at an unsettled striker position. At the World Cup, Berhalter started three different players over four matches, and none made a notable impression. Last year at FC Cincinnati, Vazquez scored 18 regular season goals — tying with Ferreira for the most by an American in MLS — and added eight assists.

The non-MLS players in camp include Aaronson, 19, an Eintracht Frankfurt newcomer from the Philadelphia Union whose brother Brenden plays for Leeds United in England and appeared as a sub in all four World Cup matches.

Gaga Slonina, an 18-year-old goalkeeper who moved to Chelsea from the Chicago Fire this winter, was selected. So were Real Sociedad left back Jonathan Gómez and Club América forward Alejandro Zendejas, dual nationals who have played for archrival Mexico.

Others from abroad are defender Sam Rogers (Rosenborg, Norway), and forwards Matthew Hoppe (Middlesbrough, England) and Emmanuel Sabbi (Odense, Denmark).

“The starting point was: ‘Who do we want to bring in?’ ” Hudson said. “Who’s available? Who’s not playing first-team football right now overseas, whether it’s a young player, whether it’s a dual national that we’ve been looking at, and let’s go after it. There’s a bunch of us just making calls, speaking to the clubs, speaking to the players, and the response has been really good.”

Vazquez, Sabbi and Zendejas are among the first-time call-ups. So is Alan Soñora, a 24-year-old free agent attacker who played three years with Argentine club Independiente. His father, Diego, was a member of D.C. United’s 1999 championship team.

“We know from history that many players who get their first national team opportunity in this window go on to make a World Cup roster,” Hudson said, “so we want them to make the most of it.”

U.S. roster

Goalkeepers: Roman Celentano (FC Cincinnati), Sean Johnson (free agent), Gaga Slonina (Chelsea).

Defenders: Jonathan Gómez (Real Sociedad), Julian Gressel (Vancouver Whitecaps), DeJuan Jones (New England Revolution), Aaron Long (Los Angeles FC), Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy), Sam Rogers (Rosenborg), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC).

Midfielders: Paxten Aaronson (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Alan Soñora (free agent), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers).

Forwards: Paul Arriola (Dallas), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Jesús Ferreira (Dallas), Matthew Hoppe (Middlesbrough), Emmanuel Sabbi (Odense), Brandon Vazquez (Cincinnati), Alejandro Zendejas (Club América).