The year of discontent for the U.S. men’s national team is almost over.
Caretaker manager Dave Sarachan named his 28-player roster for friendlies against England on Nov. 15 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and against Italy five days later. It figures to be the last time Sarachan engages in this exercise for the U.S.
To be fair, Sarachan was handed a thankless job last year, and he’s conducted himself with aplomb. His decisions to go with mostly young players have induced a collective nodding of heads. A total of 50 players have been used during Sarachan’s tenure, with 19 making their international debuts. The team has gotten some decent results along the way, although it’s clear that there is a long way to go for many of these players.
For these two games, it will help to have Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams all back in the fold. The trio, which figures to form the core of the U.S. midfield for the next cycle, missed the last round of games in October due to injury. That they will (hopefully) be back ought to give U.S. fans a glimpse of what is to come.
Pulisic’s return is undoubtedly the most welcome, although McKennie and Adams will be critical as well. The U.S. has shown a distinct lack of creativity for much of this calendar year, and with Pulisic limited to just one U.S. appearance in 2018, that burden has been left to others with predictable results. With the Borussia Dortmund attacker back, it will be interesting to see what the knock-on effect will be on the offensive contributions of McKennie and Adams, who have both shown an ability to score from late runs into the box.
There are other attack-minded players who will be worth a look. It seems like every month there’s a new player brought into the fold with an eye-catching skill set. Last month it was Jonathan Amon. This time around it’s Malmo’s Romain Gall, whose numbers — 14 goals in 30 matches across two teams in 2018 — have piqued some interest. Gall’s career had seemed to stall during a two-season stint with the Columbus Crew, but his game has been reborn in Sweden, and his ability to run at defenses and strike at goal makes him intriguing.
Sebastian Lletget, a player whose slick passing has always made him an interesting option, is back in the frame as well. The tendency has always been to look at him as a purely attacking option, but the last few months of the MLS season with the LA Galaxy saw him perform well in a deeper role beside Jonathan dos Santos, giving the U.S. added versatility.
Darlington Nagbe is another player returning to the fold, but he remains something of an enigma, a player who everyone wants to be a No. 10 but is more of a linker instead.
Then there’s Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent and Paris Saint-Germain’s Tim Weah. Sargent has been getting steady playing time with the team’s reserves, although his promotion to Bremen’s first team has been teased for some time now. Of late, Weah hasn’t been even getting time with PSG’s reserve team, but both players figure to get extended minutes for the U.S.
One player who won’t be joining up with the U.S. is Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley. The reasons given for his exclusion centered around giving minutes to younger players and allowing Bradley to take some time off. The second of those explanations is the one more grounded in logic. If playing time for younger players was a concern, why call him back in during the October window? But it’s clear that after playing virtually nonstop for the past two years, Bradley could use a rest.
The concerns for Sarachan — and whoever succeeds him — are a bit different on the defensive side of the ball. Matt Miazga has been a mainstay for Sarachan ever since he took over, but poor form and change of coach at Nantes have consigned the center-back to the team’s reserves, leading to speculation that his loan from Chelsea might be terminated early. A couple of respectable performances for the U.S. might catch the eye of another team if his way at Nantes remains blocked. At minimum, he should get the chance to get some more reps with Wolfsburg center-back John Brooks.