Soccer Down Here
Positional Evaluation of the USMNT December 2020 Camp Roster
by Bart Keeler Gregg Berhalter has compiled a 23-player (and growing/evolving) roster for a makeshift training camp and friendly this December, his third of a COVID-19 altered 2020 year. For many fans of the United States men’s national team, 2020 was supposed to be a “show-me” year for Berhalter and his squad.
Though we missed out on Nations League finals and the start of World Cup qualifying, fans actually watched something even better: a mass calling of promising young talent by Berhalter. Maybe he’s been watching the #PlaytheKids movement on Twitter?
Probably not, but the group called in to train in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, features 11 uncapped players and three who received their first cap in February 2020. This follows a November camp that featured 10 uncapped players and builds on a February 2020 camp that featured 12 previously uncapped players.
The squad that will face El Salvador on Wednesday, Dec. 9, feature almost all MLS players and some intriguing positional battles within the camp and in the full-strength starting lineup.
Here is a positional breakdown of this young roster for the December 2020 camp.
CJ Dos Santos (Benfica/POR; 0/0), Bill Hamid (D.C. United; 7/0), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0)
Bill Hamid is the experienced keeper called in and he may finally claim his chance to back up the smack talk he’s been spewing for a couple of seasons. However, U-23 starter JT Marcinkowski is now in camp and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he played the match next week. CJ Dos Santos was a bit of a surprise call-up but the Benfica B player could use this showcase to trigger a move to the States.
Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Kyle Duncan (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers; 0/0, Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 17/3), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 1/0), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids; 1/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 12/2)
This camp will be a great display of who are the contenders and who are the pretenders of USMNT-eligible defenders. Berhalter will have a good look at the positional battles across the backline in this camp and will be able to evaluate this group against the European players he saw last month.
At right-back, dual-national Araujo will hope his experience in the February camp will give him the edge over Duncan, who’s come into his own with Red Bulls. At left-back, Sam Vines should have the skills and experience to lock down the job but Marco Farfan might impress thanks to a curious inclusion.
McKenzie should start, likely on the left, meaning MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman will battle captain-apparent Aaron Long for the right side.
Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union; 1/0), Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 23/2), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 16/3), Andrés Perea (Orlando City; 0/0), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes; 7/0)
The overarching question for this midfield group is whether any of these players can break into the starting trio for the USMNT. Last month, we saw Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams dominate the two games.
If anyone in this camp could, it’s Brenden Aaronson. He’s heading to RB Salzburg in January and Berhalter (and USMNT fans) will want to see just how good he can be for the Yanks. That said, Lletget is a Berhalter favorite and is probably in any 23-man squad Berhalter assembles in the foreseeable future.
I was worried that Kellyn Acosta would be the only deep-lying midfielder in the group. He’s very experienced at the national team level but has yet to play for Berhalter. Luckily, Jackson Yueill has arrived in camp and has become a favorite of the coach since appearing in camp in June 2019.
Andrés Perea is not yet eligible to play for the U.S. because he represented Colombia in official FIFA competitions at the youth level.
Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC/CAN; 0/0), Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 33/5), Daryl Dike (Orlando City SC; 0/0), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire; 5/1), Chris Mueller (Orlando City SC; 0/0)
Again, the question here is if any of these players can push their way into a position in Berhalter’s starting lineup when real competition starts next June. If there is a position of unsteadiness on the front line, it’s at striker.
Dike and Akinola will directly compete in this camp and should split playing time against El Salvador. They earned spots in this camp after their productive seasons in MLS. Berhalter will see if their play can translate to international soccer. These two are markedly different strikers compared to Sargent, Gioacchini or Soto (who all play in Europe) and it will be interesting to see how they fit into Berhalter’s system or if the system bends to them.
Out wide, Chris Mueller also received the MLS Season Achievement call up after his fantastic season with Orlando City. He may not be high up on the depth chart at right-winger, but he could change that this camp. It’s good to see Arriola back playing after a torn ACL but whether or not he’ll factor into the match is to be seen.
Also unclear is whether or not Efrain Alvarez will play. He’s tied to Mexico after representing El Tri at the 2019 U-17 World Cup but can switch to the U.S. If he doesn’t play, Mihailovic will start as the creative winger.
Atlanta United fans will be disappointed that George Bello is not in this squad after rumors he was called into camp. However, no player from a team playing in the Concacaf Champions League the week after the El Salvador match. Disregarding those players, here are three players that are somewhat surprising absences.
Caden Clark — M, New York Red Bulls: He didn’t start playing in MLS until September but the 17-year-old banged in three goals in eight matches and has been on the radar of every USMNT hipster.
Donovan Pines — D, D.C. United: A standout defender for a bad team, it’s a shame he wasn’t called in because he could have learned a lot from Long and Zimmerman and may have been able to try out for the 2021 Olympic squad in this camp.
Jonathan Lewis — F, Colorado Rapids: He has six caps for the USMNT but at 23, maybe it was better to look at younger options (and lure a dual-national)?
The battles at key positions would be fun to watch in training but we’ll settle for a view from afar as the team takes on El Salvador. Hopefully, Berhalter uses only 90 minutes in this window to evaluate as many players as he can.
An interesting throwaway note, this will be the third Concacaf opponent the USMNT will play this year; the team is 2–0.
(photo credit: US Soccer)