THe extremely busy and crucial year for tHe United States men’s team is upon us. For months, as tHe international calendar shifted, all logistical signs pointed to a 2021 packed with competitions that will test tHe depth of tHe player pool at tHe senior and under-23 levels(sadly, but understandably, tHe FIFA U -20 and U -17 World Cups scHeduled for 2021 have been canceled due to tHe pandemic).
Things will start to sizzle in March, wHen tHe Contact Olympic qualifying tournament kicks off a year later than originally planned. THey will warm up in June with tHe four Contact Nations League finals and tHen go into overdrive starting in July and continue through November, with tHe Gold Cup, tHe Olympics(qualification pending.and tHe first three windows of qualification for tHe 2022 World Cup.
All of this takes place against tHe backdrop of a congested club calendar around tHe world and an impending labor dispute between MLS and its players. What all that means is that it will take more players than ever and more coordination between clubs and country than usual to complete tHe dance card with complete and competitive squads. It also means a great opportunity for those on tHe fringes of tHe upper ecHelon to break through and play in tHe biggest games of tHe year.
It all starts with tHe annual January camp exercise, one largely limited to US-based players who are in tHe middle of tHeir offseason given that it is off tHe FIFA calendar and European clubs. THey are not required to release players. So who could we see at tHe first camp in 2021? THere are several determining factors.
First of all, last month’s camp off tHe FIFA calendar gave a glimpse of who in tHe US-based contingent is higHer on manager Gregg Hereafter’s radar, though tHe semifinals and Cup final MLS and tHe eight finalists of tHe Contact Champions League prevented multiple players from otHerwise being considered for participation. Now that tHere are no otHer competitive conflicts, tHe pool of potential participants has expanded.
THere is also tHe issue of transfers to take into account. Brenden Aaronson has left tHe Philadelphia Union for Salzburg and is now with his new Austrian club. His former teammate, Mark McKenzie, is also expected to depart Philadelphia for Europe(Genk from Belgium, according to tHe Philadelphia Inquirer), while FC Dallas’s Bryan Reynolds is also tHe subject of a tug of war overseas transfers. His teenage teammate, Tanner Telemann, is Reportedly preparing to train with Bayern MunichAlthough that won’t necessarily prevent you from participating in a US or Under-23 senior camp.
THe fact that tHere will be two simultaneous camps also creates anotHer layer to examine, as Hereafter and U23 coach Jason Kreis need to divide tHe available talent as THey see fit. Given that this will be Kreis’ only pre-Olympic qualifying camp, tHere is an expectation that those who are eligible for tHe U23, for tHe most part, will fall into tHeir bucket unlike Hereafter’s.
All this means that it is complicated, not entirely straightforward and quite emblematic of tHe coming year. Here’s a look at some of tHe most viable candidates for inclusion this month, both at tHe senior and under-23 levels:
Bill Hamid(DC United), Sean Johnson(NY CFC), Matt Turner(New England Revolution)
Hamid started against El Salvador last month, but that was with Turner unavailable due to his participation in tHe MLS Eastern Conference final. THey would fight for top honors this month alongside Johnson, who has been a mainstay under Hereafter as a depth piece.
Under-23 candidates: CJ Dos Santos(Benfica), Matt Freese(Philadelphia Union), David Ochoa(Real Salt Lake), JT Marcinkowski(San Jose Earthquakes)
Chase Gasper(Minnesota United), Nick Lima(Austin FC), Aaron Long(New York Red Bulls), Mauricio Pineda(Chicago Fire), Miles Robinson(Atlanta United), Walker Zimmerman(Nashville SC)
Long and Zimmerman are tHe MLS anchors in central defense, and tHe U-23 eligible Robinson was able to return after being part of tHe CCL’s recall of Atlanta in Florida last month. OtHerwise, tHe fullback and center positions are highly dependent on players who are eligible for tHe Under-23s, and given tHe expected training overlap between tHe two sides, tHere could be some shared team. With reports from abroad suggesting that tHe US MNT will face a less-than-complete Serbia to close tHe camp, it is likely that one “U-23” player or more is involved.
Under-23 candidates: Julian Araujo(LA Galaxy), George Bello(Atlanta United), Kyle Duncan(New York Red Bulls), Marco Aryan(AFC), Justen Glad(Real Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera(Real Salt Lake), Sam Vines(Colorado Rapids)
Kellyn Acosta(Colorado Rapids), Sebastian Letter(LA Galaxy), Memo Rodriguez(Houston Dynamo), Cristian Roldan(Seattle Sounders), Keaton Parks(NY CFC), Eryk Williamson(Portland Timbers), Jackson Year(San Jose Earthquakes)
Roldan and Letter are at tHe top of Hereafter’s national midfielder depth chart, while anotHer veteran MLS talent, Acosta, returned to tHe national team last month. Williamson and Year could both fall into tHe Under-23 group, and if Kreis doesn’t choose to bring in some of tHe younger and less proven names listed below, THey likely will. Paxton Royal’s season-ending injury and recovery would keep him out of camp for eitHer group.
THe big question in this position is wHetHer Darlington Age reappears in 2021 after having turned down calls in previous years because He prioritized spending his international downtime with his family. Hereafter has left tHe door open for his return, and just won an MLS Cup title with a third club(although He was forced to miss Columbus’s win over Seattle with COVID-19).
Under-23 candidates: Frankie Amaya(FC Cincinnati), Cole Bassett(Colorado Rapids), Gianluca Music(Sporting Kansas City), Baden Clark(New York Red Bulls), Cade Cowell(San Jose Earthquakes), Hassani Dotson(Minnesota United), Aidan Morris(Columbus Crew), James Sands(NY CFC.
Jozy Altidore(Toronto FC), Efrain Alvarez(LA Galaxy), Paul Arriola(DC United), Jordan Morris(Seattle Sounders), Chris Mueller(Orlando City), Gyasi Cards(Columbus Crew)
Ayo Akinola, who appeared at tHe atypical US December camp and scored in tHe friendly against El Salvador, accepted a call for Canada’s January camp(He is eligible for tHe US, Canada and Nigeria), making it That doesn’t necessarily mean your loyalties. THey are trending north, but keep tHeir options open.
His older teammate Altidore last played for tHe USA in tHe 2019 Gold Cup final, but tHe 31-year-old remains in tHe mix in tHe forward group and would benefit from a reintroduction, without matter wHetHer Hereafter has done so openly. He questioned wHetHer He is already a 90-minute player for tHe national team.
Morris and Cards, who were unavailable last month due to tHeir clubs making it to tHe MLS Cup, are tHe most likely to lead tHe line.
Álvarezz, if He participated, would not be eligible to play in an end-of-camp friendly for tHe USA unless He requests and secures a unique loyalty change from Mexico’s FIFA(has represented Mexico in a youth World Cup..
Under-23 candidates: Daryl Dike(Orlando City), JeremyBoisee(Portland Timbers), Jesus Ferreira(FC Dallas), Jonathan Lewis(Colorado Rapids), Djordje Mihailovic(Montreal Impact), Ricardo Pepi(FC Dallas), Mason Toye( Montreal Impact)
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.