On Monday, Dave Sarachan named a 24-player roster for the USA’s Kickoff Series matches Colombia and Peru. ussoccer.com spoke with the MNT head coach to get insight on his decision-making for the team’s October roster.
ussoccer.com: Could you give your general thoughts on the roster?
Dave Sarachan: “I’m excited about the upcoming games and I’m excited about the group of players that we have selected. There is a consistent group of younger players that we’ve had over the past friendlies and added some new faces I’m looking forward to seeing up close. We will have Christian Pulisic back, and there is also the addition of a couple veteran players in Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan, so there is a lot to look forward to in these next Kickoff Series matches.”
ussoccer.com: After missing out on last month’s camp due to a minor injury, could you speak about the importance of having Christian Pulisic return?
DS: “I’m very excited to have Christian back in with this group for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, his ability to change a game and influence our team in an attacking sense goes without saying. He’s in good form with Dortmund at the moment, and I know that he is excited to be back and a part of things. As we move forward, the timing couldn’t be better to have Christian back with us.”
Christian Pulisic (left) makes his second MNT camp appearance of 2018 (ISI Photos)
ussoccer.com: Why was now the right time to bring the two veteran players back into the group?
DS: “When you are building a team, at some point there has to be the proper blend of youth and experience. As we head into these last four friendlies of the year, I felt the timing was right to begin that transition. I think it’s important to do it earlier than a week before the Gold Cup or a World Cup Qualifier. Bringing in players like Michael and Brad, who have a vast amount of experience and can be a great resource for our younger players – both on and off the field – is an important step for us at this point in time.”
“We’ve begun to develop a deeper pool across the board. As we continue to offer opportunities, it will strengthen us even more. At the same time, players need to understand that there is going to be competition for spots and for playing time, and that is part of the next stage of development for many of these young guys. I think we’re going to see that competition more and more as we move forward.”
ussoccer.com: While Christian Pulisic is returning, Kenny Saief is another attacking player that has missed out recently due to injury.
DS: “Kenny hasn’t been a part of the past several friendlies due to some injuries. Now that he is back and getting more minutes with Anderlecht, he has shown me enough when we’ve had him that he has a unique ability on the left side of our attacking midfield to be a guy who can make plays in the final third. I’m happy to have him back and a part of this group for these friendlies.”
Veterans Brad Guzan and Michael Bradley return to MNT camp for the first time since October 2017 (ISI Photos)
ussoccer.com: Josh Sargent and Tim Weah are back in the mix. While the two 18-year-olds are not currently receiving first-team minutes, why did you feel it was important to have them in camp?
DS: “With Tim and Josh, we’re still taking the long view. We know that at both PSG and Werder Bremen, the competition for playing time is extremely difficult, yet both are gaining valuable experience at their clubs and their fitness and form are still at a good level. We feel it’s important to continue offering these players opportunities right now, knowing that it will pay dividends down the road.”
ussoccer.com: Now in the Dutch Eredivisie, Andrija Novakovich has continued to score this season with Fortuna Sittard. Do you see a chance for him to get more minutes during these friendlies?
DS: “Andrija didn’t get an opportunity in the last few matches to play, but given his consistent play with his club and the ability to offer a different skillset as a forward, I look forward to having him a part of things with the hope that he will get an opportunity in these games.”
ussoccer.com: Another player that has had a strong season in MLS is Aaron Long. The New York Red Bulls center back was invited to his first camp last month, and while he didn’t play against Brazil or Mexico, is it safe to say he impressed during the camp?
DS: “Definitely. It was difficult in the last set of games to include all of our players, and at center back we had a number of guys in with us. In a 10-day camp, Aaron showed well even though he didn’t get an opportunity in those games. He’s consistently shown his abilities with his club, and after his showing last month we felt he warranted another look for these matches.”
Andrija Novakovich is off to a strong start to the season with Dutch Eredivisie side Fortuna Sittard (ISI Photos)
ussoccer.com: Playing for Danish club Norsdjælland, Jonathan Amon is one of three players on the roster receiving their first MNT call-up. What insight can you give into the 19-year-old winger?
DS: “Jonathan is a player we have been following for a bit. Obviously he is a starter for his club where he is getting full minutes, producing goals and contributing a lot of value in the attack. He has a dynamic presence, so he’s a guy I wanted to see up close and get to know. With the combination of his speed and ability to at defenders in the final third, he’s someone that has shown to have a certain skillset that we have been missing. He’s young, but I think it’s a good time to get to know him.”
ussoccer.com: The two other first-time call-ups are FC Dallas right back Reggie Cannon and New York City FC left back Ben Sweat. Why was this the right time to see these two players?
DS: “Both players have had solid seasons, playing a lot of minutes while helping their clubs to good positions in the league. They both play in positions where I feel we need to improve our overall depth.”
“Reggie is a young player that has grown tremendously to the point where he is a consistent starter for the top team in the Western Conference as a right back. He possesses good athleticism and speed and has shown that he is hard to beat. He has consistently done that this season with FC Dallas, and so I thought this was a good opportunity to call him.
“Ben has been a consistent starter at left back for NYCFC and has put himself in the conversation to be considered for the National Team.”
ussoccer.com: What were your takeaways from the matches against Brazil and Mexico?
DS: “Looking back on the last two friendlies, each game represented a different learning experience. Brazil, having brought a seasoned roster of players that function as a well-oiled machine, showed our group what another level looks like in terms of movement, technical skill and speed. Obviously that challenged us in all aspects. Mexico showed us a lot in terms of what it takes to win a game against a rival where you need to roll up your sleeves and grind through a match. I think we saw that some players who may have struggled in game one applied those experiences to their performance against Mexico in a positive way. Defensively, I think for the most part we have established during the last year a team that’s been hard to break down. Clearly the areas of improvement and where we can move ourselves along are in the attacking third of the field.”