Having called up a 21-player squad for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s Nov. 14 friendly against Portugal, acting MNT head coach Dave Sarachan discussed the composition of his roster and the challenge that lies ahead against the reining European champions.
With the unique circumstances of this game, what will be the focus of the friendly at Portugal?
“The one word that I would use in reference to all of this is opportunity. It’s an opportunity for many players who haven’t been in the picture that we feel have a bright future with the National Team to get to measure themselves in a game against a quality opponent. It’s an opportunity for our National Team to finish out 2017 in a positive way. It’s also just an opportunity to move on. As much as we’re still gutted from how things turned out with qualifying, we have to look ahead and finish out the year the right way.”
Could you explain the process you went through in order to put this roster together?
“It was a combination of things in terms of availability, timing, and having an opportunity to look at players that have been on our radar and in some cases haven’t had a chance to get a look. Obviously the European-based players are available with this international break, and the idea was to bring in those players to balance that out with a few Major League Soccer players that are available. We are steering clear of those that are still involved with the playoffs. Beyond that, we’ve also tried to bring in a few veteran players who can lend leadership -- guys that have been involved with the National Team and have played in what I would call higher profile games to give us a little leadership in this camp and for this particular game.”
Could you explain the reasons behind Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood’s absences from this camp?
“Christian has had a very long year, not only with the National Team but finding his way with Borussia Dortmund. Between his contributions for the National Team and his club, he has probably played more total games than almost anyone in our pool this year, and in doing that Christian has really pushed the limits mentally and physically. With those things in mind, we felt this was an opportunity for Christian to get a break and recharge for the rest of an important campaign with Dortmund.”
“Bobby was excited about the opportunity to come into this camp and was on board to be a part of it, but he has had a lingering knee issue that has gotten to the point where it needed to be addressed. He was excited to be a part of this last game of 2017, but like with Christian, we felt it was better for Bobby to get a little extra time to rest and recover.”
Having impressed at both the FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups this year, at 17 years old Josh Sargent is part of the group in Portugal. Could you talk about your decision to bring him into camp?
“With this particular roster and the availability of players, it was a great opportunity to bring Josh. He’s in good form coming off his time with the U-17s and is someone who will be able to handle the fitness level we’re looking for in this camp. He’s obviously impressed at both youth World Cups this year and so this camp gives us a chance to give a first look to a young player we think will have a bright future in the National Team program.”
Portugal are the current European champions and are riding high after qualifying for the World Cup. Talk about the challenge the U.S. team will face against such a talented team.
“They are the No. 3 ranked team in the world, and so any time you have the opportunity to play such a high-quality opponent, it’s very important for the program. Sure it’s a profile game, but more importantly it’s a great opportunity for these players to measure up a little bit and see where they’re at in their development. Any chance to play a team of such high quality is a real bonus for the players and our National Team program.”
What will be your message to this group for the week of training ahead and the match against Portugal?
“The message is two-fold. First, it’s important to use the week to establish a relationship with each other on and off the field and to build that so by the time we play on Tuesday we have a good understanding of what this particular group is about. Secondly, for a lot of the younger players coming in this is the start of a new era in our program and so it’s important to set the right tone and make sure they all really get a grasp of what this means and the honor that comes with playing for your National Team. It’s not something to be taken for granted. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. That understanding will be important for all the players that come into camp.
“Finally, the end game of our week is a match against Portugal, and so the hope is that we finish off the week in a way where we feel good about the work that was put in.”