On Sunday, March 18, MNT head coach Dave Sarachan named a 22-player roster for the team’s training camp leading up to USA-Paraguay on March 27 in Cary, N.C.
ussoccer.com caught up with the MNT head coach to get more insight into his roster selection.
ussoccer.com: Could you give some insight into how you put together the roster that will face Paraguay on March 27?
Dave Sarachan: “This roster once again represents an opportunity for some new faces for myself and our staff to get to know. The roster has an average age of just over 23 years old, so for the most part they’re younger players that we feel have a future with the National Team along with some familiar faces who were a part of January Camp that we felt did well and wanted to continue looking at those players. We’ve mixed that with a few who players offer some experience from the past relative to being part of the program, such as DeAndre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe, Bobby Wood, Jorge Villafaña and Eric Lichaj – these are guys that come in with a voice of experience.”
ussoccer.com: Kenny Saief is back after making his debut last summer and returning from a lengthy injury absence. What led to his inclusion?
DS: “In the case of Kenny, when we had him last for the Gold Cup, he unfortunately had an injury and we didn’t really get to know him. He’s been on loan to Anderlecht in Belgium since January where he is seeing consistent minutes and is an integral part of their first 11. We feel he’s healthy, in good form and has a unique skillset that makes me excited to see him with us again, with the hopes he stays healthy and sees some minutes against Paraguay.
ussoccer.com: In continuing to give opportunities to younger players, you’ve elected to bring in Shaq Moore, Andrija Novakovich, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson and Tim Weah -- five that will experience their first MNT camp this month.
DS: “With the calendar being what it is in 2018, there’s no replacing minutes that you can get with the National Team in friendlies. The more times you can offer those opportunities to players that need those minutes, the better. Those players being a part of this roster represents a couple things. First, getting to know them, seeing them first hand in training and giving them a real taste of being part of the National Team from a day-to-day training perspective. Also, we hope there in an opportunity to get them minutes in the match that will help them further down the road.”
ussoccer.com: With Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Erik Palmer-Brown all coming to Cary, it seems like central defense is one area of the field you’re really focusing on giving younger players an opportunity.
DS: “It’s a huge position up the middle of the field, and watching both Matt and Cameron, each have been logging significant minutes and playing important roles for their clubs. Each made a good impression on me when we had them in our roster against Portugal last November, and I think this is just a continuation of giving these guys more minutes in a game in an important position for us. It’s a great opportunity for them.
“In Erik’s case, he’s had less time playing in a new situation playing on loan with Kortrijk in Belgium. He’s a player I don’t know as well, but someone who has a great pedigree, captaining our U-20 National Team at the World Cup last summer. I’m looking forward to getting to know him throughout the week as well, knowing that he’s a good young prospect at that position.”
ussoccer.com: Aside from his famous father, many people became familiar with Tim Weah thanks to his hat trick against Paraguay at last year’s U-17 World Cup. Could you talk about why you chose now as the time to call him up, while someone like Josh Sargent will be with the U-20 MNT at their camp in Spain?
DS: “Tim has obviously been very successful with our Youth National Teams. More recently with PSG, he’s playing for a high-profile club who has seen fit to give him first-team minutes, which is a great sign of his progression. He’s a versatile player that can fit in at a couple different positions, and when you have speed and technical ability combined as a young kid, I think he’s an interesting prospect to offer an opportunity to.”
“I’ve been in communication with Tab Ramos who is also leading a U-20 MNT camp during the same time in Spain. Since Josh isn’t able to play professional matches for Werder Bremen until next season, along with the fact that he’s still an important player for that age group, I felt because of the timing it made better sense for him to get full games with the U-20s for this particular friendly date. For our next set of games, the idea then would be that he’d have more of an opportunity to be a part of our senior team.”
ussoccer.com: There are a few less well-known names on the roster, including forward Andrija Novakovich, who is on loan from Reading FC to Telstar in the Netherlands. What type of striker is he and what has he done to earn the call-up?
DS: “The forward position is a very important one, and I’ve always felt in general – not just with our National Team, but in our country as a whole – that you can’t have enough depth there. Andrija is playing consistently and has scored 18 goals with Telstar this season. You always pay attention to players domestically and overseas who are scoring goals, regardless if it’s in the first or second division. Being 6’4”, he’s a different type of forward than some of our other players that we have in this camp and in the program. He’s an intriguing one and obviously he’s young, so for me it’s about getting him in and seeing what he’s like now when he’s put amongst the National Team players in training.”
ussoccer.com: Though he previously played for the U-18 MNT back in 2014, Antonee Robinson’s name is another some might not be familiar with. What has he shown with Bolton Wanderers this year to earn his first MNT call-up?
DS: “Antonee came to my attention not that long ago. He was born in England, but knowing that he could represent the U.S., I started watching some of his matches – right now he’s on loan to Bolton from Everton – and for the most part has been playing very consistently as a left back in a couple different systems. That is also a position over the years with our National Team where we’ve never had a great deal of depth. Antonee has a lot of quality – he’s comfortable on the ball, has good speed, decent size and is seeing regular minutes with Bolton in an environment where he’s learning all the time and there’s some pressure there. He’s an intriguing one that could add to the pool of players in a younger category for the future.”
ussoccer.com: What is the situation with Christian Pulisic at the moment?
DS: “I’ve had conversations with the Sporting Director at Dortmund and several with Christian personally about the timing of this friendly and where he is professionally at the moment with his club. He’s now feeling confident in playing an important role for Dortmund at a crucial time in their season where they’re trying to lock in qualification for the Champions League. They also have a huge match against Bayern Munich on the back end of our match against Paraguay, so when I factored all of those things together, as much as we wanted him here I felt it best suits the player to continue in the rhythm and form he’s currently in with his club.”