U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Dave Sarachan named a youthful 22-player roster for the for the May 28 clash with Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa.
ussoccer.com spoke with Sarachan to gain more insight into the roster that will begin gathering Sunday in Philadelphia.
ussoccer.com: Give us insight into how you went about constructing the roster for the match against Bolivia.
Dave Sarachan: “It has been challenging to build the roster given that we have these three matches – one domestic and two in Europe – while trying to be sensitive to the fact that MLS teams are currently in season. Having players available for all three games was a big ask. It was a challenge to try and balance that out in terms of time away from their club team and also the needs we have. Given the way the roster has come along for the Bolivia game and those who will be available for Europe, I think it’s developed well and I’m looking forward to getting started with the group that we’ve finalized for the opening of our camp in Philadelphia.”
ussoccer.com: After having a roster whose average age was just under 24 in March, this squad’s median age comes in even younger at 22 years, 286 days. Could you explain why you feel it’s important to continue giving some of the MNT’s talented prospects chances with the senior team at this time?
DS: “As I’ve talked about throughout this process, the theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program. We’ve had first-time call-ups in every camp since November, and this is another extension of that. We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well. Overall, these types of games provide great chances for players to bank key minutes in international matches.”
ussoccer.com: This camp also marks Christian Pulisic’s return to the MNT for the first time since last October. How valuable is it to have Christian back in with the group?
DS: “It’s no secret that Christian has a very bright future for many years to come with the U.S. Men’s National Team. The opportunity to have him a part of any group that we assemble is very important, not just for him personally, but for this group going forward. It’s very good to have Christian back in the mix. It’s been a number of months and I think when you can add the quality he provides to any team, that’s a big bonus for the program.”
ussoccer.com: Along with Christian, a number of players are coming to camp on the back of really strong seasons abroad. Why is this a good time to get these guys in?
DS: “We’ve been really happy to see the progress of a number of our players abroad this season. Guys like Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Weston McKennie, Andrija Novakovich and Antonee Robinson have all received valuable minutes and experience in good environments this season. For them, the timing of this game is excellent, given that they are all coming off very solid seasons for their clubs and should be in good form. Fitness will not be a factor, so I think the timing bodes well for this particular camp and game against Bolivia.”
ussoccer.com: Andrija Novakovich is a player who found strong scoring form in the Dutch Erstedivisie this season. Could you speak more about the opportunity that’s ahead of him in this camp?
DS: “We had a good opportunity to get to know Andrija in our last preparation for Paraguay. He showed that he belonged in the group during that camp and in that match. This is just another opportunity to continue to see him and have a guy that has shown to be a capable goal scorer and effective as a striker. He’s coming off the back end of a very successful campaign, scoring 21 goals for Telstar, he comes in with a lot of confidence and in a position where traditionally, we haven’t been very deep. To have a guy that is a proven goal scorer is good for us going into the Bolivia match.”
ussoccer.com: The MNT is also welcoming three players to their first senior team camp. What can you tell us about Keaton Parks, Matthew Olosunde and Alejandro Guido?
DS: “Keaton Parks is a great story. He was identified as a young player and he was able to find his way over to Portugal, where he also caught the eye of a major club in Benfica. He saw a lot of minutes with their “B” team this season, and he’s also received opportunities with the first team playing some minutes and being a part of the matchday squad a number of times. That upped his profile to a point where we took a closer look at him and also saw a guy that could play in a number of midfield positions. He’s a player with good size and strength who is good in the air and possesses good technical ability.”
“Matt Olosunde has had a good experience developing with a high-profile club like Manchester United. He’s been on our radar as a young defender for a number of years, and obviously the club also saw something in him. He’s a versatile defender that can play anywhere on the back line. He possesses good size and strength. He was available to be a part of this camp, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring him in for a closer look.”
“Alejandro is a guy that has also been in our youth system and played some prominent minutes for Tijuana in a season where they did very well. He’s primarily a holding midfielder and another young player that has endured quite well under pressure in an environment like Tijuana. In the case of all three players, the combination of their form along with them finishing their club seasons made this a good time to bring them into camp.”
ussoccer.com: Josh Sargent took the next step in his career this year by signing with Werder Bremen in Germany, but hasn’t yet been able to play for the club. What was behind your decision to invite him to camp?
DS: “Given the circumstances in Germany where he turned 18 just after the closing of the transfer window, Josh was unable to play first-team minutes at Werder Bremen this season. Despite that, I’ve seen things in Josh where I felt it was a good moment to bring him into the senior team. As a striker, he’s shown great promise at the higher youth levels in World Cup play. I feel physically he has the power and strength to play at this level; now it’s a question of can he adapt to the speed of play and physicality at the senior international level? The way he stepped into the U-20 squad just before the World Cup last year showed how he’s able to handle some bigger challenges, and so we thought this was a prime opportunity to give him an extended look with our senior team.”
ussoccer.com: What are you hoping for the team to get out of the May 28 match vs. Bolivia?
DS: “Like all of the matches we’ve played since November, the expectation is that the players respond well to the challenges they’ll face on the day against a team that will punish your mistakes. The hope is that we continue the form that we have already shown in terms of being aggressive and not allowing a lot of time and space to the opponent, all with the hope that we have the freedom to create good chances and come away with a positive result.”
ussoccer.com: What are you expecting from Bolivia?
DS: “Any time you play a team from South America you can expect a group of players that are technically good, and in this case Bolivia will have a squad of younger players that are eager to show well for their manager. This is going to be a group that’s out to prove themselves and I’m sure they will provide up a good challenge on the day for our team.”
ussoccer.com: Given that Philadelphia is the first of a three-stop summer tour, what are the plans for the roster as it heads to Europe for friendlies against Republic of Ireland and France in June?
DS: “There will be numerous changes to our roster following the Bolivia game. When we put our roster together, we also took into account travel considerations for some of our players that have just finished long seasons in Europe. While not everyone in Philadelphia will travel to Ireland and France, the players that are joining us this week will be getting an important opportunity as we move our program forward.”