Q&A: Dave Sarachan Discusses MNT Roster for Kickoff Series Matches Against Brazil and Mexico

On Sunday, Dave Sarachan named a 24-player roster for the USA’s Kickoff Series matches against Brazil and Mexico. ussoccer.com spoke with the MNT head coach to get insight on his decision-making for the team’s September roster.

ussoccer.com: Similar to the rosters assembled earlier this year, you have elected to continue going with a younger group of players for the matches against Brazil and Mexico. Could you explain why?

Dave Sarachan: “Over the course of the past friendlies we have established a core of players that I felt good about offering opportunities. For these matches against Brazil and Mexico, the theme remains the same in that we are using the opportunity against these high-powered opponents to continue building on the foundation that we’ve laid.  We felt it was right to continue allowing this group to get valuable experience for the big picture that includes competitive matches in the future with the Gold Cup, Olympic Qualifying and World Cup Qualifying.

ussoccer.com: Along those lines, you have reiterated throughout your tenure that at some point you expect that more veteran players will have opportunities to return to the team... 

DS: “With six games remaining in 2018, we felt that in beginning of the Kickoff Series we wanted to continue where we left off with the makeup of the group. Moving forward into October and November, we will look at a broader mix of players. Overall, we don’t view the pool in categories by age. We look at what we think is the right blend that will help our team progress and ultimately get results.”

ussoccer.com: One name missing from the roster is Christian Pulisic, who is out as a result his recent muscular injury with Borussia Dortmund…

DS: “I was excited to have Christian be a part of these games in September. As we all know too well, injuries happen and you can never predict timing. It’s disappointing that we won’t have Christian involved. I know that he wanted to be a part of things and we certainly wanted him here, but unfortunately he won’t be available.

“That said, we haven’t had Christian in with the group aside from one game in the past six friendlies, so I feel confident that this group will continue to build on what we have started.”

ussoccer.com: While we have seen the majority of players on this roster play for the MNT in 2018, you are also able to welcome back from injury John Brooks, Kellyn Acosta and Sebastian Lletget.

DS: “John Brooks had a difficult season with an extended injury last season with Wolfsburg. To his credit, he put in a lot of work in the offseason, had a strong preseason and has also started off well in their opening game, contributing with a goal and playing 90 minutes in their win against Schalke. Given all that, I’m pleased that he’s able to be back with the group. Center back is an important position and he’s proven that he’s very capable at this level.”

“Kellyn Acosta has been out of the National Team primarily through injury as well. He has worked his way back to good form. The change of scenery to Colorado seems to have worked out in that he’s a consistent starter, logging 90 minutes and back to the strong form that we remember seeing during Qualifying and the Gold Cup last year. We’re happy to have him back with us.”

“I’m really excited to see Sebastian Lletget back playing regularly, given the severity of his injury that he sustained last March against Honduras. Not only do I know him personally, but professionally I believe he has put himself back at a level to help contribute to the National Team. Having a guy like Sebastian gives us different options and he offers a unique skill set to us in midfield.”

ussoccer.com: New York Red Bulls center back Aaron Long is the lone newbie in this camp. What has he shown this season to earn this call-up?

DS: “Aaron is a great story. At 25, he’s an example that there is no exact time to when you find your form. To his credit, he has put himself in the conversation now given his play with the Red Bulls, where he’s played every game this season and was included in the All-Star Game. He’s in the kind of form where I feel he has the chance to move to the next level. This period of time is a great opportunity for me and my staff to really get to know him by having him in with us.”

ussoccer.com: With games against France, Ireland and Paraguay, the MNT has already had some challenging matches this year. Could you speak about the tests ahead with the beginning of the Kickoff Series against Brazil and Mexico?

DS: “The Kickoff Series is an ambitious series of games starting with Brazil. On the world stage, they are a team that gets everyone’s attention. They have quality from top to bottom and the opportunity to play a team with that kind of pedigree is invaluable, regardless of who they bring. In this case, they are bringing a strong, experienced group.

“With Mexico we’re talking about a very powerful team in our region and a historic and traditional rival that dates back more than 80 years. Whenever the USA and Mexico meet, it’s a very special match. Given that the two games fall four days apart, it’s going to be a very challenging but  terrific experience for this group.”

ussoccer.com: Perhaps one of the products of having such a young group is that a lot of guys coming to camp have changed clubs during the summer. As the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, how do you view this type of player movement?

DS: “When players make moves, the hope is that it’s for the right reasons and they are going to be able to earn consistent playing time. For the most part I feel the moves have been very positive. The challenge this early is that it’s probably still a little unsettling for players in terms of getting accustomed to their new environment, but from the playing perspective I believe the moves have been positive.”

ussoccer.com: The last time the MNT was together in the summer, 18-year-olds Tim Weah and Josh Sargent both gained valuable senior team minutes and even scored their first international goals. For this camp, what was behind the reasoning to bring Tim Weah while leaving Josh Sargent with his club? 

DS: “Tim Weah has been included in our roster primarily because he is coming off a very good preseason with PSG’s first team, has logged a lot of first-team minutes and already has a goal to his name this season. With consideration for the senior National Team, Timmy has earned the right to be called in.”

“The decision to leave Josh Sargent off this roster was one made primarily because he is still getting integrated with Werder Bremen. He’s working his way into the first team, but has yet to feature for them. The feeling is that he is getting valuable playing time with the club’s Under 23 team, evidenced by the minutes he’s played and goals he has scored so far this season. I felt it was best to allow him to continue to train with the first team with the hope of getting minutes in friendlies during the international break.”