USMNT Newbies: Get to Know the 10 First-Time Players at December Camp

Eight of the 10 neophytes will seek their first senior-team cap on December 9 against El Salvador
By: Michael Lewis

Twelve USMNT newbies will get their first chance with the senior team in Fort Lauderdale.

Get to know the list of first-time call-ups as they build towards a potential first cap in the USMNT’s friendly against El Salvador on December 9 at Inter Miami CF Stadium.

Ayo Akinola, forward

Ayo Akinola is coming off a career year, tying MLS Best XI selection Alejandro Pozuelo of Toronto FC for the club’s goal scoring lead with nine goals in only 1,063 minutes, 11 starts and 15 matches. Akinola, 20, received an extended opportunity when USMNT striker Jozy Altidore was injured for the MLS is Back Tournament. Combining pace and power, the 5-foot-10, 180-lb. forward scored twice in a 2-2 draw with D.C. United and added a hat trick in a 4-3 win against the Montreal Impact three days later, finishing as the competition's second-leading scorer. He scored four more times down the stretch to help Toronto FC clinch a postseason berth.

A member of the U.S. Under-15, U-17 and U-20 Men’s National Teams, Akinola has tallied 38 goals in 51 youth international matches. His most memorable came in a 1-0 win against Ghana in the second match of the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. He was originally part of the USA squad for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, but injury forced him to withdraw before the tournament.

Akinola, who was born in Detroit, grew up in Brampton, Ontario. He is eligible to play for the U.S., Canada or Nigeria.

Efrain Alvarez, forward

A Homegrown player, Efrain Alvarez has made 30 appearances (10 starts) for the LA Galaxy over the last two seasons. When he signed as a 16-year-old in 2018, Alvarez was the seventh-youngest player to join the league. Debuting for the first team on the opening day of the 2019 season, Alvarez assisted on the game-tying goal in a 2-1 comeback win against the Chicago Fire. This season, he tallied his first MLS goal in a 3-2 victory against the Portland Timbers on Sept. 2, 2020.

Alvarez, now 18, was a key member of the Galaxy academy squad that reached the 2017 U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-17/18 Championship match. He earned a reputation as a clutch performer at the tournament, scoring in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final of the competition.

Born in the USA to Mexican parents, Alvarez can play for either country. He has represented both nations at the international youth level. He previously played for the U.S. U-15 Boys’ National Team in 2016 and represented Mexico at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Because he played for El Trí in official competition, Alvarez would have to file a one-time switch with FIFA in order to represent the United States and is currently ineligible to play in the Dec. 9 friendly against El Salvador. 

Andrés Perea, midfielder

One of three players from Orlando City SC called into the USMNT’s December training camp, midfielder Andrés Perera was another key factor in the Lions’ run to their first-ever postseason appearance.

Born in Tampa, Fla., the 20-year-old is a dual citizen of the United States and Colombia and joined Orlando this season on a one-year loan from Colombia’s Atlético Nacional, historically one of the country’s top clubs. He contributed two assists in 28 matches this season for Orlando, including six during the team’s run to the MLS is Back Tournament Final.

Perea represented Colombia at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, starting all five matches during Los Cafeteros’ run to the quarterfinals, where they fell to eventual champion Ukraine. He also played for Colombia at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Because he has represented Colombia in official competition, Perea would have to file a one-time switch with FIFA in order to represent the U.S. and is currently ineligible to play in the USMNT’s Dec. 9 friendly vs. El Salvador.

Cole Bassett, midfielder

Cole Bassett (pictured right) became a force during the Colorado Rapids' stretch run this MLS campaign as the 19-year-old midfielder registered five goals and four assists in the final 12 games of 2020.

In 2018, the then 17-year-old inked a Homegrown contract with the Rapids, becoming the youngest signing in club history. He made his professional debut in a 2-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Sept. 8, 2018, before scoring his first goal in a 2-1 win against FC Dallas in the 2018 regular season finale on Oct. 28.

The midfielder earned rave reviews while playing for the Rapids Academy squad, securing the club’s 2018 Player of the Year award. The Littleton, Colo. native was last involved in the national team program when he took part in the U-20 USMNT’s January training camp, bagging a brace in the team’s 2-0 win against Mexico. 

Daryl Dike, forward

At 6-2, 220 pounds, forward Daryl Dike provides an imposing presence at striker. The No. 5 pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft broke out in a big way for Orlando City SC this season, netting eight goals and four assists in 17 matches.

After Orlando’s impressive run at June’s MLS is Back Tournament, injuries opened the door for Dike to earn even more playing time. With the opportunity, the young striker came further into form in August, scoring three goals and adding two assists in three games to earn Player of the Month honors.

A finalist for the MLS Young Player of the Year award, Dike played two collegiate seasons at ACC powerhouse Virginia, where he helped lead the Cavaliers to the NCAA title game his sophomore year. Hailing from Oklahoma, Dike is the son of Nigerian parents and comes from a strong soccer family. His older brother Bright played five MLS seasons and appeared twice for the Nigerian National Team, while sister Courtney represented the Super Falcons at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.  

CJ Dos Santos, goalkeeper

A native of Foxchase, Pa., CJ Dos Santos signed with Benfica (Portugal) when he was 16 and agreed to an extension through 2023 earlier this year. The 20-year-old goalkeeper has worked his way up to the club's Under-23 team after winning a championship with Benfica's Under-19 squad in 2017-18. He also has logged minutes in the UEFA Youth League.

Standing at 6-4, the goalkeeper has excelled at every level at which he has competed. A superb shot-stopper, Dos Santos is also quite comfortable with his feet and playing the ball out of the back. After starring for FC Delco, he spent three years with the Philadelphia Union in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

Dos Santos was part of the USA squads at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India and the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. 

Marco Farfan, defender

A member of the Portland Timbers organization since age 13, Marco Farfan has climbed the ladder from the club’s academy to the first team. Born to parents of Mexican descent, Farfan played three seasons with the Timbers’ U-16 and U-18 teams before beginning to play with Timbers 2 in 2016, a step that led him to sign as a Homegrown player that fall.

At 18 years, 120 days, the rising left back became the youngest player to appear for Timbers first team when he played in a 1-0 win against the LA Galaxy on March 12, 2017. As he’s continued to gain experience, Farfan has split time between Timbers 2 and the first team over the last four seasons. The full back turned a corner this year, playing in a career-high 14 MLS regular season matches and helping the club qualify for the postseason.

Having previously represented the U.S. U-19s in 2016 and 2017, Farfan most recently made two appearances with the U-23 MNT in 2019.

Chris Mueller, forward

At 24 years old, Chris Mueller is the oldest of the newbies in December camp, but has more than earned his way to Fort Lauderdale.

The Schaumburg, Ill. product spearheaded Orlando City SC’s attack this season en route to its first postseason appearance. The forward fully found his footing in his third season with the Lions, scoring a team-best 10 goals and adding seven assists. At MLS is Back, the winger helped Orlando reach the tournament final with three goals, including a brace in the opening 10 minutes against New York City FC during the group stage.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Mueller was a finalist for Rookie of the Year that season after picking up three goals and seven assists. He played four years at Wisconsin and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year his senior season after leading the nation in assists. Prior to making his mark in the NCAA, Mueller played three years in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for storied Chicago youth club Sockers FC, where USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley is an alum.

David Ochoa, goalkeeper

Regarded as one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the USYNT player pool, David Ochoa has represented the U.S. at the U-16, U-18 and U-20 age levels. He backstopped the USA during two key matches at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland – a 1-0 group stage win against Qatar and a 2-1 quarterfinal defeat to Ecuador.

After spending four seasons with Real Salt Lake in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, Ochoa signed as a Homegrown player on Nov. 28, 2018. The 19-year-old has featured for the club’s USL side Real Monarchs SLC the past two seasons, helping lead the team to the 2019 USL Championship. He made his first-team debut in RSL’s season finale, a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Nov. 8, 2020.

Ochoa was named to the U.S. U-23 roster for the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the event’s postponement.

The 6-foot-2, 175-lb. goalkeeper is eligible to play for the USA or Mexico.

Mauricio Pineda, defender

As a rookie, Mauricio Pineda quickly became a cornerstone of the Chicago Fire this past season. The Bolingbrook, Ill. native started all 23 MLS matches, playing a team-high 2,022 out of a possible 2,070 minutes. Pineda, 23, who made his professional debut in the team’s season opener, a2-1 loss at Seattle Sounders FC on March 1, 2020, finished with three goals and two assists.

Playing alongside fellow December campinviteeDjordje Mihailovic, thedefender was a key player on the Chicago Fire U-17/18 sideteam that captured theU.S. Soccer Development Academy Championship in 2015. After playing attheUniversity of North Carolina for four years andearning All-Americanhonors as a junior, Pineda signed with the Fire as a Homegrown player in January.

The club exercised his 2021 contract option on July 15, a day after he scored his first professional goal-the game-winner in a 2-1 victory againstSeattleat the MLS is Back Tournamentin Orlando.