Analysis: Callaghan names USMNT roster ahead of Nations League semifinal
June 01, 2023
ONE DAY AFTER being named the interim manager of the United States men’s national team, B.J. Callaghan has named a 24-player roster for at training camp ahead of the final rounds of the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League where the U.S. team will meet Mexico in the semifinal on June 15 in Las Vegas.
The training camp will open on June 4, but the final 23-player Nations League roster is due on June 5.
It was difficult for Callaghan to assemble this roster given injuries to key players. U.S. Soccer indicated a number of players who were unavailable due to injury
- Tyler Adams
- Cameron Carter-Vickers
- Daryl Dike
- Ethan Horvath
- Tim Ream
- Josh Sargent
- Zack Steffen
- Malik Tillman
During the media call, Callaghan said that Kellyn Acosta was left off this roster due to “an abundance of caution” in him dealing with an injury that has limited his time at LAFC.
With that, here is the roster and some thoughts.
GOALKEEPERS (4): Drake Callender (Inter Miami; 0/0), Josh Cohen (Maccabi Haifa/ISR; 0/0), Sean Johnson (Toronto FC/CAN; 12/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 26/0)
DEFENDERS (7): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 24/2), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG; 8/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 34/2), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 21/3), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 4/0), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City/ENG; 1/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 39/3)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA; 6/0), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 14/0), Weston McKennie (Leeds United/ENG; 43/11), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 25/0), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 18/4), Alan Soñora (FC Juárez/MEX; 2/0),
FORWARDS (7): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 30/7), Folarin Balogun (Stade Reims/FRA; 0/0), Taylor Booth (Utrecht/NED; 2/0), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED; 14/6), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 58/23), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 29/4), Alex Zendejas (Club América/MEX; 3/1)
The biggest question mark for this team is the problems in the midfield with Tyler Adams injured. It has been a long-standing issue on this team as to who plays the No. 6 position when Adams can’t go. Kellyn Acosta had the job for awhile in qualifying, but Acosta has only recently returned from injury with LAFC and he is not on this roster (Callaghan said that Acosta’s absence is due to him “dealing with a little bit of an injury").
Obviously, this is a massive platform for Johnny Cardoso in Brazil, but Cardoso has only had limited minutes with the USMNT and is yet to be a standout performer. He’s a prospect but now it looks like he will have a real opportunity to prove himself as a player who can handle important responsibilities.
But the rest of the midfield has a lot of questions that should be a concern to the team.
- Weston McKennie: tough season with Leeds United, who were relegated.
- Yunus Musah: tough season with Valencia where he is no longer starting and has 0 goals with two assists.
- Gio Reyna: productive season but he only played 612 minutes for Dortmund in 2022/23
- Luca de la Torre: has been part of Celta Vigo’s possible collapse which could end in relegation this weekend. Like Musah, he has 0 goals and two assists on the season.
- Alan Sonora: he only had eight appearances and three starts for a Club Juarez team that was poor in Liga MX.
- Johnny Cardoso: Has played well recently for Internacional in Brazil but has yet to standout for the USMNT.
That is going to be a big area of concern for the team and will the midfield be lacking in confidence ahead of the Mexico game?
Players coming off tough seasons
It’s not just the midfield either. Another dominant theme of this roster is the significant number of players who are coming into this camp on the heels of difficult seasons. Callaghan will have to hope that players are able to distance themselves from the year that they had.
"I look at it as an opportunity for these guys," Callaghan said. "A lot of them have come through some stressful seasons. What I can tell you, when these guys get together, they really enjoy their time together. So this is almost an opportunity to give them a release, a place where it's safe for them to be themselves. They can get away from that pressure. They can enjoy themselves. They're back in the United States enjoying all the things that you know, that they're used to. And so for me, this is just an opportunity for them to put that aside, really focus on something that they're really passionate about, which is the men's national team. Another thing they're really passion about is competing and winning another trophy."
Just some of the areas of concern: Sergino Dest has been out of AC Milan’s plans since January and hasn’t even been making the bench. Chris Richards had just 442 minutes with Crystal Palace this past season and hasn’t played regularly since 2021. Matt Turner didn’t play a minute in the Premier League in 2022/23. Joe Scally has lost his starting spot at Monchengladbach in recent weeks. Walker Zimmerman has been dealing with injuries the past six weeks and Miles Robinson has shown progress in his return from an Achilles injury but is still not quite there.
In forward, Christian Pulisic and Chelsea had a well-documented tumultuous season. Tim Weah has played mostly fullback for Lille because it was his best way to even play. Alex Zendejas has dealt with injuries at Club America. Brenden Aaronson was also part of the Leeds team that was relegated.
In terms of players arriving in very good form, the list is short. Folarin Balogun, Antonee Robinson, Taylor Booth, and Ricardo Pepi have done well. A few have been mixed. But Calllaghan will now have to deal with a team where most of the players have had a rough time.
Balogun making his debut
As expected, Folarin Balogun will be making his debut for the U.S. team after scoring 20 goals for Stade de Reims in Ligue 1 and filing for his change of association from England.
"In terms of Flo," Callaghan said of Balogun. "He was one of the guys, one of the first guys I called when I got the news. We had a great conversation. I can tell you that his commitment to the U.S. is unwavering. He's excited to come in with the group. He's someone that I spoke to about embracing the brotherhood that we have. It's a welcoming environment The guys are going to welcome and they're all excited and he's excited. But at the same time, I challenged him and I said, listen, you have to put yourself out there and you have to integrate with the group."
All eyes will be on him, but Callaghan is taking two forwards with Balogun and Ricardo Pepi, who is also coming off a nice season in the Eredivisie with a bad Groningen team. If Balogun can boost the team’s offense, it could be a spark of energy that helps boost many of the players who arrive not playing well.
“Ricardo Pepi is a guy who's coming off of a great season, scored big goals for us already,” Callaghan added of the competition between Balogun and Pepi at striker. “And it's going to be fun to watch these guys compete - as professional athletes and guys that want to make an impression on the U.S. men's national team. That's what you want. You want competition. I expect this to be a great camp for both of them.”
The Gold Cup
Yes, injuries are a reason why some top players are not here. But this roster was also put together with the understanding that immediately following this tournament is the Gold Cup.
Callaghan said he wants to use both tournaments to use as many players as possible to expose them to big moments. So, it is likely going to be a very different roster.
“When you're putting together these rosters, it can become in terms of all the different factors that go into player selection - a little bit complicated,” Callaghan explained. “We try to use it in a filter that is: the guy's club form, where they're at in terms of maybe moving clubs... I would say the main objective that we were trying to to accomplish here with the Nations league and looking to the Gold Cup is how we can expose the most amount of players in our player pool to make them battle tested in knockout type of games, and tournament group play type of games.”
“We don't know what the 2026 player pool is going to look like," he added. "It's our responsibility to have as many players exposed to high level knockout stage, group stage type of environments."
It remains to be seen who will make that team. In the media call, Callaghan shed some light on which players were cut compared with who is being saved for the Gold Cup.
One of the surprises on the call is that Mark McKenzie was cut from this team and that Callaghan had to make that call and it was difficult given the long relationship the two have dating back to when Callaghan worked at the Philadelphia Union.
"I had to call Mark McKenzie and tell him that he wasn't on the Nations league roster," Callaghan said. "This is a guy that I've known since he was 12 years old. It's a hard, hard conversation to have with him. I explained the reasons. I can tell you that he was understanding. He was professional. But at the same time, what I would expect is that in the end he wasn't happy. But at the same time I reassured him that I think there's a pathway for him to continue with the men's national team."
It was later clarified that McKenzie is in discussions for him to be part of the Gold Cup roster.
But there are also Gold Cup possibilities for other known players such as Jesus Ferreira, Bryan Reynolds, and Brandon Vazquez.
Callaghan also announced this preliminary roster via CONCACAF for the Gold Cup and it contains many of the same names along with a few U-20 players as well.
- Paul Arriola
- Brenden Aaronson
- Taylor Booth
- Tyler Boyd
- John Brooks
- Gianluca Busio
- Drake Callender
- Johnny Cardoso
- Luca de la Torre
- Jeremy Ebobisse
- Jesus Ferreira
- Marlon Fossey
- Julian Gressel
- Cade Cowell
- Matthew Hoppe
- Jonathan Gomez
- Sean Johnson
- DeJuan Jones
- Richard Ledezma
- Brooks Lennon
- Weston McKennie
- Aaron Long
- Mark McKenzie
- Matthew Miazga
- Djordje Mihailovic
- Shaq Moore
- Aidan Morris
- Jordan Morris
- Jalen Neal
- Keaton Parks
- Kellyn Acosta
- Paxton Pomykal
- Gio Reyna
- Bryan Reynolds
- Miles Robinson
- Yunus Musah
- Cristian Roldan
- James Sands
- Joe Scally
- Jordan Siebatcheu-Pefok
- Alan Sonora
- Erik Palmer-Brown
- Tanner Tessmann
- Timothy Tillman
- John Tolkin
- Matt Turner
- Brandon Vazquez
- Ricardo Pepi
- Haji Wright
- DeAndre Yedlin
- Jackson Yueill
- Alejandro Zendejas
- Roman Celentano
- Christian Pulisic
- Gaga Slonina
- Auston Trusty
- Tim Weah
- Caleb Wiley
- Floarin Balogun
- Joshua Wynder