Berhalter's 26-player December camp roster mixes veterans and youth
December 01, 2021
ON FRIDAY, UNITED STATES national team manager Gregg Berhalter announced his 26-player roster for the upcoming December camp which will conclude with a friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina on Saturday, Dec. 18 (8:15 p.m. ET; FS1, UniMás and TUDN) at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.
The core of the roster comes as no surprise. With the camp and the friendly not taking place during an international window, clubs are not required to release players to the U.S. national team for this. As a result, the roster consists mostly of domestic-based players who are not among the final four teams alive in the MLS playoffs.
In an effort to keep players active during the offseason and ahead of the January international window which will see the team take part in three qualifiers, Berhalter has called up many of the regular domestic-based players who have already featured in qualifying.
Matt Turner, Walker Zimmerman, Ricardo Pepi, Gyasi Zardes, Jesus Ferreira, and Cristian Roldan have all featured in World Cup qualifying and are on the roster. The primary objective is of this camp is to keep these players fit and in a rhythm ahead of the January window.
There were also some players who were not called up and given the opportunity to rest – Miles Robinson, Sebastian Lletget, and Paul Arriola were left off. Daryl Dike’s omission was also somewhat surprising - but Berhalter made it clear it was about giving Dike recovery time.
"He's beat up, he needs recovery," Berhalter said. "The most important thing, this time for Daryl is to get rest and recovery that he can focus on coming back in January and building himself up again. So that one was pretty straightforward."
There are also some interesting picks that show that Berhalter is widening the player pool – perhaps with an eye even beyond the 2022 World Cup.
Caden Clark has been called up for the first time after completing his first full season with the New York Red Bulls. Internacional’s Jonny Cardoso will also return to the team for the first time in since 2020. Taylor Booth comes in from Bayern Munich II, U.S. U-20 goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina is brought in after an impressive season with Chicago.
Here is the roster as well as some thoughts.
ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): John Pulskamp (Sporting Kansas City; 0/0), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Matt Turner (New England Revolution; 12/0)
DEFENDERS (11): George Bello (Atlanta United; 5/0), Justin Che (FC Dallas; 0/0), Jonathan Gomez (Louisville City; 0/0), Kobi Henry (Orange County SC; 0/0), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution; 1/0), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 21/3), Kevin Paredes (D.C. United; 0/0), Bryan Reynolds (Roma/ITA; 1/0), Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 22/2)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 44/2), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA; 2/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 29/0), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes; 15/0)
FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Bayern Munich II/GER; 0/0), Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 4/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 39/10), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas; 6/3), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew; 65/14)
Important forward competition
The most interesting aspect of the roster is the U.S. team’s forward pool. There are many questions at the No. 9 position and at the end of 2021, there are few answers. Among the abroad contingent, Josh Sargent has struggled to score, and Jordan Pefok might not fit the skillset the team is looking for.
Domestically, Berhalter has relied on Ricardo Pepi but he is still very young and very unproven. Gyasi Zardes has battled with injuries this year. Jesus Ferreira had a very good 2021 season, but he rarely plays the No. 9 with the U.S. team.
With Pepi, Zardes, and Ferreira all taking part in this camp, there is a meaningful competition for spots on the team moving forward. For these forwards, this is an important camp full of opportunity. There is also the question of Daryl Dike and his absence – which stands out.
Jordan Morris is on the team for the first time in nearly a year after he spent most of 2021 recovering from his second ACL tear of his career (suffered in February while on loan at Swansea City). Morris returned for the end of the regular season with Seattle and was understandably rusty.
Morris is a winger who could still help this team if he is able to return to his peak form. Unfortunately, his return came at the end of the season, but his camp and next month’s January camp offer a chance for Morris to show where he is currently at right now.
Aaron Long also returns to the team after missing nearly the entire 2021 season with a torn Achilles. It is unclear how much, if at all, he will be able to play against Bosnia but he can add depth to the central defense position after players like Chris Richards and Mark McKenzie have had inconsistent playing time. He’s still far behind these players after missing the season, but his return does expand the player pool.
U.S. U-20 team added
What is particularly interesting, but unsurprising, is that Berhalter has added a number of key U.S. U-20 players to the team.
Cade Cowell, Justin Che, Caden Clark, Kevin Paredes, Gabriel Slonina, Jonathan Gomez, and Kobi Henry make up seven players who should be key players from the U.S. U-20 team this upcoming cycle. Ricardo Pepi is also age-eligible but his involvement in this team is questionable.
The U.S. U-20 team has a big job ahead of it in 2022 when in the summer it will attempt to qualify for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. The Philadelphia Union have three players who are also eligible but are still alive in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Dual national recruitment?
Gregg Berhalter doesn’t like the term “recruitment” when discussing players with dual nationality and who might have to make a choice when two federations are interested in their services. Still, there are parallels and this camp is keeping some players with options involved with the U.S. team.
Jonathan Gomez and Gabriel Slonina are two young U.S. U-20 eligible players who were invited and their involvement doesn’t cap-tie them, but it does help to strengthen the bond they have with U.S. Soccer.
Gomez is coming off a strong season in USL with Louisville City and he is set to transfer to Real Sociedad in Spain. As a left back, he is the top U.S. U-20 player at his position and he has also attended camps for Mexico at different levels.
Slonina, 17, is one of the top young American goalkeepers and has already earned the starting position with the Chicago Fire. While the Fire fell short of the playoffs, Slonina was one of the team’s most exciting players in the final two months of the season. His parents are both from Poland and Slonina has said it would be a very difficult choice if Poland called (there are rumors their federation has reached out to him). But Slonina recently participated in a camp with the U.S. U-20 team and now will have a chance at a more senior level, thereby keeping him involved and allowing him to work with Matt Turner.
When looking at the season both players had, it seems like a smart decision to use two roster spots on both promising players.
Another noteworthy pick was extending an invitation to Bryan Reynolds. The former FC Dallas fullback made a big move to AS Roma last December but has seen his progress slowed when the club hired Jose Mourinho as head coach over the summer.
Mourinho has made harsh comments regarding many of the team’s second choice players after a brutal 6-1 loss to Bodo/Glimt in the UEFA Conference League. The comments certainly weren’t productive in building up the confidence of the team’s young players and Reynolds certainly needs a loan away from AS Roma. Instead of leaving him in Italy, Berhalter requested and received a release for Reynolds to participate in this camp.
Reynolds is a very promising but very raw player. He needs playing time and he needs coaching to achieve his upside. This call-up should be a nice confidence boost and potentially help him get a loan.
Overall, another smart call-up in terms of helping a player further his career and get out of a bad situation.
Notes from Berhalter’s press conference
Following the roster announcement, Gregg Berhalter spoke with the media about the roster and there were some interesting takeaways.
In addition to Daryl Dike, Berhalter stressed that Miles Robinson needed rest. The Atlanta United defender will be with the team in January and is following an individual workout in December.
Berhalter said players from the losing teams of the Conference Finals would not be added. He also added that he really put an emphasis on the U.S. U-20 team.
“It's important for us to start integrating some of these younger players - especially in a camp like this where we can afford to do that,” Berhalter said. “So we were earmarking a number of U-20 players to bring into this camp. Paxten Aronson was one of them Caden Clark was one of them. Brian Gutierrez was one. Gaga Slonina is coming in as a goalkeeper so it's important to start bringing these guys up to the senior team and get given them that experience.”
Berhalter said that Djordje Mihailovic wasn’t called up because he was on his way for a training stint with Bologna in Italy’s Serie A.
"I had a conversation with Djordje talking about what we're focused on in this camp," Berhalter said. "The objectives to keep guys moving, look at some new faces. Djordje is going to be training with Bologna. He left today to go there. So he's checking that box we're familiar with. We will potentially see him in January, for our training camp them."
Berhalter spoke about Jordan Morris’ return and stressed that he doesn’t yet know his level and if he is able to help the team in January’s qualifiers.
"If we don't bring him into this camp he has no chance of playing qualifiers, right?" Berhalter said. "So our job now is to work with him these next four weeks and then when we're in camp to get him ready to see if he can make an impact and help in qualifiers. We know his talent level, we know what he brings to the team, it gives us a different dimension and it'd be nice to get him in a place where he can perform in these games but we just don't know yet, so we'll have to wait and see when he's in camp. He's made a lot of progress with Seattle they did a great job of getting him back on the field."
Berhalter spoke about the Atlanta United fullbacks of Brooks Lennon and George Bello being on the team and what he expects from them.
“For both of those players it's going to be about being aggressive going forward - being really clinical in the penalty box, good decision making in around the penalty box.” Berhalter said. “With Brooks I think he showed that relentlessness of attacking and defending up and down the line, really, really good fitness and he's a player that for some reason or another we haven't been able to get in camp. There was issues with it with Atlanta releasing players in January camp so he couldn't come before. And so we're thankful that they were released him now so we can get a good look at him.”
“With George [Bello], it's just about continue to develop to develop,” he added. “He has some really high parts of his game he also has some, some inconsistencies that we want to continue to work with him. You know the left back spot - Antonee has done a great job and after that it's pretty open. We are hoping that these guys will try to make a big impact with us this camp.”
Johnny Cadoso will join the team late and Berhalter still does not know when he will arrive based on Internacional’s schedule. Berhalter said the same thing is true for Bryan Reynolds.
Berhalter spoke at length about the decision to play the two January games in frigid temperatures.
“Some of the criteria we're looking for is minimizing travel and a pro U.S. crowd. So now you start thinking about stadiums that you can minimize travel have a pro U.S crowd. El Salvador, it's tough. El Salvador in DC is really tough. You can't play there, right? It will be a home game for El Salvador if you do that, Honduras is very similar on the eastern seaboard. New York similar from Honduras and and El Salvador, as you get towards warmer weather potentially in Florida. You're still running that risk of the crowd. We want a pro us crowd you guys have seen what a pro us crowd does for the boys does for the, for the atmosphere.
“Now we start having to weigh the risk of that of the weather extreme weather,” he added. “We know a large portion of our guys are playing in Europe, they're playing in cold weather right now they're coming back and should be able to adapt pretty nicely. We know the field in Columbus is going to be good. Some other venues weren't able to get the field up to standards to play in the winter so we had to exclude them, and Minnesota and Columbus popped out from a travel and field standpoint... It's tough for us and we have guys playing in in Europe and cold weather, what's it going to be like coming from Honduras midweek - 85-90 degree temperatures to go to Minnesota? What's it going to be like for them? So we see that as an advantage for us, honestly, and, you know, in the qualifiers about winning games”
Finally, Berhalter said that the paperwork was still being finalized to have Luchi Gonzalez join his staff as an assistant coach. While it is not done, the tone on the call was optimistic.