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USMNT analysis

January camp 2024 lookahead: next generation and Olympic-eligible players likely to play big role

January camp 2024 will serve an important role in preparing many Olympic players and players Gregg Berhalter believes are part of the next generation. The USMNT manager already stated that is the goal of this camp. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks ahead to what that camp could look like and who will likely take part. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 13, 2023
8:10 AM

THE ANNUAL USMNT men’s January camp will kickoff in a few weeks shortly after the New Years and in the official announcement of the camp, head coach Gregg Berhalter said it was a chance “to identify and work with the next generation of players.” Given that, this could be a very productive camp which will end with a friendly against Slovenia on January 20.

January camp has a positive history with a number of very important players having earned a first or second cap in January. It starts from Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, and DaMarcus Beasley and into modern times with Tim Ream, Matt Turner, Tyler Adams, and Brenden Aaronson having taken part in the early stages of their careers.

What makes this camp so important is the opportunities. First, it is important to continue to look at the next generation behind the players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams. It is always good to have more players prepared and that won’t be the case if it is just the same current core always in place for nearly two cycles.

But second, there are a lot of opportunities on the horizon. Chief among them is the Olympics in 2024 (and even in 2028 where the U.S. will host) were the men’s U-23 team will return to the tournament for the first time since 2008. The Olympics have historically been a great place for players to move from the fringes of the player pool and into a more important role. In 2000, it was Landon Donovan, Josh Wolff, and John O’Brien using the tournament in 2000 to play well in big roles at the World Cup in 2002. In 2008, it was the same for Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Charlie Davies (who was set for a big role before his injury), and Stuart Holden.

The Olympic roster isn’t set and there are still two big camps to go before Paris but there are several important players from that team who can take part in this camp. U.S. U-23 head coach Marko Mitrovic is confirmed to be on Gregg Berhalter’s staff.

In addition, this won’t entirely be a U-23 camp. There are some players available to this camp who are in the mix and there are some positions the USMNT needs to build up depth and the U-23 options aren’t there yet. Also, there are some older players in the mix for the three overage positions that will be allowed on the Olympic roster.

As everyone knows, this camp doesn’t take place in a FIFA window, and it is typically limited to players who play in leagues either in offseason or in a break (typically MLS, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, or most of the South American leagues). Only in a few limited circumstances were players from top European leagues released (Jermaine Jones played while suspended in Germany, Paxten Aaronson and Uly Llanez took part when they were both still young and not established first-team players).

With how things stand now, there aren’t any U-23 options in Scandinavia, Austria, or South America (Johnny Cardoso is soon to join Real Betis). Hajduk Split’s Rokas Pukstas is the most interesting option from Europe who could potentially be allowed to take part.

If the goal is to go into this camp primarily to look at the next generation, here is how I think January camp could look.



Roster (3): Drake Callender, Patrick Schulte, Roman Celentano

In the Mix: Chris Brady, Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath

Analysis: This is a position where the U.S. team is far from solid after Matt Turner (who recently returned to Nottingham Forest’s starting lineup but isn’t considered a regular starter yet). Gaga Slonina has had an up and down year in Belgium and is still just a teenager. Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen just aren’t playing at all (and could be in the mix if they are still in club limbo or move domestically). That makes this an important camp for this position.

Drake Callender has been around the national team in 2023 and has had a solid year. Patrick Schulte is Olympic eligible and took huge strides in 2023 where he won MLS Cup with the Crew. The last spot will come down to either Roman Celentano was a good starter for Cincinnati or Chris Brady who is another Olympic option and is a starter with Chicago at just 20. That’s a coin flip but since this is a position at play with the USMNT, it will probably go to the 23 year old who now has two good seasons under his belt at a good Cincy team.


Central defenders


Roster (4): Walker Zimmerman, Jackson Ragen, Nkosi, Tafari, Jalen Neal

In the Mix: Matt Miazga, George Campbell

Analysis: The central defense pool at the younger ages has been stagnant for several years. For the U.S. U-23 team, Mark Mitrovic will need to use at least one of his three overage spots on center backs. The only two domestic U-23 options who are playing regularly are Montreal’s George Campbell and the LA Galaxy’s Jalen Neal. Calling up only one of these two is necessary and Neal has the higher ceiling but he’s been hurt. If he can’t go, Campbell can.

Jackson Regan and Nkosi Tafari are coming off strong seasons and are worth giving an opportunity and they could be overage Olympic options if there are injury and release issues.

Walker Zimmerman checks a lot of boxes as an overage Olympic option given his availability, his experience, and his temperament. Matt Miazga is the reigning MLS Defender of the Year and he boasts a lot of experience, but he’s a known player and he might not have the temperament to be an overage Olympic option.

It’s also worth pointing out that Miles Robinson is still domestically based but will likely be gone in December. Also, James Sands is both a midfielder and central defender. He could be a very ideal overage option.




Roster (4): John Tolkin, Caleb Wiley, DeJuan Jones, Nathian Harriel

In the Mix: Jake Davis, George Bello, Noah Allen, Griffin Dorsey

Analysis: Left back is very strong for the Olympic team with John Tolkin and Caleb Wiley very solid options. Both should be in camp, but Tolkin might not be available if a potential sale heats up. Nathian Harriel might not be a lock starter at right back for Philadelphia, but he’s done well in the Olympic camps in 2023 and the U-23 options are thin in that position. 

DeJuan Jones is not Olympic option and likely isn’t in the mix for an overage spot, but he’s still a solid depth option for the USMNT in case of an injury or a suspension (especially with Dest out for the first game March). In that respect, keep an eye on Griffin Dorsey who was an example of a late bloomer this year with Houston after converting from right back. He ended up having a great season and was part of the Dynamo turnaround this year. He is now a free agent. 

George Bello could become an option with the Austrian Bundesliga winter break and his recent good form with LASK. He's another player who has been around for so long that it's hard to believe he is still age-eligible for the U-23 team.


Center midfielders

Roster (5): Aidan Morris, Jack McGlynn, Josh Atencio, Benja Cremaschi, James Sands

In the Mix: Kelyn Acosta, Obed Vargas, Alan Sonora, Rokas Pukstas, Timothy Tillman, Frankie Amaya

Analysis: There are a lot of players in this area of the field Berhalter and Mitrovic will want to look at in the context of the Olympics and beyond. Aidan Morris is fresh off playing a big role for Columbus winning the MLS Cup. He can do a lot – win balls, pass from distance, create chances for others, and shoot well. He’s one of the players with the most opportunities in this camp.

Philadelphia’s Jack McGlynn and Seattle’s Josh Atencio both come off strong seasons. McGlynn is well known and recently completed a U-20 cycle and Atencio took a starting job from Obed Vargas in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Benja Cremaschi has been in and around either the USMNT or the U-23 team since the summer.

James Sands is also another strong Olympic overage candidate with his versatility to play several positions, his experience, and his recent involvement with U.S. Soccer. Kellyn Acosta could still be in the mix given the uncertainty over when Tyler Adams will return. But his club situation is up in the air. Timothy Tillman is another candidate after his one-time switch was approved last year. The former German youth international had a good season for LAFC and it's possible Berhalter wants to give him a look for either depth on the full national team, as an overage Olympic player, or both. 

Recent U.S. U-20 midfielder Rokas Pukstas would be a great addition to camp. As a regular starter with Hajduk Split, he doesn’t have any games from December 17 through January 27. But the question comes down to Hajduk Split releasing him. He wouldn’t miss any games for Hajduk but maybe the club looks to sell him this winter or maybe they just want to protect their investment?


Wingers/attacking mids/forwards

Roster (6): Cade Cowell, Brian Gutierrez, Bernard Kamungo, Diego Luna, Duncan McGuire, Jesus Ferreira

In the Mix: Esmir Bajraktarevic, Cole Bassett, Brandon Vazquez, Brian White, Nicholas Gioacchini

In the Mix: Based on the U-20 World Cup, the recent U-23 camps, and USMNT rosters (with Cade Cowell) since the summer, these names pick themselves. Brandon Vazquez would be a lock to be part of this team, but all signs point to the high likelihood that he could be sold by Cincinnati.. Duncan McGuire is an obvious pick after a 15-goal season across all competitions and Jesus Ferreira is still in the mix and it’s hard to believe he is still just 23. If Vazquez is available, he pobably bumps Ferreira off.

Brian Gutierrez, Diego Luna, and Bernard Kamungo also have been known Olympic options and all three have had nice seasons to probably get into this camp.

It also wouldn’t be surprising if Esmir Bajraktarevic sneaks into camp. He’s in the Olympic mix right now but is very young and probably one for the 2025 U-20 cycle and the 2028 U-23 Olympic roster.

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