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Who should be on the December USMNT roster?

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The MLS-focused camp provides an opportunity to test and evaluate options deeper in the pool. Who would you pick?

Mexico v United States: 2022 World Cup Qualifying Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Three weeks ago, USSF announced the USMNT will hold a training camp in December, outside of FIFA international windows, running from December 5th until a friendly game with Bosnia on December 18th.

This is not replacing the annual January Camp. There will still be a January Camp of mostly MLS players that will join up to train, with players from European clubs joining later as the international window opens for a crucial World Cup qualifying window.

These December and January Camps will be important to keep players like Ricardo Pepi in form. MLS teams that missed the playoffs played their final game of the season on November 7th, and won’t play again until February 26th.

How you approach building this roster is largely determined by two things. The first is how you approach national team call ups in general. Do you think it’s important to keep the same group together to build consistency, understanding of tactics, and team unity? Gregg Berhalter probably agrees with you. Or do you think it’s important to rotate players in and out of camps based on how they perform, maximize competition for spots, and evaluate new players every chance possible?

The second question is how you feel about perennial Berhalter MLS call ups like Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, Paul Arriola, Cristian Roldan, and Gyasi Zardes. Are they important players to the team, leaders who have proved their worth, who understand Gregg’s tactics, have experience at the international level, and need to be kept fresh during their club offseason so they can play a key role in the January World Cup qualifying window? Or are they average players who have already been given more opportunities than they earned, failed to play at a high enough level for the USMNT in important games, and are already in the process of being surpassed by numerous young players springing up all over the world? That will go a long way to determining how you want to shape and build this camp.

Testing out a different shape

One big problem for the USMNT right now is that there’s no strong like-for-like replacement for Tyler Adams as a destroying 6. So far, Gregg Berhalter has stayed completely committed to his single-6, dual-8 midfield shape, regardless of which players suit up. With a lack of single 6s in the pool, a plethora of 8s who can defend well in a double-pivot, and a growing number of creative number 10-style players (Reyna, Aaronson, Ferreira, Mihailovic, Ledezma, Méndez, Clark), it’s time for the USMNT to try some semblance of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Hopefully this December camp does some experimentation with that.

Let’s break down our options at each position:

Goalkeeper

Matt Turner is in close competition with Zack Steffen for the overall #1 keeper spot, and is a lock for this camp unless playoffs make him unavailable. Johnson has been Berhalter’s #3 in the past couple camps, displacing Nations League hero Ethan Horvath. Gaga Slonina burst onto the MLS scene this fall, winning the Chicago Fire starting job and keeping 4 clean sheets in 11 games, enough to raise eyebrows in Poland. Chituru Odunze has been in full USMNT camp before, and LAFC’s Romero is being courted by El Salvador.

Author’s picks: Turner, Frei, Slonina (Hamid, Melia, and Odunze options if playoffs interfere).

Center back

Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman have been core players in qualifying, with James Sands a fringe option, who might be a more likely option in midfield. Aaron Long’s injury status is a question mark. Justin Che played well with the U-20s at the Revelations Cup, and could play both wide and central. Jonathan Tomkinson captains Norwich City’s under-23s, and Nico Carrera made the Holstein Kiel matchday squad for the first time this past weekend. With players like Carrera, it would be great to see them in camp, but potentially better to leave them with their club team to continue to fully break in.

Author’s picks: Miles, Zimmerman, Kessler, Tomkinson, Che (CB/RB)

Right back

Bryan Reynolds is in a bad situation at Roma, and needs to get away. He’s likely to be loaned or sold in January, and has a better skillset to offer the USMNT than any other RB who will be available outside a FIFA window. Roma is likely willing to release him, since he doesn’t appear to be in José Mourinho’s plans at all currently. Duncan and Herrera have had good years in MLS, with Duncan rumored to move to Oostende this winter. If Duncan needs a break between the full MLS season and starting in Belgium in January, bring Herrera in his spot or go with Reynolds and Che as the two RBs.

Author’s picks: Reynolds, Duncan, Che (CB/RB)

Left back

Left back is an important position to test, as Antonee Robinson, Joe Scally, and out-of-position Dest are the only strong options right now. George Bello has been unconvincing in qualifying so far. The door is by no means closed for him, but there’s plenty of time for him to re-enter the national team later. Jonathan Gómez is available following LouCity’s dramatic 3-2 playoff loss to Tampa Bay. JoGo’s plan is to take a couple weeks off before traveling to Sociedad, but he can’t register there until January, so he might be able to squeeze in a couple weeks with the MNT, if only to train. Kevin Paredes would be another exciting option, but his status is in doubt due to injury. John Tolkin and DeJuan Jones have impressed in MLS this year, although Jones may be in playoff action.

Author’s picks: Gómez (to train), Paredes (if available), Tolkin (Jones if others can’t come)

Defensive midfield

The 6 is the most important area to test new players, with Acosta the only destroyer given chances to backup Adams so far. James Sands should be in camp, as well as Leon Flach. Johnny Cardoso’s last club game of the season is Dec 9, four days after camp begins. He could join camp late, or perhaps Internacional would let him miss that final game depending on the availability of their other midfielders. Similarly, Christian Cappis is a rotational player for Brøndby, but not so crucial that they couldn’t release him prior to their final cup match.

Author’s picks: Sands, Flach, Cappis (CM/DM, joining late), Johnny (joining late)

Center midfield

Eryk Williamson would be a great option here, but is likely still out injured. Cole Bassett has had a strong MLS season, and Taylor Booth could be released by Bayern, as he’s playing with their reserves in the fourth tier. Booth showed his quality on loan in Austria in the spring, and with Bayern’s first team over the summer, but was unfortunate not to get a loan move this fall. He’s capable of playing as a 10 or as an 8 in a double-pivot. Alan Soñora has been excelling in Argentina, and needs to get a look in camp. He’s dealing with a minor injury, but could still arrive in camp several days ahead of the Bosnia friendly. If not this window, he’s also an option in January.

Author’s picks: Bassett, Booth, Soñora (joining late)

Attacking midfield

Djordje Mihailovic has had a career year, and should be in camp unless he’s in training with Bologna (timing unclear). Jesús Ferreira played well off the bench vs Mexico and should be back in camp after a fantastic MLS season, and Caden Clark should be as well, unless he needs a break prior to his January move to RB Leipzig.

Author’s picks: Ferreira (AM/ST), Mihailovic, Clark

Winger

Emmanuel Sabbi should be in camp, though timing will depend on his club. They may want him for their two cup games, as he has 2 goals and an assist in their 3 cup matches this season. Paxten Aaronson showed just how dangerous he can be with the U-20s in the Revelations Cup, as did Brian Gutiérrez. Jordan Morris and Paxton Pomykal have both seen their seasons severely impacted by injury, but both have quality, even when less than 100%. Alex Zendejas would be an intriguing callup, but has shown no interest in leaving Mexico. Dante Sealy would be fun to see, but seems best to leave him with PSV to continue his upward trajectory there.

Author’s picks: Morris, Pomykal, Paxten Aaronson, Gutiérrez, Sabbi (joining late)

Striker

Striker is one of the easiest choices to make, with Pepi and Dike top options in MLS, and Ferreira able to flit between striker and midfield. It would be interesting to get a look at Balogun or Tillman this window, as both appear to be outside their respective first teams, but they seem committed to England and Germany, respectively - at least for now.

Author’s picks: Pepi, Dike, Ferreira (AM/ST)

Here’s a look at these picks compared to a projection of who Berhalter will select:

What approach would you take in building this roster? Who would you call up? Hit the comments and discuss.