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Gregg Berhalter explains why Atlanta’s Guzan, Nagbe weren’t invited to USMNT camp

Mar 31, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan (1) and midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) celebrate after a game against the Minnesota United at TCF Bank Stadium. (Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)
Mar 31, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan (1) and midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) celebrate after a game against the Minnesota United at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Guzan and Darlington Nagbe were not invited to Gregg Berhalter’s first camp as head coach of the United States men’s national team.

That might seem a bit odd on the surface, considering the two veterans — who were recently crowned Major League Soccer Cup champs with Atlanta United FC — were invited to Dave Sarachan’s final camp as interim U.S. head coach back in November.

Shortly after the roster for the January camp was released on Thursday, Berhalter explained during a conference call with reporters why he left the two Five Stripes at home: they need to relax. Both players put a lot of miles on themselves in 2018, and Berhalter can manage two friendlies just fine without them.

“With Brad, every situation with clubs are different, but we’re cognizant of clubs and their needs and player needs,” Berhalter said. “Brad’s an example of a player who’s played long into the MLS season and he needs to rest.”

Guzan, 34, missed just one league start with Atlanta United in 2018 due to a red card in a previous match. He played the full length of every other game between the posts for the Five Stripes as they made their run to the MLS Cup, which culminated in hoisting their first trophy on Dec. 8.

He also played in two games for the national team in 2018, manning the goal in a draw against Peru and a loss against England. Guzan was on the bench for two other friendlies this year. In total, between the MLS regular season, playoffs and international matches, he played in 40 matches in 2018.

Guzan has been capped 60 times by the U.S. since making his debut in 2006 in a friendly against Guatemala in Frisco, Texas.

But, as Berhalter mentioned, he and Nagbe won’t have much time off between MLS seasons. While the 2019 MLS campaign won’t begin until the first weekend in March, Atlanta United will travel to Costa Rica Feb. 21 for a Concacaf Champions League match-up with CS Herediano. And between now and then, the Five Stripes will be hiring a new coach and implementing his style of play.

“They’re going to have a new coach and Champions League games coming up, and I thought it was best for them to get rest at this time,” Berhalter said of the duo.

While Nagbe, 28, was invited to Sarachan’s final camp as head coach, he withdrew from it because of a hamstring injury. Nagbe recovered quickly and never missed a playoff match for Atlanta United, but he did battle injuries in 2018, missing more than two months of the MLS season due to an abductor injury.

“The same thing goes for Darlington,” Berhalter said. “He’s a guy that was injured for a large portion of the season and we feel it’ll be more beneficial for him to get a good solid preseason in with his club and build up his strength. First, get the rest, and then build up the strength and have another good MLS season.”

Before his injury, Nagbe — along with Guzan — was voted to the 2018 MLS All-Star team. Now a two-time MLS Cup champion, Nagbe has received 25 caps with the national team since making his debut Nov. 14, 2015, in St. Louis, Mo., in a World Cup qualifying match against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Nagbe has scored one goal and dished out two assists in his time with the national team. He last appeared in the Stars and Stripes on March 28, 2018, playing 90 minutes in a friendly against Paraguay and Atlanta United teammate Miguel Almiron in Cary, N.C.

While Nagbe and Guzan won’t be there, one member of Atlanta’s MLS Cup winning roster, Greg Garza, will be. Just days after starting at left wingback in the MLS Cup final, Garza was traded to expansion side FC Cincinnati for allocation money. The 27-year-old has 10 caps with the U.S., last playing for his country Jan. 27, 2017 in a draw against Serbia.

Garza and the other members of the roster invited to Berhalter’s first camp will play in two friendlies on American soil, against Panama Jan. 27 and against Costa Rica Feb. 2.

Pro Soccer USA writer Joe Tansey contributed to this story.

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