With the next United States men’s national team games taking place in just over a month, interim manager Dave Sarachan is once again leaning toward bringing in younger players to prove their worth.
The young American contingent in Major League Soccer is expected to benefit from Sarachan’s strategy, especially when it comes to the May 28 friendly at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa., home of the Philadelphia Union.
“There’s going to be a handful of guys who just went through a long year in Europe [and] will be finishing up close to when we’ll be bringing guys in,” Sarachan said Wednesday. “We’re trying to balance out the roster where players don’t have to finish their season, come to States, train all week and then fly back to Europe. They’ll be some of those guys that I think we’ll leave in Europe and not bring over.”
In addition to Christian Pulisic and Josh Sargent — both confirmed to be on the roster for the matches against Bolivia, Ireland and France — New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams is expected to headline the squad.
“There’s been big talk about Tyler Adams,” Sarachan said. “I love Tyler and I think he’s got a great future, but there’s a lot of ways Tyler can improve, and that’s just one name. I can go through all of them. As a pool, I would say, on paper, given the success they’ve had at the youth levels and where they’re placed, you could argue it’s one of the better ones we’ve seen.”
Although the USMNT isn’t participating in the 2018 World Cup, Sarachan named Adams as one of three young players who would’ve been in the discussion for the 23-man squad if the national team was off to Russia in June.
“I would say the conversation would be along the lines of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie. I would say Matt Miazga would be in that conversation,” Sarachan said. “Would they make it? You’d have to see, but if you’re asking me what of the young ones, those would be three names immediately that come to mind in that category.”
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have real depth at that position and I think these guys have all been a part of the group and we’ve seen them train and some of them have gotten a few games now,” Sarachan said. “That’s a position where, like almost all of them, they really need to be playing and getting real minutes and so right now it is a healthy competition. Even a guy like Brad, who’s a little older, is still chomping at the bit to be a part of things, and so I think it’s a wide-open scenario, I really do.”
If called into the squad, Steffen, a 23-year-old Pennsylvania native, would have the honor of playing for the USMNT in his home state.
“Zack, with Columbus, has done a really good job,” Sarachan said. “He’s really young for a goalkeeper. The goalkeeping position can go on for a lot of years, as we’ve seen. Guys like Zack facing shots every week in MLS, playing consistently with his club, having a taste with the national team and was part of the game against Paraguay and did very well — he’s a very good presence in goal, his distribution is good, he’s very good with the ball at his feet, all of the characteristics that make up a good goalkeeper. His boxes get checked pretty well.”
Sarachan also offered praise for the Philadelphia Union, hosts Wednesday and for the Memorial Day friendly, for its initiative to produce USMNT players through its academy.
“Generally speaking, the Union have one of the best setups in the league,” Sarachan said. “Their youth development program and the setup they have with their academy is fantastic. I think that’s going to yield good players.”
Outside of the young players, Sarachan identified two players he used to coach as standouts early in the MLS season.
“The one guy that I’m close to because I coached him is Sebastian Lletget,” Sarachan said. “Sebastian had a devastating injury back a year ago March. He was a guy that through the qualifying stages could’ve helped us and now he’s back playing.
“He’s a guy I’d love to keep monitoring, but he’s a known guy. Same with Gyasi (Zardes). He goes to a new environment, is starting to play as a forward again. We have a thin pool of players at the forward position, but, again, he’s a known guy. New guys I’d have to give it a little more thought.”
As is the case for most players in MLS and across the globe, one of the key things Sarachan is looking for in the USMNT pool is playing time earned — something he thinks MLS can improve.
“There is some concern in MLS that not enough young American players are getting real playing time,” Sarachan said. “Each club and each market has a philosophy of how they want to approach things. I’m not sure all teams are going in that direction, and that’s fine, but it’s imperative that players play and players get pushed and challenged.”