The United States men’s national team started the Gregg Berhalter era with a pair of victories over Concacaf rivals Costa Rica and Panama, and in the process, a few players stood out.
The players who impressed the most during the friendlies and throughout the USMNT’s annual January camp now have a few weeks worth of Major League Soccer games to extend their form in order to warrant a spot on the roster for the March friendlies against Ecuador and Chile.
Not all of the players who stepped on the field shined during the opening games of the year, and the lack of production may have cost them a shot in March and further down the line at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. Below is a look at players who improved their stock and others who failed to impress during January camp.
San Jose Earthquakes right back Nick Lima was the biggest winner of January camp.
He starred in a pair of starts, and his standout moment came in the 80th minute against Panama. He won the ball with a sliding challenge near midfield, surged forward and picked out Walker Zimmerman for the second tally of the contest.
— USMNT (@ussoccer_mnt) January 28, 2019
Lima impressed again during the victory over Costa Rica, and he came inches away from scoring his first international goal, striking the left post with an attempt from the right side of the penalty area.
In terms of the big picture, Lima stood out at a position of need. The USMNT has struggled to build depth behind DeAndre Yedlin at right back.
Of all the players who stood out during January camp, Lima put himself in the best position possible to secure a call-up in March, but he’ll need to shine for the Quakes at the start of the season to stand out among a group of young fullbacks that includes European-based Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson.
D.C. United’s Paul Arriola reinforced his claim to be included on the 23-man roster for March with a strong midfield performance against Costa Rica on Saturday that was finished off with an 88th-minute goal.
“The one thing I can constantly improve on is the final product,” Arriola said after Saturday’s win over Costa Rica. “I think last year for club I was able to raise my stats, and to be able to get on the score sheet today was special.”
“I thought he had an excellent game,” Berhalter said. “I thought he was sharp. What we ask of our wingers is to be dynamic, aggressive, to take players on one-v-one and get behind the back line. I think from roles and responsibilities he met all of that.”
The 23-year-old has 19 international appearances to his name, but he needed January camp to insert himself into the crowded midfield discussion again after earning two caps in each of the last two years.
What makes Arriola so valuable to the USMNT is his versatility. He can play in all of the midfield positions and has a tremendous work rate, similar to what Alejandro Bedoya brought during his prime with the USMNT.
“I felt really comfortable on the left,” Arriola said. “I’m not a player that often plays on the left. It’s not something I’m really used to, but Gregg asked me if I was up to the challenge and of course I was willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field.”
With so much depth at the central midfield positions, Arriola might be best suited on the wings at the international level. Wherever Berhalter views Arriola playing, he should be considered an asset, whether in a starting role or off the bench in important situations.
Sebastian Lletget received less than 30 minutes of playing time in both friendlies, but the LA Galaxy midfielder made his presence known.
“Gregg always wants me to make an impact and be as creative as possible,” Lletget said. “Especially as a sub in these particular two games, I thought I did alright in that aspect.”
“He’s got a load of ability,” Berhalter said. “He’ll be the first to say he struggled with the structure a little bit in the beginning. I think it was part of his mentality to hang in there and keep learning, keep going, keep pushing himself that got him into these positions.”
Lletget’s introduction into Saturday’s game provided the USMNT with the boost it needed, and with an increase of pace on the wings that Costa Rica wasn’t able to deal with.
Now, Lletget needs to get off to a fast start with the new-look Galaxy under Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Lletget doesn’t need to produce massive numbers in the loaded Galaxy attack, but he needs to make an impact to continue to stay in Berhalter’s focus.
Putting two shots on target and not scoring may have affected Gyasi Zardes’ USMNT stock.
Zardes had an opportunity to put together a pair of strong performances in front of his former Columbus Crew manager, but he did nothing to force the issue on the forward depth chart that still has openings.
“I think if you ask Gyasi, he’ll be frustrated that he didn’t score,” Berhalter said. “If you ask the coaching staff, they’ll probably be pleased with his work rate. I think part of our strikers scoring is going to be a collective effort and I think we could’ve done a better job getting him better service.”
With Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood and Josh Sargent ahead of him and Timothy Weah shining on loan at Celtic, Zardes has a ton of work to do just to sniff the 23-man full squad.
The good news for Zardes is Berhalter’s familiarity with his game, and if the USMNT boss believes the 27-year-old is still capable of making an impact on the international stage, another chance will be handed to the Columbus Crew forward.
Keegan Rosenberry came into January camp with a fresh start in Colorado ahead of him, but he couldn’t do anything to beat out Lima for playing time and ended up not playing a single minute.
This year’s January camp marked the second time the right back was called in for the month-long training session, but failed to play a single minute.
Since he couldn’t get on the field for January camp minutes, Rosenberry likely won’t be donning the red, white and blue anytime soon.
Instead of dwelling on the fact that he didn’t receive any playing time, Rosenberry should use it as motivation to improve his game during his first season with the Rapids. With Yedlin, Lima and a few European-based players ahead of him on the depth chart, he likely needs a career season to earn a return to the USMNT discussion.