How much of a fresh start should we expect when the U.S. national team camp convenes in January?
The first full camp since the World Cup qualifying debacle in October should offer up an opportunity to see plenty of new faces, focusing specifically on those players young enough to be considered possibilities when the next qualifying cycle roles around.
Caretaker coach Dave Sarachan must manage the tricky balance between looking at fresh faces while also including some veterans to provide leadership and experience. Do you bring in many of the same players who were a part of the October qualifying debacle or do you start fresh with an almost entirely new cast of characters?
Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore remain two of the best players in the U.S. pool, and they would still be starting if there were meaningful games to play. But considering their long year only recently concluded with an MLS Cup title, it would make sense to let them have a break as they prepare for TFC's run at the CONCACAF Champions League.
As for Clint Dempsey, he too could use a rest after the year he endured. At 34, there's no guarantee he will have a prominent role to play once games become important in 2019, but it's tough to write him off just yet.
The U.S. will compile a 30-player squad for the January camp, a large group by traditional standards — one big enough to make room for some surprises, though the limitations of the time period mean no European-based players or Liga MX standouts.
With that in mind, here is the group we could see called in for the USA's January camp:
Tim Melia, Zack Steffen, Alex Bono, Jesse Gonzalez
Will Brad Guzan get a call at the age of 33? If Sarachan decides he wants at least one goalkeeper in camp who has a cap to his name, then Guzan could be given the chance to be the leader of the group. Having said that, the group listed consists of three promising young netminders and the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in Melia, who is 31.
Steffen emerged as the most exciting of the young goalkeeper prospects in 2017, with his playoff heroics serving as one of the best storylines of the postseason. If this group has a favorite for the starting role for the first friendly of 2018, Steffen appears to be that player.
Ike Opara, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Parker, Justen Glad, Matt Polster, Nick Lima, Danilo Acosta, Brandon Vincent, Greg Garza, Justin Morrow
The central defender position is an interesting one for younger prospects. Glad is emerging as one of the better center backs in MLS at the age of 20, while Zimmerman enjoyed a good outing in last January's camp. Opara is an intriguing one after he stayed healthy for a second straight season, earning MLS Defender of the Year honors.
Have we seen the last of Matt Besler? The 30-year-old isn't likely to play a part in the next qualifying cycle, but if Sarachan wants a veteran central defender in the fold, Besler could be the one.
At fullback, there are actually more interesting left back options than right back options. Polster had a Best XI-caliber season in his first year at right back and seems like a lock. Jake Nerwinski quietly enjoyed an outstanding rookie season for Vancouver and could get a nod, though Lima is a player with considerable upside. Manchester United reserve team player Matthew Olosunde is another to consider, assuming U.S. Soccer could convince the Red Devils to let him attend the camp.
Left back has several players who merit a look. Morrow was a Best XI defender, though he played more often as a left wing back than as a left back. Garza enjoyed a stellar first season with Atlanta United and has earned another look by the U.S.
You then have some younger options in U.S. Under-20 standout Acosta and second-year pro Vincent, who showed real improvement in 2017. It's probably unrealistic to think Sarachan would call in four left backs, but given the struggles with finding viable options at the position, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea.
Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, Tyler Adams, Darlington Nagbe, Kelyn Rowe, Marco Delgado, Wil Trapp, Russell Canouse, Alejandro Bedoya
There is a wealth of talent in midfield, even if Sarachan does choose to let a veteran like Bradley stay home. Several breakout stars of 2017 appear ready to take on larger roles, from Adams to Roldan to Arriola.
There is much more central midfield variety than there is good wing potential. The versatility of this group should help cover for that, with players such as Adams, Delgado and Acosta having shown they can play wide if needed. Nagbe is on the older side in this group, but he remains one of the best playmaking threats in his 20s, and at 27, there's reason to believe he can have a part to play in the next qualifying cycle.
The battle in central midfield will be particularly fierce, with Roldan and Adams having been very impressive in MLS play this year, and Acosta establishing himself as a regular national team contributor.
And what about Wil Trapp, who has become a bit of a forgotten man on the national team radar? The 24-year-old had another outstanding season with the Crew, but has been lost in the shadow of younger emerging midfielders like Adams, Roldan and Weston McKennie. If he gets the call in January, this could be the camp where Trapp shows he should be a regular in the next cycle.
It should be noted that U.S. Soccer attempted to have 18-year-old Jonathan Gonzalez called in for this camp, but that would have interfered with his preseason with Monterrey, and was never a realistic possibility.
Bedoya's name might surprise, but he was chosen as the veteran presence for the November friendly against Portugal, and could take on the same role in the January camp.
Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo, C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer, Christian Ramirez
If Altidore is allowed to rest (and recover from what was surely a big MLS Cup hangover), then there are enough intriguing options to fill out the group. That's even excluding 17-year-old Josh Sargent. Sources tell Goal that the U.S. had wanted Sargent to be a part of the January camp, but that always seemed less ideal than simply having him join Bundesliga side Werder Bremen for training ahead of his expected February signing with the club.
Sapong impressed against Portugal in November and deserves a longer look, while Dwyer has been someone worth considering since he showed good flashes early in last summer's Gold Cup. Ramirez had a promising first season in MLS and should get a call, though Will Bruin's strong finish to 2017 could earn him a look in Ramirez's place.
This could be a good camp for Morris to stake his claim to a bigger role in the squad. The Gold Cup final hero figures to have a key role to play in the next cycle, and this camp could be the jumping-off point for him to come into his own.