The U.S. national team's youth movement has been in full effect for all of 2018, with fresh faces rotating in and giving caretaker head coach Dave Sarachan a glimpse at the future of the player pool. The lingering question for some time was just when would some of the key figures from the previous generation would start working their way back into the mix.
Michael Bradley is back, and perhaps it's fitting that he returns to the national team exactly a year after the USMNT's failure to qualify for the World Cup. The topic of last year's devastating loss to Trinidad and Tobago, and the fallout from missing the 2018 World Cup, is a topic that will be sure to dominate the coming weeks, and now Bradley is back to face some questions that he is much better equipped to answer than the youngsters he'll be joining in the upcoming camp.
Bradley isn't in camp just to field questions about what happened in Couva a year ago. He's also back to pass on some wisdom to the next generation, and also challenge them. The Toronto FC captain has been a team leader for a long time, and he'll face a new challenge in trying to establish a different kind of role with the group.
Christian Pulisic's return to the USMNT is an exciting aspect of the October squad being called in, but so is the arrival of some talented newcomers with the potential to be key figures in the next cycle. Jonathan Amon and Reggie Cannon are youngsters thriving early in their pro careers, and they both play in positions where the national team can use more depth.
Bradley's return a useful addition
After a year of seeing young midfielders circulate through the USMNT setup, there had been some wonder if we would ever see Bradley back in the national team fold again. Now is a good time to have him come back, not only to serve as a mentor and to pass along some wisdom, but also to challenge the new generation of midfielders in the squad.
There are clearly some fans who haven't gotten over Bradley's role in the USMNT failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The boos he still heres at every road game Toronto FC players makes that clear. While that may be the case, the reality is he is still a a resource for the program, and while he may have had to spend a large part of the current MLS season playing out of position at center back due to Toronto FC's many injuries, he is still an effective midfielder who can provide a good challenge to the likes of Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
The key for Bradley will be navigating a different kind of role than the one he grew accustomed to as the USMNT captain. He needs to provide leadership, but he can't be an overbearing presence in a locker room full of youngsters who have spent the better part of the past year getting comfortable in the squad as the next generation. Bradley's considerable experience, and years as captain for club and country should help him handle this transition well.
Amon, Cannon an exiting pair of newcomers
Sarachan has called in three national team newcomers to the October camp, and two of them are particularly exciting prospects given the breakout years both are enjoying for their clubs.
Jonathan Amon is a speedy winger with traits that could fit in very well with the next generation of midfield talent that includes Pulisic and Timothy Weah. Speed on the flanks, and players who could really take on defenders on the wings was something sorely lacking in the last World Cup cycle, and Amon has shown signs of being capable of being the most exciting pure wing prospect since DaMarcus Beasley.
Cannon has blossomed at FC Dallas in 2018, going from an unused rookie last year to a locked in starter on one of the better defenses in MLS, and you could make a good argument for Cannon deserving MLS Best XI consideration. In terms of young and talented pure right backs in the U.S. player pool, Cannon is one of the few playing regularly. The 20-year-old defender is definitely one to watch for the next Olympic qualifying cycle, and the October camp should be a good first step for him.
Time for new forwards to get closer looks
Andrija Novakovich hasn't found national team minutes easy to come by, but his recent run of goal-scoring success with Dutch club Fortuna Sittard should earn him a serious look for the October friendlies.
The 22-year-old has the look of a very promising target striker, a position where the USMNT player pool isn't crawling with young candidates. Novakovich can use work on his ability to contribute defensively from the striker position, but he has shown during his time in the Dutch league that he has a nose for goal and can be an effective presence in the penalty area.
Standing in Novakovich's way could be 18-year-old Josh Sargent, who has been tearing up the competition with Werder Bremen's U-23 team. It is only a matter of time before Sargent gets his first chance with Bremen's first team, but it is safe to assume he is a more mature and confident player now than he was back in May, when he scored in his national team debut against Bolivia. Playing full-strength Colombian and Peruvian teams is much more challenging than playing a Bolivian C team though, which is just the kind of challenge the young striker needs.
Sarachan will have to figure out how to manage playing time with veteran Bobby Wood in the fold. Wood has struggled for regular minutes with Hannover 96, so Sarachan could decided to give Wood a start or two in October, but if he doesn't give Novakovich and Sargent serious looks it will feel like another set of wasted friendlies in the search for the next solutions at forward.