Pepi's continued rise, Clark's chance and five things to watch in the USMNT's clash with Bosnia & Herzegovina

Pepi USMNT 2021 HondurasGetty

It's been quite a year for the U.S. men's national team.

They've won the Gold Cup and Nations League, they're sitting fairly comfortably in a World Cup qualifying berth and, with a win over Bosnia & Herzegovina on Saturday, they'll seal the record for most wins in a calendar year in program history.

However, Saturday's game isn't about closing 2021 on a high note; it's about building a foundation for 2022 and, perhaps most importantly, beyond.

Like most winter friendlies, this gathering also presents an opportunity to keep MLS players, and a few choice international-based players, fit in their offseason, while maybe widening the player pool just a bit.

With those goals in mind, Gregg Berhalter has called in a squad loaded with young talent, but also one that features a few key regulars that will be a big part of World Cup qualifiers.

So, with that said, here's a look at five players and storylines to watch with the USMNT...

A big time for Pepi

What a whirlwind of a year it has been for Ricardo Pepi! He's truly broken through as an MLS star and a USMNT regular, having quickly gone from young prospect to one of the most talked-about players in North American soccer.

However, while 2021 may be coming to an end, Pepi's big moments are just beginning as he faces some important decisions in the coming weeks.

This camp is a chance for Pepi to stay fresh and build towards the January qualifiers, where he will likely once again be a key part of Berhalter's plans. But it's his club future that remains the hottest topic of all.

Pepi is widely expected to soon head to Europe, but that doesn't appear to be a foregone conclusion.

Ricardo Pepi USMNT 2021Getty

FC Dallas president Dan Hunt recently told Al Dia that the club plans to keep hold of Pepi, as they believe it will be best for the striker and for his national team future.

"Berhalter and other head coaches around the world have shown that if players aren’t participating in their clubs, they’ll be excluded from their respective national teams,” Hunt said.

“Ricardo’s future is incredible, but I think the best Ricardo can do for his career is continue his process [in Dallas]. He’s still very young.” 

Where Pepi's next step lies remains to be seen, but this camp and this game is another chance for him to shine on the national team stage while continuing to fortify his spot as the USMNT's No. 9 of the present and future.

Clark's long-awaited chance

In a perfect world, Caden Clark would have made his USMNT debut months ago.

The RB Leipzig-bound star had been tipped to play at this summer's Gold Cup, building off a breakthrough 2020 that vaulted him right into the spotlight.

But this isn't a perfect world, and so Clark is ready for his USMNT debut as he prepares to also make the big move to Europe.

Clark Red Bulls 20211Credit: New York Red Bulls/Ben Solomon

An appendectomy took him out of action for the summer, robbing him of that Gold Cup chance while also forcing him to rediscover fitness and form as the MLS season wore on. But Clark seems back to his old self now, having played well down the stretch in MLS.

Clark is a dynamic attacking player that is as smooth as they come on the ball. He has the technical skill and, perhaps most importantly, the confidence to just try things, and that combination is one that could make him vital to the USMNT for years to come.

It remains to be seen if its too late for a young player like Clark to surge up Berhalter's depth chart just one year out for the World Cup. But this camp is a chance for him to stake his claim.

Morris' return

It has been over two years since Jordan Morris has represented the USMNT. Much has changed in the interim. This young USMNT, in many ways, has grown up, with new faces becoming stars.

So, the question is now obvious: where does Morris fit in all of this?

Before his injury, an absolutely heartbreaking ACL tear, Morris seemed like he could be key to the U.S. team.

Jordan Morris USMNT

Morris had also sealed a big move to Europe, joining Swansea in an effort to prove that he had the talent and ambition to compete in this new-look USMNT squad.

But then came the ACL injury, one that he is still very much recovering from. He returned in time to appear at the tail end of the MLS season against all odds, but it's highly unlikely that Morris is anywhere near 100 percent.

However, even when he is, will he still have a role to play in a full-strength squad that features wingers like Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Tim Weah, Gio Reyna, Paul Arriola and Konrad de la Fuente? Is there a place for Morris in a potential World Cup squad?

"For me, it's just trying to get back to my best and try to get back part of that group," Morris said. "That was a big goal of mine throughout my rehab. The main goal was to recover, get back to my best as quickly as possible and try and get back in with this group because that just means everything."

Can Cowell be the next breakout star?

There's a fairly good chance that Cade Cowell could just be the next speedster to break into the USMNT picture.

Cowell is with the U.S. after training with the team during the Gold Cup, but this is his first real chance to earn playing time under Berhalter.

He's got every chance of doing so, as Cowell is perhaps the most athletically-gifted prospect the U.S. has, which is saying something.

He can play anywhere across the front three, having shown some very good signs of development early in the MLS season.

He's far from a finished product, and his hold up play and connecting play can still use some work, but Cowell has all of the potential in the world after turning just 18 in October.

Given his skillset, Cowell has all the potential to be a player that rises rapidly through the USMNT ranks. Think DeAndre Yedlin ahead of the 2014 World Cup or Jordan Morris just after it. When you have something as awe-inspiring as that level of pace, you can easily figure out the rest as you go along.

It remains to be seen if Cowell can make that case in the year to come or if he's a player that would be better suited to the youth teams for the foreseeable future. But he is the type of player that could truly use this camp as a springboard if everything goes his way.

Reynolds' chance to emerge from Roma mess

It's safe to say Bryan Reynolds' season at Roma hasn't gone to plan.

The former FC Dallas star has struggled to impress coach Jose Mourinho, becoming the latest young player to find himself in the Special One's doghouse.

Amid a topsy turvy season of referee criticism, lackluster results and frequent complaints about squad depth, Reynolds hasn't been spared by Mourinho, who has clearly indicated that he doesn't believe the defender is ready for the top level.

Reynolds Roma 2021Getty

"We don't have the changes of the other teams like Inter. Reynolds is a kid," Mourinho said in September, before adding: "I put Reynolds because he was the only full-back. If Ibanez had been on the bench, I would have put him in, but he wasn't there."

In total, Reynolds has made just three appearances all season. Two of those came in the Europa Conference League. It's clear that Reynolds isn't in the coach's plans at the moment, with reports saying that the fullback will be loaned out in January.

That's far from a bad thing, especially for a 20-year-old defender with two-ish years of professional experience.

But this is a big crossroads for Reynolds, who will need to use the next six months to prove himself to both his club and the national team after rising so rapidly in MLS.