The U.S. national team is in a very strange period of limbo at the moment. While top teams from around the world prepare their rosters for the upcoming World Cup, the Americans are preparing for a trio of friendlies that can't help but feel meaningless by comparison.
You would think that we would have gotten used to this feeling considering the USA has already played three friendlies since seeing its World Cup qualifying hopes dashed. Unfortunately, any healing that may have taken place is being undone by the steady stream of roster announcements by countries that succeeded in booking their tickets to Russia.
Alas, rebuilding the U.S. program is a project that must go on, and even though caretaker coach Dave Sarachan won't ultimately be the coach tasked with leading the Americans into the next World Cup cycle, he does have this next trio of matches to try and provide some momentum heading into that hire. Sarachan can also help the next U.S. coach have a better understanding of the player pool he is inheriting.
For his last trick as U.S. coach, Sarachan will look to put together squads for a logistically challenging trio of friendlies. He is facing the growing prospect of MLS teams turning down call-ups for their players outside of fixture dates, while trying to convince the team's established stars and veterans to prolong their seasons — or in the case of MLS players, interrupting them — to play in friendlies that are likely to be long forgotten a year from now.
The good news is there is plenty of promising young talent for Sarachan to call on, players on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean who will see the friendlies for what they ultimately are, an opportunity to showcase their talents and boost their standing in the player pool heading into the next cycle.
BOLIVIA: Alex Bono, William Yarbrough, Ethan Horvath
IRELAND/FRANCE: Bill Hamid, Zack Steffen, Alex Bono
Ideally, Zach Steffen would be involved in all three friendlies, but Sarachan will need to work around teams that fear having too many key players pulled away for a Bolivia match not on a FIFA date. That should give Club Leon goalkeeper William Yarbrough a much-deserved chance to show why he should also be in the conversation in goal. So why wouldn't Toronto FC also be concerned about letting Alex Bono go? Backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin is an established MLS veteran and is more proven than the Crew's assortment of backups.
Ethan Horvath is coming off a forgettable season with Club Brugge, and Sarachan could choose to let him focus on his next move. Could Sarachan give veteran Brad Guzan a call for the Bolivia friendly? Atlanta United has a bye week that weekend, so don't rule it out.
BOLIVIA: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Parker, Walker Zimmerman, Justen Glad, DeAndre Yedlin, Jorge Villafana, Brandon Vincent, Antonee Robinson
IRELAND/FRANCE: John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, DeAndre Yedlin, Shaq Moore, Jorge Villafana, Antonee Robinson
There are some very interesting decisions to make in this group, with DeAndre Yedlin likely to take part in all three matches as one of the veterans of the group expected to make up the nucleus of the next cycle. Will Sarachan call on John Brooks, who served as captain in last November's friendly, but is also coming off an injury-hit season? There are enough young central defenders to fill the void if he winds up being left out, but the sooner he is re-integrated the better it will be for the overall group.
Tim Ream is wrapping up a long season with Fulham and recently welcomed the birth of his second child, so don't expect him to take part even though he's coming off an outstanding year. Timmy Chandler remains a bit of a mystery. He too is coming off a long grind of a season with Eintracht Frankfurt, but if he wants to play, he should be called in as one of the best Americans currently playing in the European top flight. Of course, Jorge Villafana is the same age as Chandler, but the team needs an experienced left-back.
Matt Hedges and Ike Opara have been two of the best central defenders in MLS for several years and are showing well once again this season, but Hedges is 28 and Opara 29. Both could wind up losing out to younger options like Justen Glad.
BOLIVIA: Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Cristian Roldan, Wil Trapp, Marky Delgado, Darlington Nagbe, Rubio Rubin, Timothy Weah
IRELAND/FRANCE: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales, Keaton Parks, Kenny Saief, Paul Arriola, Lynden Gooch, Rubio Rubin, Timothy Weah
It seems highly unlikely that Christian Pulisic is going to take part in the friendlies in Europe, while Darlington Nagbe could also be kept home given the fact Atlanta United plays three matches while the U.S. would be oversees. That could open the door for Kenny Saief to fill in the playmaker role. It's unfortunate that we probably won't get to see Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie play together for a while, but it seems like only a matter of time.
On the bright side, we should get a look at Texas-born Benfica midfielder Keaton Parks, who made a good impression in Portugal this past season. Rubio Rubin enjoyed a bit of a career revival with Club Tijuana and should return to the fold, as should Lynden Gooch, who was one of the few bright spots on a bad Sunderland team. Sarachan should also call up Alfredo Morales, who is coming off a strong season with Ingolstadt that has earned him a move to Bundesliga-bound Fortuna Dusseldorf. Morales is 28 though, and Sarachan could choose instead to call on a younger option for the European friendlies.
Will Sarachan call in Kellyn Acosta, who just recently returned to the FC Dallas starting lineup? Will he call in any FCD players after the team rejected January calls for Acosta, Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez? Given Acosta's aspirations to play in Europe, you have to think he would love a chance to play against Ireland and France, and Dallas can't stop the U.S. from calling him or Hedges up for the European friendlies.
Another player who merits consideration is Romain Gall. The former U.S. Under-20 winger is thriving in Sweden, scoring goals and showing serious improvement.
BOLIVIA: C.J. Sapong, Chris Mueller, Andrija Novakovich
IRELAND/FRANCE: Gyasi Zardes, Dom Dwyer, Andrija Novakovich, Josh Sargent
Gyasi Zardes is tied for the MLS lead in goals, so you can understand why Columbus might not want to let him go for a meaningless friendly when a match against a tough Sporting Kansas City side is on the schedule (and there aren't likely to be any SKC players called in). That should give Sapong a chance to play in front of his home fans. He has done well with his national team opportunities, even if his form in MLS hasn't been that stellar.
Andrija Novakovich is coming off a 21-goal campaign with Dutch second-division side Telstar, and while he could be among the European-based players allowed to stay in Europe until the June friendlies, the Bolivia match might be a good chance to give him an extended look.
Orlando City forwards Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller are enjoying excellent seasons, and Sarachan should be tempted to take a look at each of them, though Mueller's relative inexperience might force him to wait a bit longer for a call-up.