It doesn't seem like so long ago when a U.S. national team match played in an MLS stadium automatically meant a squad made up mostly of MLS players. That was surely what Dave Sarachan envisaged months ago as he first began planning for the May 28 friendly against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium.
That was before it became readily apparent that MLS teams aren't as open to letting their top players miss league matches to play in a largely meaningless friendly. The days of the unwritten rule that MLS teams always made their players available for the U.S. are over, and it isn't solely because the U.S. is in a state of limbo under a caretaker coach.
Sarachan has turned to a squad heavy on foreign-based youngsters, many of which were likely to already be a part of the June friendlies. He has also called on some surprising fringe options, including Manchester United reserve team defender Matthew Olosunde and Club Tijuana youngster Alejandro Guido. He has also given Werder Bremen signing Josh Sargent a look despite the fact he has yet to make his professional debut.
The lack of MLS players isn't necessarily a bad thing at a time when there are several young Americans plying their trade overseas. Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie are the headliners, but players like Tim Weah and Andrija Novakovich were part of the March U.S. team and are back with a chance to take on bigger roles against Bolivia. As inexperienced as they may be, you can't ignore the fact Novakovich scored 21 goals for Dutch second division team Telstar, and Weah earned minutes at a club like PSG, including a start in their league finale.
It was originally believed that Sarachan would leave most of his top European-based players in Europe rather than having them travel into the U.S. for the Bolivia friendly only to travel back across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, we'll have a chance to see a potential Matt Miazga-Cameron Carter-Vickers center-back pairing sooner than expected. That's a good thing considering both defenders are coming off good club campaigns.
Here are some more thoughts on the 22-man squad Sarachan has called in to face Bolivia...
A first glimpse at the Pulisic-McKennie combination
U.S. fans have been eager to see a Pulisic-McKennie midfield tandem ever since McKennie broke through at Schalke, but we have yet to see it after Pulisic's post-qualifying failure sabbatical coincided with McKennie's national team debut. Here we are, six months since the 19-year-old scored the winning goal in a 1-0 friendly win against Portugal, and we should finally see them play together.
The long-time friends and former youth national team team-mates are key to the future of the U.S. squad, and getting them to develop chemistry is important, with that process needing to begin as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we will see much of that combination this summer. Pulisic isn't likely to take part in the upcoming U.S. camp until Thursday, after playing in Borussia Dortmund's friendly in Los Angeles against LAFC, and all signs point to Pulisic skipping the U.S. team's two road friendlies against Ireland and France.
If we're lucky, Pulisic will get the starting nod against Bolivia, alongside McKennie, for what should the first of many appearances together. Enjoy it while it lasts. There's a good chance we won't see it again until after a new U.S. coach is named.
The forward pool is young, but intriguing
Don't let the positional designations of the U.S. squad fool you. There are more than two forwards on the team. Novakovich and Sargent were the only players listed as forwards on the roster, but Rubio Rubin and Tim Weah are both capable of playing up top, as is Lynden Gooch.
Sarachan pointed to the forward position as one he was concerned about heading into the next World Cup qualifying cycle, and with good reason. The player pool is loaded with midfielders, as well as several promising central defenders, but proven young strikers are a rarity as the program prepares to shift away from the Jozy Altidore era.
Still only 18 and awaiting his professional debut, Sargent has potential, as evidenced by his outstanding showing at last year's Under-20 World Cup. It was that tournament that really made Sargent look like a player worthy of fast-tracking into the national team set-up. His time spent training with Werder Bremen's first team should help him as he seeks his first national team cap.
Novakovich is the most intriguing forward on the squad, having torn up the Dutch second division, and having impressed in a brief cameo with the U.S. on his national team debut in March. The 21-year-old is the kind of skilled forward that's not easy to find these days, and he offers different qualities than any other player in the younger section of the U.S. player pool.
Is Alex Bono ready to grab his first cap?
Between his heroics in CONCACAF Champions League play, and his efforts in trying to keep an injury-hit Toronto FC from falling into too deep a hole in the East standings, Alex Bono has looked like a goalkeeper reaching new levels. Entering just his second full season as a starter for TFC, Bono has matured quickly, and is rounding into a serious contender for one of the vacant national team slots left behind by the Tim Howard-Brad Guzan generation.
Bill Hamid is the veteran in the goalkeeper group, but he hasn't been playing for Danish side Midtjylland, and you have to wonder whether TFC allowed Bono to join the U.S. squad on the condition that he would actually get to play. Otherwise, why have him miss TFC's upcoming match against FC Dallas?
Julian Green earns his way back into the picture
It has been a winding road back to the U.S. national team for Julian Green. The former U.S. World Cup goalscorer left Bayern Munich in search of playing time, and after seeing his new team earn promotion to the Bundesliga, Green was sent back on loan to the German second division.
A successful season with SpVgg Greuther Fuerth saw him play 24 matches and score three goals, enough to earn his first national team call-up since November of 2016, for the World Cup qualifiers that would ultimately be the final matches of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as U.S. coach.
Green is still relatively young at 22, and will look to show off his ability to play multiple positions and it will be interesting to see how the former Bayern prospect has developed in recent years since moving to the German second division.
Parks set to join crowded central midfield mix
Three players will be taking part in their first senior national team camp, including Benfica midfielder Keaton Parks, who began drawing attention after earning some appearances with Benfica's first team. A regular for Benfica B, the 20-year-old Texas native earned a handful of first-team appearances, using his 6'4" frame and impressive technical ability to thrive in a deep-lying central midfield role.
Parks is a rarity in the current U.S. squad because he didn't come up through the youth national team ranks, or even through the U.S. development academy system. First identified by Tab Ramos and called into the U.S. Under-20 national team last April, Parks signed with Benfica last July after a season with Portuguese second division side Vazim.
According to Ramos, Parks impressed him enough when he came into last year's U-20 camp that he was good enough to be on the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team. Ramos sees Parks having the attacking qualities to be an effective box-to-box player, and even potentially a playmaker.
This week's U.S. camp, and the upcoming friendly against Bolivia will give most American fans their first real chance to see the midfielder in action, and his combination of height and ball skills makes him a unique prospect in a central midfield that doesn't boast great size as it moves toward the post-Michael Bradley era.