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Who should be on the December USMNT roster?

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Three weeks ago, USSF announced the USMNT will hold a training camp in December, outside of FIFA international windows, running from December 5th until a friendly game with Bosnia on December 18th.

This is not replacing the annual January Camp. There will still be a January Camp of mostly MLS players that will join up to train, with players from European clubs joining later as the international window opens for a crucial World Cup qualifying window.

These December and January Camps will be important to keep players like Ricardo Pepi in form. MLS teams that missed the playoffs played their final game of the season on November 7th, and won’t play again until February 26th.

How you approach building this roster is largely determined by two things. The first is how you approach national team call ups in general. Do you think it’s important to keep the same group together to build consistency, understanding of tactics, and team unity? Gregg Berhalter probably agrees with you. Or do you think it’s important to rotate players in and out of camps based on how they perform, maximize competition for spots, and evaluate new players every chance possible?

The second question is how you feel about perennial Berhalter MLS call ups like Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, Paul Arriola, Cristian Roldan, and Gyasi Zardes. Are they important players to the team, leaders who have proved their worth, who understand Gregg’s tactics, have experience at the international level, and need to be kept fresh during their club offseason so they can play a key role in the January World Cup qualifying window? Or are they average players who have already been given more opportunities than they earned, failed to play at a high enough level for the USMNT in important games, and are already in the process of being surpassed by numerous young players springing up all over the world? That will go a long way to determining how you want to shape and build this camp.

Testing out a different shape

One big problem for the USMNT right now is that there’s no strong like-for-like replacement for Tyler Adams as a destroying 6. So far, Gregg Berhalter has stayed completely committed to his single-6, dual-8 midfield shape, regardless of which players suit up. With a lack of single 6s in the pool, a plethora of 8s who can defend well in a double-pivot, and a growing number of creative number 10-style players (Reyna, Aaronson, Ferreira, Mihailovic, Ledezma, Méndez, Clark), it’s time for the USMNT to try some semblance of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Hopefully this December camp does some experimentation with that.

Let’s break down our options at each position:

Goalkeeper

Matt Turner is in close competition with Zack Steffen for the overall #1 keeper spot, and is a lock for this camp unless playoffs make him unavailable. Johnson has been Berhalter’s #3 in the past couple camps, displacing Nations League hero Ethan Horvath. Gaga Slonina burst onto the MLS scene this fall, winning the Chicago Fire starting job and keeping 4 clean sheets in 11 games, enough to raise eyebrows in Poland. Chituru Odunze has been in full USMNT camp before, and LAFC’s Romero is being courted by El Salvador.

Author’s picks: Turner, Frei, Slonina (Hamid, Melia, and Odunze options if playoffs interfere).

Center back

Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman have been core players in qualifying, with James Sands a fringe option, who might be a more likely option in midfield. Aaron Long’s injury status is a question mark. Justin Che played well with the U-20s at the Revelations Cup, and could play both wide and central. Jonathan Tomkinson captains Norwich City’s under-23s, and Nico Carrera made the Holstein Kiel matchday squad for the first time this past weekend. With players like Carrera, it would be great to see them in camp, but potentially better to leave them with their club team to continue to fully break in.

Author’s picks: Miles, Zimmerman, Kessler, Tomkinson, Che (CB/RB)

Right back

Bryan Reynolds is in a bad situation at Roma, and needs to get away. He’s likely to be loaned or sold in January, and has a better skillset to offer the USMNT than any other RB who will be available outside a FIFA window. Roma is likely willing to release him, since he doesn’t appear to be in José Mourinho’s plans at all currently. Duncan and Herrera have had good years in MLS, with Duncan rumored to move to Oostende this winter. If Duncan needs a break between the full MLS season and starting in Belgium in January, bring Herrera in his spot or go with Reynolds and Che as the two RBs.

Author’s picks: Reynolds, Duncan, Che (CB/RB)

Left back

Left back is an important position to test, as Antonee Robinson, Joe Scally, and out-of-position Dest are the only strong options right now. George Bello has been unconvincing in qualifying so far. The door is by no means closed for him, but there’s plenty of time for him to re-enter the national team later. Jonathan Gómez is available following LouCity’s dramatic 3-2 playoff loss to Tampa Bay. JoGo’s plan is to take a couple weeks off before traveling to Sociedad, but he can’t register there until January, so he might be able to squeeze in a couple weeks with the MNT, if only to train. Kevin Paredes would be another exciting option, but his status is in doubt due to injury. John Tolkin and DeJuan Jones have impressed in MLS this year, although Jones may be in playoff action.

Author’s picks: Gómez (to train), Paredes (if available), Tolkin (Jones if others can’t come)

Defensive midfield

The 6 is the most important area to test new players, with Acosta the only destroyer given chances to backup Adams so far. James Sands should be in camp, as well as Leon Flach. Johnny Cardoso’s last club game of the season is Dec 9, four days after camp begins. He could join camp late, or perhaps Internacional would let him miss that final game depending on the availability of their other midfielders. Similarly, Christian Cappis is a rotational player for Brøndby, but not so crucial that they couldn’t release him prior to their final cup match.

Author’s picks: Sands, Flach, Cappis (CM/DM, joining late), Johnny (joining late)

Center midfield

Eryk Williamson would be a great option here, but is likely still out injured. Cole Bassett has had a strong MLS season, and Taylor Booth could be released by Bayern, as he’s playing with their reserves in the fourth tier. Booth showed his quality on loan in Austria in the spring, and with Bayern’s first team over the summer, but was unfortunate not to get a loan move this fall. He’s capable of playing as a 10 or as an 8 in a double-pivot. Alan Soñora has been excelling in Argentina, and needs to get a look in camp. He’s dealing with a minor injury, but could still arrive in camp several days ahead of the Bosnia friendly. If not this window, he’s also an option in January.

Author’s picks: Bassett, Booth, Soñora (joining late)

Attacking midfield

Djordje Mihailovic has had a career year, and should be in camp unless he’s in training with Bologna (timing unclear). Jesús Ferreira played well off the bench vs Mexico and should be back in camp after a fantastic MLS season, and Caden Clark should be as well, unless he needs a break prior to his January move to RB Leipzig.

Author’s picks: Ferreira (AM/ST), Mihailovic, Clark

Winger

Emmanuel Sabbi should be in camp, though timing will depend on his club. They may want him for their two cup games, as he has 2 goals and an assist in their 3 cup matches this season. Paxten Aaronson showed just how dangerous he can be with the U-20s in the Revelations Cup, as did Brian Gutiérrez. Jordan Morris and Paxton Pomykal have both seen their seasons severely impacted by injury, but both have quality, even when less than 100%. Alex Zendejas would be an intriguing callup, but has shown no interest in leaving Mexico. Dante Sealy would be fun to see, but seems best to leave him with PSV to continue his upward trajectory there.

Author’s picks: Morris, Pomykal, Paxten Aaronson, Gutiérrez, Sabbi (joining late)

Striker

Striker is one of the easiest choices to make, with Pepi and Dike top options in MLS, and Ferreira able to flit between striker and midfield. It would be interesting to get a look at Balogun or Tillman this window, as both appear to be outside their respective first teams, but they seem committed to England and Germany, respectively – at least for now.

Author’s picks: Pepi, Dike, Ferreira (AM/ST)

Here’s a look at these picks compared to a projection of who Berhalter will select:

What approach would you take in building this roster? Who would you call up? Hit the comments and discuss.





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2021 Player Profiles: Zac MacMath

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Our 2021 Jordan Guernsey Humanitarian player of the year, Zac MacMath, played an interesting role with the 2021 Real Salt Lake squad.

Off the field, he continued to make a difference in the community, and on the pitch he supported the team when David Ochoa was not able to play.

Starting seven matches, MacMath had a 70 percent save rate, with two clean sheets over the seven starts. Between the posts, he had a 1-4-2 record. While this might not have been the most outstanding season on the field, his role was important to the team as the backup to David Ochoa.

It is also nice to have him on the roster, as he does have more experience than Andrew Putna and David Ochoa, and also after some of the comments and the subsequent investigation wih Andrew Putna, having him was quite useful.

As of now, it appears that Real Salt Lake has its preferred started in David Ochoa, however, I for one am glad to have the type of character and representative of the team in Zac MacMath, and hope that he continues to be a part of the team.



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Atlanta United academy continues to develop

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“And a lot of these kids, one, some don’t have an interest in going to college. Some also have the trajectory where they’re able to be here a lot more when they’re in a professional environment. Get more touches on the ball, in the gym, the nutrition, all that other stuff and hopefully develop at a more rapid pace.”

Bocanegra said some of the academy players and Homegrowns will get chances to train with the first team during the preseason, which is a common tactic used by the team during weeks when there are no games.

The first team currently includes seven Homegrown signings: Bello, Campbell, Machop Chol, Jackson Conway, Efrain Morales, Bryce Washington and Tyler Wolff. Past signings who are no longer with the club are Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin, Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonkwo.

That only Bello and Campbell contributed played at least 500 minutes last season should be seen as a positive and not as a criticism of the quality of players being developed, according to Bocanegra.

“It’s having the balance of pushing Academy players through and giving these opportunities as well as trying to win the championship,” Bocanegra said. “So we don’t want to go only youth or only non-homegrown. It’s trying to have the right mix and right balance for the club. Overall, we’re really pleased with that. And it’s something that we put a lot of time and energy into that whole pathway, the academy, second team and like I said Gonzalo is on board with that, which is great. So these guys get a get opportunities not only training but with the second team.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m., FS1

March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1

March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 9 at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN

April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN

April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE





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Vancouver Whitecaps transfer Janio Bikel to Vicenza – Loan-to-buy deal almost agreed

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Headed to Serie B 

Janio Bikel is headed to Serie B club Vicenza Transfermarkt has learned. The Vancouver Whitecaps are in the final stages of negotiations about a loan-to-buy deal with the Italian club. Vicenza are currently fighting relegation and have collected just seven points from 17 games this season and are nine points behind Cosenza, who occupy the final relegation playoff spot. The Whitecaps hope to recover most of their initial deal should Vicenza, who are owned by Italian billionaire Renzo Rosso make the deal permanent. 

Bikel, in the meantime, has been looking for a fresh start. Signed in February 2020 from CSKA Sofia in a deal worth $2.2 million, the 26-year-old midfielder was initially an important player under former head coach Marc Dos Santos. But after new head coach Vanni Sartini took over, Bikel’s playing time diminished. With that in mind, the Whitecaps were open to finding a new home for the midfielder, especially as Pedro Vite and Caio Alexandre, who returns from an injury will be expected to fill that role in midfield. 

The Whitecaps acknowledged on Monday that a deal was close without, however, giving specifics about his exact destination. “We are very closed to getting it inked for that reason we allowed him to stay in Europe to finalize his side of the deal; the medical and all that sort of stuff,” Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster said as part of the media available on Monday morning. “We expect to get it done within the next 24 to 48 hours.” 

Cavallini, Caio Alexandre, Caicedo & Co.: Vancouver Whitecaps record arrivals

Jon Erice | Signed from Albacete in 2019 | Fee: $440,000

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Lucas Venuto | Signed from Austria Vienna in 2019 | Fee: $440,000

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Jasser Khmiri | Signed from Stade Tunisien in 2019 | Fee: $440,000

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Tristan Blackmon | Traded from Charlotte FC in 2021 | Fee: $475,000

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Ranko Veselinović | Signed from Vojvodina in 2020 | Fee: $649,000

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Kenny Miller | Signed from Cardiff in 2012 | Fee: $700,000

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Leonard Owusu | Signed from FC Ashdod in 2020 | Fee: $1.1m

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Anthony Blondell | Signed from Monagas SC in 2018 | Fee: $1.2m

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Érik Godoy | Signed from CA Colón in 2020 | Fee: $1.5m

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Previously on loan at the Whitecaps

In-beom Hwang | Signed from Daejeon Citizens in 2019 | Fee: $1.72m

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Ali Adnan | Signed from Udinese in 2019 | Fee: $2m

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Janio Bikel | Signed from CSKA Sofia in 2020 | Fee: $2.2m

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Déiber Caicedo | Signed from Deportivo Cali in 2021 | Fee: $2.5m

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Pedro Vite | Signed from Independiente del Valle in 2021 | Fee: $2.5m

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Octavio Rivero | Signed from O’Higgins in 2015 | Fee: $3.3m

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Caio Alexandre | Signed from Botafogo in 2021 | Fee: $4m

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Lucas Cavallini | Signed from Puebla in 2020 | Fee: $5m

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