The third game into a new cycle for the U.S. national team brings its most important test yet.
Interim coach Dave Sarachan
has tried to downplay expectations, but Tuesday's game
against Paraguay will be a big opportunity for his young players to show what can do.
Like last November when it played Portugal and in January, which it finished off with a game against
Bosnia & Herzegovina, the USA is only playing one game during the March FIFA window. That's raised the intensity in camp as only a maximum of 17 of the 23 players will get a game.
Veterans Jozy Altidore
and Michael Bradley
won't likely return until the three-game series that begins in late May. Christian Pulisic
is back in Germany and Weston
, the other young American playing in the Bundesliga, is in camp but questionable for the game with an injury picked up with Schalke 04.
Eight players in Cary have no caps,
and four more, including McKennie, have only one.
“They come in with what I’d say is a clean slate in their minds,” Sarachan says. “They’re looking to
impress, so they’re pushing each day in training."
Four players -- outside backs DeAndre Yedlin
and Jorge Villafana
, midfielder Darlington
and forward Bobby Wood
-- were automatic choices in qualifying and give the USA plenty of experience. Eric Lichaj
is the elder statesman in terms of longevity, having played
for the USA at the 2011 Gold Cup. But after that, there's not a lot of experience.
Not that Sarachan doesn't have plenty of choices, particularly in central midfield.
'Rejuvenation process.' Tyler Adams
is the only player in camp who started Sarachan's first two games, and he has been instrumental
in the New York Red Bulls' run to the Concacaf Champions League. The Crew's Wil Trapp
captained the USA against Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Both of their MLS teams had games over the
weekend, but they're with the national team for a reason. They are pretty much automatic choices.
Also available in the middle are Cristian Roldan
and Marky Delgado
young products of Southern California who have been among the most consistent Americans in MLS for the last two seasons.
Nagbe can also start in the middle but he'll likely play out wide
like he did for much of World Cup qualifying. The other options on the wings are uncapped Kenny Saief
, who has one cap, and uncapped Kekuta Manneh
and Timothy Weah
Adams says there are a lot of good midfielders getting important minutes in MLS. The next step will be replicating that on the national team.
"It stinks not to have too many competitive
matches coming up in the near future," Adams said. "But at the same time we have to take these matches seriously because we know they’re important games in starting the rejuvenation process of
getting these young guys minutes and games." 'Thin margins.'
Of the eight uncapped players, Weah, the son of former Ballon d'Or
winner and current Liberian president George Weah
, has gotten the most attention. Eligible to play for the USA, Liberia, Jamaica and France at the senior level, Weah should get a look -- even
if the friendly won't cap-tie him -- though he isn't the only newcomer who could play.
"Nobody's here that shouldn't be here," said Sarachan. "I think they all belong here, they've all
made a good case for themselves this week. It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge putting the first XI out because I think the margins between what I would consider the very top to the
very bottom are very thin. They've all made a good impression, a couple maybe that surprised me that I didn't really know that well that have hung in there pretty well."
A few of the
names he mentioned after saying he hated to single anyone out: Antonee Robinson
, Andrija Novakovich
and Erik Palmer-Brown
. U.S. Roster: GOALKEEPERS (3):
Alex Bono (Toronto FC; 0/0), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland/DEN; 5/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew 1/0). DEFENDERS (8):
Carter-Vickers (Ipswich Town/ENG; 1/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 14/1), Matt Miazga (Vitesse/NED; 4/1), Shaq Moore (Levante/ESP; 0/0), Erik Palmer-Brown (Kortrijk/BEL; 0/0), Antonee
Robinson (Bolton Wanderers/ENG; 0/0), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna/MEX; 15/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 49/0). MIDFIELDERS (9):
Tyler Adams (NY Red Bulls; 2/0), Marky
Delgado (Toronto FC; 0/0), Kekuta Manneh (Pachuca/MEX; 0/0), Weston McKennie (Schalke 04/GER; 1/1), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United; 24/1), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 2/0), Kenny Saief
(Anderlecht/BEL; 1/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew; 3/0), Tim Weah (Paris SG/FRA; 0/0). FORWARDS (3):
Andrija Novakovich (Telstar/NED; 0/0), Rubio Rubin (Tijuana/MEX; 4/0), Bobby Wood
(Hamburg/GER; 36/10). In parentheses are caps and goals.