Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic tops the 26-player roster called into camp for the U.S. national team’s September friendlies with Mexico and Uruguay. But after that Gregg Berhalter’s team contains a number of surprises.
Missing are Toronto teammates Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, who have 317 national team appearances combined; added are Sergiño Dest and Paxton Pomykal, who have none.
LAFC center back Walker Zimmerman and Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget were also invited, meaning each will likely miss at least one MLS match in September.
And Berhalter, a former MLS coach, said the league’s decision to schedule games during the FIFA international window both influenced and frustrated him in his roster selections.
“With Michael, Jozy and Omar having two games with Toronto FC, we had to weigh that,” Berhalter said. “Part of it was Toronto, the position they’re in, fighting for a playoff spot — we know that some of the other teams have games as well — but we felt that taking three players from one team would severely handicap them.”
But, Berhalter added later in a 30-minute conference call, “we’re in a very difficult position because we’re only allowed to play certain times of the year. One thing I’ve been a little bit disappointed with is MLS teams opting to play in FIFA windows. It’s infringing on the time we have with players.
“We have to make some of those decisions that are difficult for both the player and the club. Sometimes there’s no perfect solution.”
That has left the national team and the Galaxy in a tug of war over Lletget, who missed the Gold Cup with injury and now must leave a Galaxy team locked in tight battle for a Western Conference playoff berth.
“In Sebastian’s case, unfortunately he missed out on the Gold Cup and that was a big chunk of time with the team. We want to get him back into the team. It’s important if he wants to continue to make an impact with the national team,” Berhalter said. “And we understand that he will be missing a game.”
The roster Berhalter picked includes 15 players from the team he took to the Gold Cup final in July and 14 who have 10 or fewer international caps.
Among the latter group is Dest, an 18-year-old defender who plays with Ajax in the Dutch Eredivisie, and Pomykal, a 19-year-old midfielder with FC Dallas. Both played for the U.S. in the U-20 World Cup in May; this will be their first camp with the senior national team.
In addition to Dest and Pomykal, Atlanta United center back Miles Robinson, 22, was also called up for the first time while Alfredo Morales, 29, is coming back for the first time since May 2016.
“It gives us an opportunity to look at them for the first time,” Berhalter said. “And then we continue to have veteran leadership in the group, which I feel is important.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, 34, one of 17 MLS players on the roster, is one of those veteran leaders. He has played in 60 international games, making him the oldest and most experienced player invited to camp, which begins Sept. 1 in New Jersey.
The U.S. will play Mexico on Sept. 6 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., before traveling to St. Louis to meet fifth-ranked Uruguay at Busch Stadium.
In its last game in July, the U.S. dropped a 1-0 decision to Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
Goalkeepers: Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Defenders: John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Sergiño Dest (Ajax), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact) Tim Ream (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United FC), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
Midfielders: Sebastian Lletget (Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC)