U.S. men's soccer roster skews young ahead of friendly to cap exceptional year

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United States head coach Gregg Berhalter looks on during the first half of a FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match between Mexico and the United States, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. The U.S. won 2-0. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter looks on during a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Nov. 12 in Cincinnati. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

To cap one of the most successful years in U.S. Soccer history, coach Gregg Berhalter has summoned a mostly domestically-based roster of 26 players to Dignity Health Sports Park for a two-week training camp that will end with a Dec. 18 friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A win in that game would be a program-record 17th for the U.S. in 2021. Berhalter’s team (16-2-3), ranked 12th in the world, won the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup last summer, beat Mexico three times and stands second in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table eight games through the 14-match tournament.

“It’s been a great year for the group and our objective is to finish the year with a strong performance against Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Berhalter said in a statement. “As we look toward 2022, this camp gives us the opportunity to see some new faces and allows our core domestic players to maintain their fitness levels.”

Among the surprise call-ups was teenager Kobi Henry, a defender with Orange County SC, which last month won the USL Championship. Henry, 17, joins Louisville City defender Jonathan Gómez, 18, as the only players from the second-tier league to be called up. They are among seven players that will take part in their first senior national team camp.

“It's an honor to represent my country at the highest level and I am ready to compete and give my all during this camp,” said Henry, who played twice this fall with the U.S. U-20 team. “I want to say thank you to my family and OCSC for providing me with guidance and support to get to this stage."

Added Oliver Wyss, the team’s president of soccer operations: “We could not be any prouder of Kobi’s call up, especially at just 17 years old.”

Players are scheduled to report to Carson on Sunday.

Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, whose 16 appearances and 12 starts are second on the team this year, was not called up. But the camp roster includes eight players who have made more than 12 career appearances for the U.S., including Seattle forward Jordan Morris, who is returning to the national team for the first time since tearing the ACL in his left knee last February, and Gyasi Zardes of the Columbus Crew, who is one of nine players who also participated in World Cup qualifying.

Among those returning from the qualifying roster are Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi, Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan and Nashville defender Walker Zimmerman, who this week won his second consecutive MLS defender of the year award.

Because of the inclusion of veterans such as Zimmerman, Zardes and Morris, the 26-player roster has an average age of just over 23 years, making it older than the roster Berhalter used in qualifying. However there are also 15 players ages 20 or younger and 12 who have never played for the senior team.

Roma defender Bryan Reynolds, Internacional of Brazil midfielder Johnny Cardoso and Bayern Munich II forward Taylor Booth are the only players called up from clubs outside the U.S.

The roster

Goalkeepers: John Pulskamp (Sporting Kansas City), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)

Defenders: George Bello (Atlanta United), Justin Che (FC Dallas), Jonathan Gomez (Louisville City), Kobi Henry (Orange County SC), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Kevin Paredes (D.C. United), Bryan Reynolds (Roma), Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)

Forwards: Taylor Booth (Bayern Munich II), Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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