Union striker C.J. Sapong has been rewarded for his team record-breaking 16-goal season with his first call-up to the U.S. men’s national team in quite some time. He is one of 21 players headed to Portugal for the national team’s first game since last month’s loss at Trinidad & Tobago that knocked the Americans out of the 2018 World Cup.
The U.S. will face Portugal on Nov. 14 at the Estádio Dr. Magalhães Pessoa in Leiria. Kickoff is set for around 3:45 p.m. Eastern; television coverage will be on Fox Sports 1, UniMás and Univision Deportes.
Sapong, 28, hasn’t played for the national team since making two appearances in friendlies in 2012. He was on the provisional roster for this past summer’s Gold Cup, but did not ultimately make the team.
Union midfielder and captain Alejandro Bedoya is also on the squad, a reward for his leadership skills as the program transitions to a new era of young players. Bedoya will be counted on to teach and mentor some of the young prospects on this squad, most notably 19-year-old midfielder Weston McKennie, 18-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams and 17-year-old striker Josh Sargent.
McKennie, of German club Schalke 04, could be the successor to longtime U.S. midfield general Michael Bradley.
Adams, of the New York Red Bulls, was a star at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup earlier this year and has stepped up for his club as well. He is a tenacious box-to-box runner, and has plenty of skill too.
Sargent hasn’t even turned pro yet. He will do so in February when he turns 18, having signed a deal to join German club Werder Bremen. This year, he became the first American to play in Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups since Freddy Adu since 2003. Sargent had four goals in the former tournament, and three goals and an assist in the latter.
This U.S. team will be coached by Dave Sarachan, a longtime assistant to Bruce Arena who has taken the head job on an interim basis. The U.S. Soccer Federation will hire a full-time head coach at some point in the next few months, perhaps after February’s presidential election.
It was no surprise that Sarachan left home many of the veterans who were part of the team that lost at Trinidad, such as goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley, and forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. The last three of those also play for teams still alive in the MLS playoffs, which gave even more reason to not call them up.
Howard’s chief backup, Brad Guzan, is also absent. This signals a new era of competition for what has long been the national team’s most assured position.
Ethan Horvath has been a potential starter-in-waiting for a little while now, having helped Belgium’s Club Brugge play in the UEFA Europa League. Bill Hamid, long of D.C. United, has moved to Danish club Midtjylland to test himself abroad. Jesse Gonzalez of FC Dallas is the top prospect in the domestic league, and earlier this year committed to the United States after playing for Mexican youth national teams.
It was something of a surprise that Sarachan did not call in Hershey-born, Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic. That decision allows Pulisic to get some rest after a busy year with the national team and a roller-coaster start to the German league season.
Pulisic has been playing a lot, including a standout performance against titan Bayern Munich this past Saturday. But Dortmund has won just one of its last nine games in all competitions, after starting the Bundesliga season with a five-game unbeaten streak.
“Between his contributions for the National Team and his club, he has probably played more total games than almost anyone in our pool this year, and in doing that Christian has really pushed the limits mentally and physically,” Sarachan said in remarks issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation. “With those things in mind, we felt this was an opportunity for Christian to get a break and recharge for the rest of an important campaign with Dortmund.”
Also absent is striker Bobby Wood, who plays for German club Hamburg SV. Sarachan said Wood “has had a lingering knee issue that has gotten to the point where it needed to be addressed.”
Here’s the full squad.
Goalkeepers (3): Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland, Denmark), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge, Belgium)
Defenders (7): John Brooks (Wolfsburg, Germany), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Sheffield United, England), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, England), Matt Miazga (Vitesse, Netherlands), Tim Ream (Fulham, England), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, Mexico), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United, England)
Midfielders (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland, England), Weston McKennie (Schalke 04, Germany), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town, England)
Forwards (4): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City SC), C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union), Josh Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher youth club)