The CONCACAF Nations League, which kicks off for the first time next week, was created to give many of the region’s 41 soccer-playing countries more opportunities to play competitive international matches.
While that may be good for Nicaragua, Curacao and Martinique it won’t be as helpful for the U.S. Instead of finishing the year against former World Cup champions England and Italy, as they did last, the Americans will end 2019 against Cuba and Canada, teams they haven’t lost to in more than three decades.
“We want to play difficult games. We think it will help the group develop,” said coach Gregg Berhalter, whose team opens the tournament Friday against Cuba in Washington D.C., then meets Canada in Toronto on Oct. 15. “It’s just finding the right windows to do.”
With Euro 2020 qualifiers resuming this fall, scheduling top-flight opponents would have been difficult.
“Even if CONCACAF didn’t have their programming, we wouldn’t be able to play those European teams,” Berhalter added. “We challenge ourselves with playing a very heavy South American group this last year because those teams were available.”
In the last 18 months, the U.S. has played nine of the 10 CONMEBOL teams, missing only Argentina.
The Nations League, which continues with the U.S. meeting the same two countries next month, marks the final competitive matches CONCACAF teams will play before next June’s FIFA world rankings are released. That’s significant for some because the region’s six top-ranked teams advance automatically to the final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
The U.S. is currently ranked second behind Mexico in CONCACAF and the Americans are ranked 21st in the world.
The roster Berhalter called into camp ahead for the October matches includes eight European-based players, among them midfielders Christian Pulisic of Chelsea and Weston McKennie of Schalke, and goalkeeper Zack Steffen of Fortuna Dusseldorf. Pulisic, who has struggled for playing time in the Premier League, didn’t suit up for Chelsea’s Champions League match Wednesday.
Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin is back after undergoing groin surgery last spring while Reading defender Matt Miazga also returns from a hamstring issue.
Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget and LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman are two of 18 MLS players summoned. They will report to camp in Fairfax, Va., following Sunday’s regular-season finales.
Most notable among the missing is teenage defender Sergiño Dest, a dual national from the Netherlands who made his senior debut for the U.S. in a friendly last month. Dest, 18, turned down the call-up to keep his options open.
“We’ve had conversations with Sergiño, a number of conversations,” Berhalter said. “They were positive talks and we’re going to leave it at that.”
The USMNT roster
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Defenders: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sebastian Lletget (Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC)