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Walker Zimmerman leads USMNT’s first post-World Cup roster

Walker Zimmerman leads USMNT’s first post-World Cup roster

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Doug McIntyre

Doug McIntyre

football journalist

The United States men’s soccer team does not have a full-time coach but has its first roster since the 2022 World Cup after interim boss Anthony Hudson on Wednesday named a 24-man squad for this month’s friendlies against Serbia and Colombia in Los Angeles.

Midfielder Kellyn Acosta and centre-back Walker Zimmerman are among the five remnants of the USA team that went unbeaten in the group stage at Qatar 2022 before being knocked out by the Netherlands in the round of 16. All five play in MLS, which starts its new campaign next month; Most of the important American World Cup contenders, such as Juventus’ Weston McKennie and Leeds’ Tyler Adams, are with their clubs in the middle of the European season and are therefore unavailable for this camp.

Still, the list Hudson — an assistant to Gregg Berhalter in Qatar who took the helm this month as U.S. soccer director Earnie Stewart selected Berhalter’s retirement during the U.S.-Canada-Mexico-hosted 2026 event — includes seven Players representing clubs outside the United States, the most in the more than 20-year history of the national team’s annual January camp. It also features 13 players who have never seen a minute of international action.

Below is the full squad plus three takeaways following Wednesday’s announcement.

Goalkeeper: Roman Celentano, FC Cincinnati; Sean Johnson, free agent; Gaga Slonina, Chelsea (England)

Defenders: Jonathan Gómez, Real Sociedad (Spain), Julian Gressel, Vancouver Whitecaps; DeJuan Jones, New England Revolution; Aaron Long, LAFC; Jalen Neal, LA Galaxy; Sam Rogers, Rosenborg (Norway); John Tolkin, New York Red Bulls; Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC

Midfielders: Paxten Aaronson, Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany); Kellyn Acosta, LAFC; Aidan Morris, Columbus crew; Paxton Pomykal, Dallas FC; Alan Sonora, free agent; Eryk Williamson, Portland Timbers

Forward: Paul Arriola, FC Dallas; Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquake; Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas; Matthew Hoppe, Middlesbrough (England), Emmanuel Sabbi, Odense (Denmark); Brandon Vazquez, FC Cincinnati; Alejandro Zendejas, Club America (Mexico)

A unique opportunity for USMNT hopefuls

It’s easy to dismiss the January reunion as junior fitness camp or “cup-cupcake,” but many future World Cup stars got their start and/or launch their international careers at the year-opening event, including all-time US greats Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley , Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

“There are some really, really big names on that list,” Hudson said in an interview with US Soccer. “They have to appreciate the opportunity that’s in front of them.”

While most of the US 2022 World Cup squad should be young enough to return in 3.5 years, this mid-winter gathering could also include a future star or two. Teenager Paxten Aaronson, younger brother of Leeds’ Brenden Aaronson, and goalkeeper Gaga Slonina headline the unusual number of prospects from Europe who have been approved by their clubs this month.

The younger Aaronson has just joined German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt from the Philadelphia Union, while Chelsea have signed Slonina from the Chicago Fire. But with both still a long way from first-team action abroad, playing two high-level games on home soil this month is mutually beneficial for all parties.

Not only Europeans have the opportunity to start their international career on the right foot this month. Brandon Vazquez led all Americans in MLS last season and will be keen to show that Berhalter made a mistake by not giving more serious consideration to the uncovered target for a forward for a trip to the World Cup. The USA struggled to finish in Qatar, scoring just three goals in four games.

Matthew Hoppe is one of the bigger surprises

The best-known European player is former Schalke and Mallorca striker Matthew Hoppe. Hoppe moved to England last summer to extend his playing time ahead of the World Cup. Instead, the 21-year-old forward, who excelled in the USMNT’s Gold Cup win in 2021, has barely played for second division side Middlesbrough, appearing in just six of 27 league games.

“He’s a really good kid, he’s been great in training so he just has to be patient,” said Boro manager Michael Carrick said last week. Getting some action – and ideally a goal – against the Serbs and Colombians would boost Hoppe’s confidence, expose him to interested buyers and send him back to his club with some much-needed match fitness.

Alejandro Zendejas is the headline for dual citizens

Six players from Hudson’s squad are also allowed to represent Mexico internationally: Vazquez, Cade Cowell, Jonathan Gomez and Alejandro Zendejas. And while it’s no guarantee either of them will make a long-term commitment to the US – LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo earned a cap for the Americans in 2020 before joining El Tri – there’s no harm in having them in camp to have. (German-born Julian Gressel has also received his first invite since becoming a US citizen, while Alan Soñora can also play for Argentina.)

Right-back Gomez is a particularly intriguing talent but Zendejas, 24, is the closest thing to an immediate contribution to the USMNT. The winger has played in more than 100 premiership games in MLS and Liga MX, scoring 12 goals in 39 games since joining Club America last year. He was also a member of the US participation at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015, where he competed alongside Adams and three other team members from the World Cup 2022 in Christian Pulisic, Luca de la Torre and Haji Wright.

“He’s an exciting player, a technical player who plays right or left wide and has a really good finish,” Hudson said of Zendejas. “He’s just super excited to come in and obviously has experience with youth national teams.”

Doug McIntyre is a football writer for Alaska Green Light Blog Sports. Before joining Alaska Green Light Blog Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By DougMcIntyre.

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