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CJ Sapong receives USMNT January camp invite

Sapong is the lone Union representative among the 30 players called in, but three others have ties to the region

Portugal vs USA - International Friendly Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Striker CJ Sapong is the lone Philadelphia Union representative included in a list of 30 players called into the United States Men’s National Team January camp by acting head coach Dave Sarachan.

The roster features 15 players looking to make their international debut and 21 players under the age of 24. All but two of the invitees play for an MLS club.

The camp will end with a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., where the camp is also being held.

With the USSF’s eyes set on 2022 and the next World Cup, Sarachan’s roster puts the domestic-based youth at the forefront of the picture. Nineteen players have U.S. Development Academy ties and 12 have played for youth national teams, including four players from this year’s U-20 World Cup.

Sapong is one of two former Reading United players on the roster, which includes Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono. Two other players with ties to the region - Zack Steffen from Downingtown, Pa. and Russell Canouse from Lancaster, Pa. - received call-ups.

Here is a positional breakdown of the roster, starting with the strikers, since they include Sapong.

FORWARDS (6): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution; 27/3), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City SC; 4/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 24/5), Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United FC; 0/0), Rubio Rubin (Unattached; 4/0), CJ Sapong (Philadelphia Union; 3/0)

Back in September, we made the case for Sapong to earn his first call-up since 2012, based on Sapong leading all US-eligible strikers with a 16-goal campaign. He got a call-up in November and rightfully is included here. With the USA out of the World Cup this year, Sapong has four years to cement his case for one of the final three or four forward spots in 2022, when he will be 31 and at the tail end of his prime.

He’ll need a few more double-digit goal scoring seasons, but he needs to compete at the international level and prove he offers more than the rest of the strikers in this squad. Dwyer is the only one here with a better MLS track-record (three double-digit scoring season). Morris and Agudelo no longer have potential to rely on, although Morris has some memorable international goals. Rubin is all potential at 21 years of age, but has bounced out of the Eredivise and is trying his luck at Staebek in Norway. Ramirez is a lower-leagues journeyman, who took advantage of Minnesota United’s debut in MLS, and has been rewarded for his 12-goal season.

MIDFIELDERS (11): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 1/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 15/2), Russell Canouse (D.C. United; 0/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 0/0), Marlon Hairston (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Ian Harkes (D.C. United; 0/0), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 1/0), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution; 3/1), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 2/0), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 37/6)

The biggest story here is the the USA actually lost the dual-nationality rising star Jonathan Gonzalez of Monterrey, who decided to switch federations and join the Mexican player pool. The talented midfielder was allowed to stay with his club during the November camp to play in the Liguilla, but he expressed frustration with his omission from the US squad. Mexico’s federation expressed interest in Gonzalez’s switch after the USA failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.

As for the actual squad, there are a few familiar entities here in Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola. Kelyn Rowe was in the squad for the crucial last World Cup qualifiers as well.

Brooks Lennon is the rising star to watch, having led the U-20 team to a CONCACAF Championship and a quarterfinal run at the World Cup, and having played at Liverpool’s academy. Now at Real Salt Lake, he could become a perfect dynamic partner for Christian Pulisic.

Ian Harkes, son of John Harkes, and Russell Canouse are part of the D.C. United youth movement along with Arriola. Harkes won the 2016 award for the best player in college soccer for his time at Wake Forest, while Canouse, the captain of the U-20 side in 2017, has labored through the lower divisions of Germany as a member of Hoffenheim’s reserves and a key contributor for VFL Bochum in the 2. Bundesliga.

Tyler Adams, at just 18, burst onto the scene this season at New York Red Bulls and has incredible athleticism to pair with great vision. He is part of the group that excelled at the U-20 level.

Both Will Trapp and Cristian Roldan are already MLS mainstays in midfield behind very potent attacks, while Trapp is more of a box-to-box engine and Roldan is more of a crafty playmaker. Marky Delgado is similarly well-acquitted in the league as the midfielder partner for three years of Michael Bradley in Toronto.

Marlon Hairston is a utility midfielder best suited as a right winger, and has had a decent few seasons at the Rapids. There are probably too many good players in the midfield pool for Hairston to sniff minutes in a competitive international match, but you never know which utility outside player can become the next DaMarcus Beasley.

DEFENDERS (9): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC/CAN; 3/0), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City; 0/0), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC/CAN; 0/0), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire; 1/0), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles Football Club; 1/0)

There are a whole lot of uncapped defenders, who without great statistics, are pretty hard to evaluate. Walker Zimmerman is an imposing, physical center back, and the type of player who probably could have competed in a 2018 World Cup without any trouble.

Ike Opara is a little old for this batch at 28, but he is an extremely athletic center back and experienced player who won 2017 MLS Defender of the year.

Justen Glad and Danny Acosta are part of the youth trio at Real Salt Lake along with Lennon, and Acosta is a strong left back at a key position for a country who hasn’t had a reliable player there in years (sorry, Jorge Villafana). Brandon Vincent is another talented left-back as is Justin Morrow, who just won a title as a key cog of Toronto’s back line, albeit at age 30.

Nick Lima and Mott Polster are solid right-backs, although Lima is more dynamic and quick while Polster is a retrofitted center-back/holding midfielder type of player.

Tim Parker is another one of those forgettable MLS center backs at a position that theoretically has a deep pool. He has a chance to prove himself with the other center backs in this squad because of the woes of players like Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream and Matt Besler.

GOALKEEPERS (4): Alex Bono (Toronto FC/CAN; 0/0), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland/DEN; 4/0), Cody Cropper (New England Revolution; 0/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 0/0)

Former Union youth Zack Steffen should catch some eyes here with a chance to compete for an eventual World Cup spot. The USA can hopefully finally move on from the Howard, Guzan and Rimando era, but you never know who might be asked to go to the Azteca to play for a draw in September of 2020. This tier of goalkeepers is probably one step below the trio of Ethan Horvath, William Yarbrough and Jesse Gonzalez, but this is the best of the domestic-based bunch. They have four years to build up their form, which unlike outfield players, depends much more on domestic campaigns. Don’t sleep on Tyler Miller, the LAFC expansion draftee and Woodbury, N.J. native, adding his name to this mix by the time 2022 rolls around.