The USMNT’s January roster includes players you’ve never heard of — and interesting people, too

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 7: America's Alejandro Zendegas looks on during the first round match between America and Queretaro as part of the Torneo Clausura 2023 Liga MX at Estadio Azteca on January 07, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Alejandro Zendejas will likely make his USMNT debut next week. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

The first roster for the US National Team for the 2026 World Cup includes 11 rookies and a few players you’ve never heard of.

There is a defender whose professional career has spanned throughout his professional career to the United Football League and the Norwegian Eliteserien. There is a newly made US national and 25-year-old winger playing in Denmark. There is even an MLS teenager who has never played a first team MLS game.

There is the typical scattering of American League veterans, of course, including a few who were in Qatar last month, but this squad, more than most, comes from everywhere and nowhere.

She will play Serbia (January 25) and Colombia (January 28) next week in the USMNT’s first two matches since the 2022 World Cup. It will take place amid uncertainty in training and outside the official FIFA window, meaning clubs were not required to release their players to the national teams. With more and more American stars at European clubs, not many were available – as is the case every year at this annual January camp, colloquially known as Camp Cupcake.

But the camp, which will be led by interim coach Anthony Hudson while current coach Greg Berhalter is investigated, represents an opportunity for the next generation of stars to emerge.

He’ll be entertaining Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina, the 18-year-old goaltender expected to one day challenge Matt Turner to the USMNT’s premiere party.

It could offer its debut to Paxten Aaronson, Brenden’s brother, and Alejandro Zendejas, the Mexican-American dual national who was a club América superstar in Liga MX. Although the Mexican League season overlapped with the January USMNT camp, América agreed to allow Zendejas, a regular player for the club, to participate in one of the two games.

There will be eight players, including Slonina, Aaronson and Kid Coyle, who will be eligible to represent the United States as under-23 participants in the 2024 Olympics, in the first appearance of men’s soccer at the Games since 2008.

There are 24 players in total, some of whom may not see the USMNT field after this month. But many of them will definitely do it.

The full USMNT roster

Goalkeepers (3): Roman Celentano (FC Cincinnati), Sean Johnson (free agent), Gaga Slonina (Chelsea)

Defenders (8): Jonathan Gomez (Real Sociedad), Julian Grissel (Vancouver Whitecaps), DeJoanne Jones (New England Revolution), Aaron Long (LAFC), Jalen Neal (Los Angeles Galaxy), Sam Rogers (Rosenborg), John Tolkien (New York Red Bulls) Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)

Medium (6): Paxton Aronson (Eintracht Frankfurt), Glen Acosta (LAFC), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew), Paxton Bumical (FC Dallas), Alan Sonora (free agent), Eric Williamson (Portland Timbers)

Attackers (7): Paul Areola (FC Dallas), Cady Coyle (San Jose Earthquakes), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Matthew Hobby (Middlesbrough), Emmanuel Saby (Odense), Brandon Vasquez (Cincinnati), Alejandro Zendegas (Club America)

The most exciting newcomers in the USMNT

Of the 24 players, Slonina is the biggest name. The Illinois native turned professional at the age of 14 and moved from the Chicago Fire to Chelsea for an eight-figure fee at the age of 18. He and former Fire teammate Chris Brady, 18, are both considered future USMNT goaltenders.

However, the most notable inclusion in this squad is Zendejas, an attacking midfielder who has been the subject of a controversial recruiting battle between the United States and Mexico. Born in Ciudad Juárez, he moved to Texas as a child. He has played alongside Christian Pulisic and other current USMNT players with the United States U-17 National Team, including at the 2015 U-17 World Cup – but has subsequently played for the Mexican National Teams at U-level as well.

Before Mexico was called up to the senior team in 2021 and made his debut You don’t see In a friendly match, and this is where his situation got messy. To play for Mexico, according to FIFA rules, he would have needed a one-time change of federation away from the United States. With the 2022 World Cup approaching and Zendejas supposed to be a candidate for it You don’t seeReportedly, Zendejas’ roster was required by the Mexican Football Federation to sign a document “renouncing” its affiliation with the United States; He reportedly refused.

Amidst confusion and controversy, he established himself as a regular at Club América. He’s now accepted his first call-up to the USMNT squad – though his international soccer future won’t be tied to the United States until he appears in a senior competitive game, the first of which could be in March.

Hudson said in a Q&A published by US Soccer that the USMNT “didn’t think” they would get Zendejas for January camp and expressed their “great appreciation” for America for letting him join. Hudson said Zendegas “will play [for América on Jan. 21]That day that camp started, but they’d let him in and play [for the U.S.] against Serbia. He will then return to Mexico City and play America 28 instead of staying with the USMNT for his second game this week against Colombia, a team spokesperson confirmed.

Other players with brighter futures are Aaronson, the 19-year-old striker who joined German club Eintracht Frankfurt from the Philadelphia Union this month. John Tolkien, a drafty 20-year-old left linebacker for the New York Red Bulls; and Cowell, another dual Mexican-American who burst onto the scene with the San Jose Earthquakes as a teen. Coyle made his debut for the USMNT in a friendly match in December 2021.

Other notable call-ups include Brandon Vazquez, the MLS forward who will try to establish himself as a potential ninth-place finisher throughout the 2026 tournament, and Alan Sonora, the New Jersey-born midfielder who has spent most of his life in Argentina. . He played regularly with Independiente, an Argentine club in the top flight, in 2021 and 2022 and has been linked with a move to MLS.

And then there are the not-so-no-nonsense additions: Sam Rogers is a 23-year-old youth producer from the Seattle Sounders, who began his professional career in the USL before moving to HamKam and then to Rosenborg in Norway. Emanuele Sappi is an Italian-born producer from youth clubs in Ohio and Chicago. He then moved to Las Palmas in Spain as a teenager and spent his first-team career with Hobro and Odense in Denmark.

The Danish and Norwegian leagues, like Major League Soccer, do not play during the winter months, allowing those players to join the January camp. At the same time, others, such as Slonina, Jonathan Gomez and Matthew Hope, are available because they are not regular players in their respective clubs.

A lot of players will be in the best shape for the USMNT going forward. Of the 27 players called up to the January 2019 camp, only one (Walker Zimmermann) has started matches and played two minutes at the 2022 World Cup.

The following year, though, January gave players like Matt Turner and Brendan Aronson a chance, and that’s exactly the point. Even if a few days make a meaningful impact, a week in Southern California will do the trick.

The matches will be played at the homes of the two MLS affiliated Los Angeles clubs, Bank of California Stadium and Dignity Health Sports Park. Beginning at 10 PM ET January 25 (HBO Max, Universo, Peacock) and at 7:30 PM ET January 28 (TNT, Telemundo, Peacock).

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