Sarachan and Sapong

FEATURE: USMNT open camp with "business as usual" mindset under unusual conditions

CARSON, Calif. – This isn't what Dave Sarachan wanted, not the landscape he'd hoped for nor expected, but there's no place he'd rather be.

The US national team's interim coach was supposed to be working alongside Bruce Arena as American preparations for this summer's World Cup commenced with the annual January camp in Southern California. The devastating loss three months ago in Trinidad took care of that, so Sarachan – and the federation – must look to the future.

“The past was the past,” Sarachan told media following Thursday morning's training session to open the camp at StubHub Center. “Today was day one of a new cycle, new group of guys, and they say you can learn from the past, but the focus is on the opportunity they're being given right now. We have a good group, a young group, a lot of energy.”

None of the past cycle's veteran core is here – LA Galaxy winger Gyasi Zardes is the most experienced player on hand, with 37 caps – and 21 of the 29 players are 24 or younger. Fifteen are uncapped, and only two or three of them stood a reasonable of chance of going to Russia had the US qualified not failed to qualify for the World Cup for this first time since 1986.

“I wouldn't say [this is] strange. It's different,” said Sarachan, who will work with this group through January 28, when it faces Bosnia and Herzegovina in a StubHub Center friendly (7:30 pm ET | FS1). “Last January camp had a whole different tone and primarily different players. This January camp is different, but once you get the boots in and get out here, you're back to work, and that part never changes. That's the good part.”

The aim now is 2022 in Qatar, and the roster makes that clear. Sarachan and his staff chose the players, and youth was king. Only forward CJ Sapong and defenders Ike Opara and Justin Morrow fail to meet the profile; they'll be 33, 33 and 35 come the 2022 World Cup.

“[Age] was a big priority, putting this roster together,” Sarachan said. “For me and our staff, it's really just getting to know some of the players we haven't been around. To bring Michael Bradley or Jozy [Altidore] and these guys that we know well, it didn't make sense, in that we know them well. We have a number of guys here, this is the first time we've been exposed to them. They tick the boxes of age and potential.”

Now it's about getting them, or others like them, experience before 2022 qualifying begins in a couple of years. Sarachan, who followed Arena from the Galaxy staff to the national team last winter and stayed on after Arena resigned following the Trinidad and Tobago defeat, only has the job until the next U.S. Soccer president has taken office and hired a full-time coach.

Sarachan, who was part of the US staff at the 2002 World Cup and guided the Chicago Fire to a U.S. Open Cup title and an MLS Cup appearance, hopes to remain part of the process.

“Honestly, I haven't dwelled on [what I'll do next],” he said. “I love coaching, and I still feel I have a lot to offer and with my experience. At whatever level I can be beneficial and useful, I would love to take any opportunity that comes. Because I love the national team, I love the program, and I enjoy the players. ...

“Right now we have a job to do. I'm hired to do this job. And with or without a president, we're all still trying to move this group in the right direction, give them opportunities, play our friendlies, play during the fixture dates, and be ready when the real stuff happens. It's business as usual, but it's not usual.”


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