USMNT January camp
January camp: Zendejas, Aaronson, Vazquez, & Tolkin among top USMNT newcomers
January 18, 2023
U.S. SOCCER TODAY announced the national team roster for the upcoming camp which will conclude with friendlies against Serbia on January 25 in Los Angeles and against Colombia on January 28 in Carson, CA. The camp will be led by assistant coach Anthony Hudson as the federation is conducting its review of the previous cycle to decide if Gregg Berhalter will return.
Amid the backstory of the Reyna-Berhalter story, which is being investigated by top law firm Alston & Bird, the focus will now have a chance to briefly return to the field for these pair of games.
As is typical with January camp, the games are not on FIFA international dates so clubs do not have to release players for these games. The result is that typically these camps consist of domestic-based players whose clubs agree for them to miss a portion of preseason, European-based players who are in leagues still on break, out of contract players, and youth players whose clubs do not mind them leaving to gain some international experience.
This roster fits that description, and it contains a mix of youth and prime-age players along with a few players who were on the 2022 World Cup team in November in December.
Here is a roster and here are some thoughts.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Roman Celentano (FC Cincinnati; 0/0), Sean Johnson (Unattached; 10/0), Gaga Slonina (Chelsea/ENG; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (8): Jonathan Gómez (Real Sociedad/ESP; 1/0), Julian Gressel (Vancouver Whitecaps/CAN; 0/0), DeJuan Jones (New England Revolution; 0/0), Aaron Long (LAFC; 29/3), Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Sam Rogers (Rosenborg/NOR; 0/0), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 37/3)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Paxten Aaronson (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; 0/0), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 55/2), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew; 0/0), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas; 1/0), Alan Soñora (Unattached; 0/0), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers; 4/0)
FORWARDS (7): Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 48/10), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes; 1/0), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 16/7), Matthew Hoppe (Middlesbrough/ENG; 6/1), Emmanuel Sabbi (Odense/DEN; 0/0), Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati; 0/0), Alejandro Zendejas (Club America/MEX; 0/0)
Strong January Roster
Overall, this is one of the stronger January Camp rosters in recent memory. I consists of a blend of full national team players, players who have fallen just outside of the cut, plus a lookahead to the U-20 World Cup, and the Olympics.
Generally, there are a lot of players who have been meaningful contributors at the club level in 2021 and 2022. Aside from a few older picks, most players are still in their early mid 20’s.
In total, there are eight players on the roster eligible for the 2024 Olympic team and in 2022, the United States ended its three-cycle drought of failing to qualify for the tournament.
The players are:
- Matthew Hoppe
- Aidan Morris
- John Tolkin
- Paxten Aaronson
- Cade Cowell
- Jonathan Gómez
- Jalen Neal
- Gaga Slonina
On this list, Aaronson, Neal, Cowell, Gomez, and Slonina are also eligible for the U-20 World Cup this summer.
But this list gives an indication what players could be viewed as core to the U-23 team when that team begins holding camps – likely later in the year after the U-20 World Cup.
The foreign-based players
This roster has seven players based abroad (and two players who recently became free agents) that is a very nigh number for January camp. There are a variety of reasons why these players are able to go.
Players like Sam Rogers and Emmanuel Sabbi are with clubs which are still on break. Rogers has emerged as a top central defender with Rosenborg in Norway and he is one of the players to watch in these games. Sabbi, 25, has been a streaky winger for OB Odense although he has not climbed up the ladder much in Denmark since 2017.
Paxten Aaronson’s callup makes sense as he only joined Eintracht this winter and the club is not expecting much from him until next season. He is still one of the top players on the U.S. U-20 team. The same could be said for Gaga Slonina who is still taking his first steps in Chelsea and is not needed with their first team.
Jonathan Gomez and Matthew Hoppe getting called-up is both good and bad. It is good for them to have the opportunity to play but the fact that both had clubs willing to release them is concerning. Hoppe was transferred to Middlesbrough for a high value and has yet to stick. But both should be in the mix for the U.S. Olympic team.
Alejandro Zendejas is the most intriguing foreign-based player on the team as his production at Club America has been very good and while he played for the 2015 U-17 U.S. World Cup team, he played with Mexico for friendlies. Apparently, he never filed his switch and is leaning towards returning to the team. This would help give depth to the wing positions.
Six Players to Watch
Brandon Vazquez: The Cincinnati forward is coming off a 2022 season where he scored 18 goals and added eight assists to become one of the best center forwards in MLS. At a time when no one has firmly taken hold of the position, Vazquez is among the list of people who should be able to make a case for himself.
Alan Sonora: Now a free agent, Sonora was an effective central midfielder for Independiente in Argentina the past two seasons. He has always wanted a call-up and now, at age 24, he will get his chance. He should provide skill and playmaking to this midfield. He recently had a proposed deal to Montreal CF fall through and this could help gain offers.
Alejandro Zendejas: The Club America attacker impressed last season and was involved in reports that he played for Mexico without ever filing a one-time switch. But his return to the U.S. program is welcome news as Zendejas now has an impressive resume. It will be also interesting to see him reunited with Vazquez with that 2015 U-17 team that also contained Christian Pulisic, Haji Wright, Luca de la Torre, and Tyler Adams.
John Tolkin: The New York Red Bulls left back has been on the edge of the player pool in 2022 and was called up to the U.S. U-20 team last fall (despite being too old for the U-20 World Cup) just because he was Olympic eligible. He is poised for a big 2023 and transfer rumors could surface. He should be a top player for the U-23 team.
Sam Rogers: While the central defense pool is deep and many players who did not make the World Cup team in November are doing well (Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown, Auston Trusty and Miles Robinson will soon be returning) but Rogers had a genuine breakthrough in 2022. He transferred to Rosenborg in February and was a consistent starter. He also was important offensively when he added five goals on the season.
Paxton Pomykal: The FC Dallas midfielder was once one of the top prospects in the U.S. youth national team pool, particularly with the 2019 U-20 World Cup team. But frequent injuries set him back for multiple seasons. In 2022, Pomykol reminded everyone why he was very highly regarded as a young player. This call-up should give him the stage to showcase his progress and contend for a reserve spot on the U.S. team moving forward.