By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 9, 2024) US Soccer Players – USMNT January camps have been a doorway of opportunity for many players over the decades. That’s doubly so for the 2024 edition. As the group trains in Orlando this week and next ahead of a friendly vs Slovenia in San Antonio on January 20, evaluations will take place for both the full national team and the predominantly Under-23 side which will represent the United States at this summer’s Olympic Games in France.
Fifteen of those called in by Gregg Berhalter this month are first-time call-ups to the senior squad: Josh Atencio, Esmir Bajraktarevic, Nathan Harriel, Aziel Jackson, Bernard Kamungo, Diego Luna, Jack McGlynn, Duncan McGuire, Ian Murphy, Jackson Ragen, Patrick Schulte, Nkosi Tafari, Timmy Tillman, Brian White, and Sean Zawadzki. Atencio, Bajraktarevic, Cade Cowell, Harriel, Jackson, Kamungo, Luna, McGlynn, McGuire, Aidan Morris, Schulte, John Tolkin, and Caleb Wiley are Olympic age-eligible. Here’s a look at this camp’s new faces.
Drake Callender: While Inter Miami’s shot stopper has now taken part in several USMNT camps and earned a Concacaf Nations League winner’s medal last year, he’s still in search of his first cap. After a distinguished NCAA career at Cal, the tall Northern California native’s rights were traded from the San Jose Earthquakes to Miami in 2019, and he became a regular starter in 2022. Callender rocketed to wider prominence in the Herons’ run to the ‘23 Leagues Cup trophy, named the tournament’s top ‘keeper after both scoring and making the key save in the final round of the championship final’s penalty shootout.
Roman Celentano: Still just 23, the Chicagoland native arrives in Orlando for his first national team experience at any age level after backstopping FC Cincinnati’s run to the ‘23 Supporters’ Shield. A prime example of the talent that remains in the modern MLS SuperDraft, Celentano turned heads by winning Cincinnati’s starting job as a rookie in 2022 with maturity, agility, and confident command of his box. Last season brought another step forward. He posted a goals against per 90 minutes of just 1.12, among the league’s best, and won the 2023 MLS Save of the Year for a game-saving stop in a May rivalry win over the Columbus Crew.
Patrick Schulte: Another rising young goalkeeper, Schulte’s stellar work in the Crew’s title run means he’s already an MLS Cup winner at age 22. He got there by shining for Crew 2 in MLS Next Pro in 2022 with strong shot-stopping and calm distribution. Schulte earned that league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award as the Ohio side not only won the title but also advanced him and several others on to head coach Wilfried Nancy’s first-team squad. As a teenager the St Charles, Missouri product played for now-defunct USL Championship club Saint Louis FC on an academy contract, earning a US U-20s callup, before three standout college seasons at SLU.
Nathan Harriel: The latest arrival in the pipeline from the Philadelphia Union academy to the USMNT, Harriel is a lockdown fullback who signed a homegrown contract in 2020 and worked his way into the Union rotation as the club hunted multiple trophies in recent seasons. The Florida native can play on both flanks, is dominant in the air, and took part in multiple levels of the youth national team system earlier in his career.
Ian Murphy: Drafted by Cincinnati 12 picks after Celentano in the first round of that 2022 draft, Murphy has developed ahead of schedule much like his teammate. The 23-year-old Californian is a left-footed center back who’s played in more than 60 matches for FCC in his first two professional seasons, a key defensive figure in the club’s dramatic turnaround from worst to first in MLS in less than two years. Murphy was an NCAA standout over four seasons at Duke, and also spent time in US Soccer’s Bradenton Residency Program at U-17 level.
Jackson Ragen: One of the breakthrough contributors for the Seattle Sounders over the past two years, Ragen has grown into a dependable center back amid stiff competition for minutes at one of MLS’s top clubs. Possessing both athleticism and technique, he helped the Sounders become the first US club to win Concacaf Champions League in the modern era, then notched 32 starts and four assists as an everyday starter in ‘23. Ragen is a Seattle native who spent time in the Sounders academy before starring at the University of Michigan, then honing his trade at Tacoma Defiance, Seattle’s second team.
Nkosi Tafari: After a college career that started at Connecticut and ended at Seattle University, the New Yorker showed his potential on North Texas SC, FC Dallas’s second team, as a rookie in 2020. He’s now a dominant MLS center back with an eye for a pass over the ensuing three seasons. The name on the back of his jersey changed from “Burgess” in 2021, as he decided to go by his middle name, Tafari, to celebrate his African heritage.
Josh Atencio: In recent years the Sounders have invested significantly in their youth development structures, and Atencio’s rise represents a notable return on that. The central midfielder first turned heads as an outstanding performer at the 2018 and ‘19 Generation adidas Cup youth tournaments, helping earn a homegrown contract. He climbed the ranks at second-team level before becoming a regular starter in 2021, distributing cleanly and covering plenty of ground on both sides of the ball.
Aziel Jackson: Jackson was one of many pleasant surprises in St. Louis City SC’s debut season, carving out extensive minutes as a playmaker able to create as well as defend in the expansion club’s high-tempo pressing approach. It was the breakthrough Jackson had sought at several different clubs as a teenager, including New York Red Bulls, France’s Toulouse and Minnesota United. An avid artist and musician in his spare time, Jackson is the heir to a highly respected musical family, as both his grandfather Ali and father Ali Jr. are jazz virtuosos, the former on bass and the latter on drums.
Jack McGlynn: Another Union academy alum, McGlynn has gained plaudits for his vision and passing range for both club and country. The 20-year-old center mid brought a new facet to Philly’s engine room, particularly on their run to an epic MLS Cup final in 2022. He was also a standout for the US U-20s in both the Concacaf qualifying tournament and last year’s U-20 World Cup, where the Yanks reached the quarterfinals. He’s dual-eligible for Ireland thanks to his Dublin-born father Paul, currently a coach at NISA club Savannah Clovers.
Timmy Tillman: The USMNT is a family affair for LAFC’s German-American box-to-box midfielder. Timmy is the older brother of Malik, currently at PSV, and should he earn his first cap, they will become the 10th brother pair to represent the US. The two climbed the ranks together at Greuther Furth and Bayern Munich during their teens, and both played in the German youth national team ranks before filing eligibility switches to represent the Stars and Stripes. Initially regarded as a wing prospect, Timmy evolved into a #8 over time. His engine and decision-making was key in LAFC’s run to both the Concacaf Champions League and MLS Cup finals in 2023, his first season in MLS.
Sean Zawadzki: One of three Crew players to get the nod for this camp, Zawadzki is a homegrown defensive midfielder who was shifted to center back last season when Wilfried Nancy and his staff were shorthanded in that area, adding a new wrinkle to his skill set. He signed with Columbus after helping Georgetown win the 2019 College Cup, amid myriad individual honors at NCAA level. Like Schulte, he benefited greatly from experience developed with Crew 2, one of the most successful programs in the early years of MLS Next Pro. During his academy years, Zawadzki and his family showed dedication to commute some 130 miles each way to Columbus from their home in Olmsted Falls, outside Cleveland.
Esmir Bajraktarevic: The youngest member of the January roster, Bajraktarevic, 18, is actually young enough to be eligible for both the 2024 and 2028 Olympic cycles. A clever passer who can also clinically finish scoring moves himself, he hails from Wisconsin, where his parents took refuge from the violence in their Bosnia and Herzegovina homeland. He moved to Massachusetts to join the New England Revolution academy’s residency program in the summer of 2021 and signed a homegrown contract within a year, showing promise in multiple attacking positions.
Bernard Kamungo: Born in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, Kamungo and his family resettled in the small Texas city of Abilene when he was 14 and embarked on their own version of the American dream. He spoke little English on arrival and had never even played on a grass field, let alone organized soccer. Yet Kamungo’s journey fostered rare skill and flair on the ball. FCD scouts took immediate notice when his brother drove him to Frisco to take part in an open tryout three years ago. By the end of 2023 he had blossomed into an impact MLS player, scoring six goals in just 495 regular-season minutes and earning a US U-23s call-up.
Diego Luna: Another US U-20s standout, Luna grew up in a soccer-mad family in Northern California, with his father, sister and brothers all involved in both playing and coaching, an immersive environment that helped him develop skills and creativity at a young age. Despite earning a place in the San Jose Earthquakes academy, he left home to join the Barça Residency Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona, then moving on to USL Championship club El Paso Locomotive for his first pro deal. Real Salt Lake acquired him in 2022 in a transfer that set a new record for USL-to-MLS transactions. USMNT great Pablo Mastroeni has helped Luna round out his toolkit at RSL, with dedicated defensive work in addition to his creative gifts.
Duncan McGuire: Even though the Creighton product won the Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s top performer in 2022, few expected him to thrive so quickly in MLS after Orlando City drafted him with the sixth overall pick of last year’s SuperDraft. Showcasing both savvy hold-up play and finishing instincts, McGuire won the starting striker job ahead of established veterans, scoring 13 goals and three assists in league play as the Lions finished second in the overall MLS standings. The Omaha native also showed well in the US U-23s’ October camp, coming off the bench to score against Japan in a 4-1 friendly win in Arizona.
Brian White: The New Jersey-born forward showed substantial promise in front of goal during his NCAA days at Duke and at multiple levels of the New York Red Bulls system. He really came into his own, however, following a trade from RBNY to the Vancouver Whitecaps in June of 2021, where he soon struck up a productive partnership with Scottish playmaker Ryan Gauld. Strong enough to do the work of a target striker while also quick and clever with his movement, White has racked up 39 goals and 12 assists in 101 appearances across all competitions for the Canadian club.
Photo by Melinda Meijer – ISIPhotos.com