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    Thursday, June 1, 2023

    Balogun on US roster ahead of CONCACAF Nations League, Could Debut

    FILE - Brentford's Christian Norgaard vies for the ball with Arsenal's Folarin Balogun, center, during the English Premier League soccer match between Brentford and Arsenal at the Brentford Community Stadium in London, on Aug. 13, 2021. The United States can select Balogun after the England Under-21 forward who has starred in the French league opted to represent the 2026 World Cup co-host. FIFA said on Tuesday May 16, 2023 it approved a request by the U.S. Soccer Federation to change Balogun’s national eligibility from England. The 21-year-old New York-born player also was eligible for Nigeria. (AP Photo/Ian Walton, File)

    B.J. Callaghan was at home in suburban Chicago last Friday morning when new U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Matt Crocker called and told him Anthony Hudson had quit as interim coach.

    “I was basically packing up my kids, taking my daughter to a lacrosse tournament in North Carolina,” Callaghan said Thursday. “He told me the news and asked me if I was willing to step up.”

    “In professional sports, a lot changes in a short amount of time,” Callaghan added. “We constantly say next man up, next man up. And at this point in time, my number one was called.”

    Striker Folarin Balogun was among 24 players picked by Callaghan for a training camp ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal and could make his national team debut against Mexico on June 15.

    Wingers Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Tim Weah also are on the roster along with goalkeeper Matt Turner and outside back Sergiño Dest, among 13 veterans of last year’s World Cup squad. Pulisic, Reyna, Turner and Dest are coming off club seasons in which they sparingly started, and Weah was played mostly out of position.

    Just four players were picked from Major League Soccer: defenders Mike Robinson and Walker Zimmerman, and goalkeepers Sean Johnson and Drake Callender.

    Hudson was appointed interim coach in January after Gregg Berhalter’s contract expired and Callaghan, hired as an assistant in 2019, remained on staff. A long-term coach isn’t likely to be hired until late summer.

    Callaghan had worked with Hudson on roster selection and knew he was considering club jobs.

    “I certainly didn’t know that it was going to happen this quick,” Callaghan said.

    He also consults with Berhalter.

    “He’s somebody I bounce ideas of off, but in no way would he ever step over the line of telling people who to pick,” Callaghan said.

    Staff is being finalized ahead of training that starts Monday at Carson, California. That is the same day Callaghan must cut the roster to 23 ahead of the defending champion Americans’ matches at Las Vegas. The semifinal winner plays Canada or Panama in the final on June 18.

    Balogun committed to the U.S. last month rather than England or Nigeria. He has 20 goals in 36 league matches for Reims heading into Saturday’s season finale, tied for fourth in Ligue 1.

    Balogun joins a forward group that includes Ricardo Pepi, who scored 12 goals this season for relegated Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie.

    Many of the players will arrive from subpar seasons. Pulisic didn’t score in 20 Chelsea matches after Oct. 8, including 16 in the Premier League. He made just two starts after Jan. 5. Turner was limited to five Europa League and two FA Cup matches all season for Arsenal, playing just once since Jan. 27.

    Reyna started just one match for Dortmund after the World Cup break, on March 27, though he finished the season with seven goals. Weah has played primarily at right back and left back for Lille since the World Cup. Dest didn’t even dress for AC Milan after Jan. 24.

    “I don’t look at it as a challenge,” Callaghan said. “This is almost an opportunity to give them a release, a place where it’s safe for them to be themselves. They can get away from that pressure. They can enjoy themselves. They’re back in the United States enjoying all the things that they’re used to.”

    Captain Tyler Adams is out following hamstring surgery and his backup, Kellyn Acosta, was bypassed because of what appears to be a minor ailment.

    Defender Tim Ream will miss the matches because of a broken right arm. Defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (knee surgery) and midfielder Malik Tillman (hamstring) also are sidelined along with forwards Daryl Dike (right Achilles) and Josh Sargent, and goalkeepers Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta has a minor injury.

    Timmy Tillman, Malik’s older brother, was bypassed. He switched affiliation to the U.S. from Germany last month.

    Callender and Josh Cohen, another backup goalkeeper, join Balogun as players on the roster with no national team experience.

    A different squad, primarily from MLS, will be used for the CONCACAF Gold Cup starting June 24.

    “It’s our responsibility to have as many players exposed to high-level knockout stage, group stage-type of environments,” Callaghan said.

    The roster:

    Goalkeepers: Drake Callender (Miami), Josh Cohen (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Sean Johnson (Toronto), Matt Turner (Arsenal, England)

    Defenders: Sergiño Dest (AC Milan, Italy), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace, England), Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England), Miles Robinson (Atlanta), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Auston Trusty (Birmingham, England), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)

    Midfielders: Johnny Cardoso (Internacional, Brazil), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo, Spain), Weston McKennie (Leeds, England), Yunus Musah (Valencia, Spain), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Alan Soñora (Juárez, Mexico)

    Forwards: Brenden Aaronson (Leeds, England), Folarin Balogun (Reims, France), Taylor Booth (Utrecht, Netherlands), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen, Netherlands), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, England), Tim Weah (Lille, France), Alex Zendejas (América, Mexico). -AP

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