United States manager Gregg Berhalter indicated he is eager to see what young forwards Ayo Akinola of Toronto FC and Daryl Dike of Orlando City SC can do in this week's men's national team camp.
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Both players are coming off impressive seasons, with Akinola scoring nine goals in 15 appearances while Dike recorded eight goals and four assists in 17 appearances. Each forward is also eligible to represent multiple teams at international level, with Akinola able to represent Canada and Nigeria while Dike is also able to play for Nigeria.
But the forward position is one where the competition appears to be wide open for the U.S. Last month, Caen striker Nicholas Gioacchini and Telstar forward Sebastian Soto scored their first goals for the U.S. in a 6-2 win over Panama. That's in addition to the likes of Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent, Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore and Columbus Crew SC veteran Gyasi Zardes, all of whom have seen considerable time with the U.S. under Berhalter.
But with the Dec. 9 friendly against El Salvador not taking place within an international window, and with the MLS Cup playoffs going on, Berhalter's options were limited, leaving Akinola and Dike with a chance to impress.
"They certainly have their strengths," said Berhalter about the two forwards. "Ayo has very good movement off the ball, is able to find space, is good running behind the line. Daryl is very powerful. [He's] good running in the penalty box, very, very difficult to play against, a really good hold up player. So these are things that we're going to want, that we're going to ask out of them."
Berhalter added that Dike's size and strength would allow the U.S. to play different than they normally would.
"[Dike] is such a physical presence, and he's a guy you need to get the ball to," the U.S. manager said. "You saw what he did in [Orlando's playoff] game against New England. He made it very hard for the center-backs to play. He was very physical, very aggressive against them. And I felt like they just needed to get him the ball in the box more. So I could imagine that when he's on the field, we would love to get it to him in the penalty box more, either back to goal or on crosses to draw the defenders and perhaps lay off or take them on himself."
Akinola and Dike aren't the only dual nationals in camp, with Berhalter noting that there are eight others. Included in that group is LA Galaxy midfielder Efrain Alvarez. Alvarez is ineligible to play against El Salvador due to the fact that he represented Mexico in official competition at youth level, and has yet to file a one-time switch of association with FIFA.
Berhalter raised some eyebrows when he said that Alvarez wasn't eligible to play for the U.S "today," and added, "It's not necessarily that he can't play next Wednesday."
That seemed to imply that Alvarez had begun the process to switch to the U.S., though when pressed, Berhalter admitted that the process hasn't yet started.
Berhalter did indicate that San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Jackson Yueill is set to join the U.S. camp as soon as he clears the testing protocol for COVID-19. FC Cincinnati midfielder Frankie Amaya wasn't so fortunate. Amaya tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced on the roster by Orlando City midfielder Andrés Perea.
The U.S. manager also confirmed that the team will convene in January for the now annual training camp with a match against an undisclosed opponent at the end of the month.