Josh Sargent recalled when coach John Hackworth greeted the U.S. Under-17s at breakfast in India last month and told players the American national team failed to qualify for next year's World Cup.
"Everybody thought he was joking," the-17-year-old forward said. "We all like giggled and were like, yeah, OK, what was the score? What really happened? He was like, no, I swear, everything that could have possibly went wrong went wrong, and we're not in qualifying. And everybody was just completely shocked. And I don't think anybody said one word in that breakfast."
Following its Caribbean collapse, the U.S. overhauled its roster for Tuesday's exhibition against Portugal in Leiera. Coach Bruce Arena quit and was replaced for this game by his top assistant, Dave Sarachan.
Sargent could become the first to play for the U.S. Under-17, Under-20 and national team in the same year. He is among five players who could make their national team debuts, joined by defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (19), midfielders Tyler Adams (18) and Weston McKennie (19), and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez (22).
Twelve of the 21 players have made three international appearances or fewer.
"I think all the young players here have a lot of potential and could go on to big things in the careers," said Carter-Vickers, a son of former NBA player Howard Carter.
Still, Sarachan thinks change should be tempered.
"I don't think it's a situation where we at U.S. Soccer now have to blow up the template and start from scratch," he said.
Christian Pulisic , the 19-year-old midfielder who played a role in 12 of the 17 U.S. goals during the final round of qualifying, was given time to rest. He was not included on the roster and most veterans were dropped, including all whose teams reached the semifinals of Major League Soccer's playoffs. MLS players figure to dominate the roster for a training camp ahead of the next match, an exhibition against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Jan. 28 at Carson, California.
It has not been decided whether the U.S. will hold its annual January training camp in Carson, California, a process that started in 2004.
A native of O'Fallon, Missouri, Sargent scored five goals at the Under-20 World Cup, agreed to sign with Werder Bremen when he turns 18 on Feb. 20, then had three goals at the Under-17 World Cup.
"It's been a crazy year," he said. "Very surreal. I understand that I've been performing well, but the fact that it's gone from the 17s to the 20s to the first team now, it's been happening so fast I can't even keep up with it."
McKennie left FC Dallas' youth academy last year to sign with Schalke, made his debut May 20 as a 77th-minute substitute on final day of the season, and has made six starts and four substitute appearances this season. The U.S. Soccer Federation posted a photo Friday of a 7-year-old McKennie meeting Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra before a March 2006 exhibition against Poland at Kaiserslautern, Germany, where McKennie was living when his father was stationed at Ramstein Air Base.
"It's been exciting, getting to meet some of the players I watched and have seen play and that you hear about on TV and social media," he said. 'I've always wanted to play for the senior national team. To get my first cap would be a big steppingstone in my future."
Carter-Vickers trained with the national team in November 2016, when a home loss to Mexico and a defeat at Costa Rica created a deficit in qualifying the Americans could not overcome. Part of Tottenham's academy since he was 10, he played in four cup matches for the first team in 2016-17, but could not become a regular. Spurs lent him to second-tier Sheffield United this season, and he's played in eight matches.
"It's definitely colder than London, but it's been good," he said. "It's a different experience for me. I never really lived anywhere that far away from London before."
Gonzalez, who rose through FC Dallas' academy to make his first-team debut in 2015, became the team's regular this year. He was a reserve for the knockout stage of this year's Gold Cup after his switch from Mexico to the U.S. was approved by FIFA. He's competing for this week's starting spot with 26-year-old Bill Hamid, who has three international appearances over five years, and 22-year-old Ethan Horvath, whose lone appearance was an exhibition against Cuba in October 2016.
Adams, from Wappingers Falls, New York, joined the Red Bulls academy in 2011, started getting playing time for Red Bulls II in the third-tier United Soccer League in 2015, and scored for the first team in an exhibition against Chelsea that summer. He made his Major League Soccer debut in April 2016 against San Jose, then became a regular this year, appearing in 24 of 34 league matches.
"There's a lot of opportunity on the table for the people that have gotten called into this camp," he said. "I think that a lot of the guys that you might see in this camp right now could play a big role in the future."