The World Cup is now less than three months away and ASN’s Brian Sciaretta makes his prediction as to what the USMNT roster will look like.
August 09, 2022
PREDICTING THE WORLD CUP roster is always tricky but the truth is that this World Cup should be a little bit easier to predict. In normal cycles, the World Cup comes at the end of the European season and in the middle of the MLS season, then coaches have a full month with the team to build a cohesive unit. This year, that is completely upside down.
The United States will play its first game of the World Cup six days after the clubs break for the tournament. There is no month-long preparation or pre-World Cup friendlies. The September international window will have to be a mix of preparation and giving players last looks.
The likelihood that players completely on the fringes of the player pool make the team is small. There is a chance, but it is small. There is more of a need for players to be familiar with the team by the time November hits.
For the U.S. team, I can see a few surprises – but not many. The World Cup team is probably going to be mostly familiar faces dating back to the Nations League in 2021 and through the most recent June window. Most of the surprises will come at back-up positions.
Here is the ASN predicted 26-man roster – knowing that the situation remains very fluid.
1) Matt Turner
2) Zack Steffen
3) Sean Johnson
In the mix: Ethan Horvath, Gaga Slonina
Summary: We all know the issues. Steffen and Johnson had bad weekends. Turner is a backup. Horvath didn’t even have to make a save last weekend and has played few games over the past four years. Slonina is still green. People can essentially make arguments for or against anyone.
But Turner and Steffen were there throughout the past year when the games mattered. They’re going. Sean Johnson was there for most of World Cup qualifying and performed well in June. He’s also the third goalkeeper and is extremely unlikely to play in Qatar.
4) Sergino Dest
5) Antonee Robinson
6) Reggie Cannon
7) DeAndre Yedlin
In the mix: Sam Vines, Joe Scally, John Tolkin, George Bello
Summary: Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson are going as the presumptive starters. It’s fair to question whether Dest will be in form as the minutes do not appear to be there for him at Barcelona. He’ll start, but is he going to be one of the team’s best players, as expected? Berhalter has occasionally not brought a true backup left back as Dest has the potential to slide over to that side. It’s not ideal, but unless Sam Vines can convince otherwise, Berhalter might bring both Cannon and Yedlin. Cannon is playing well at Boavista but more as a right center-back in a three-man backline. Yedlin still boasts experience and leadership for that backup job.
8) Chris Richards
9) Walker Zimmerman
10) Cameron Carter-Vickers
11) Aaron Long
In the Mix: Erik Palmer-Brown, James Sands, John Brooks, Tim Ream, Mark McKenzie, Matt Miazga
Summary: The injury to Miles Robinson opened the door since he was a key part of qualifying. Zimmerman has been too important for too long to suggest he’s not going. Chris Richards has started when healthy. He’s likely to go, but will he play at Crystal Palace? The June window opened the door for Erik Palmer-Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers.
There is room for one of Ream and Palmer-Brown to sneak into the team but it might require Richards simply not playing at all, Long and the Red Bulls continuing to struggle, or an injury. There is also the unlikely situation that Berhalter takes a fifth central defender.
12) Tyler Adams
13) Kellyn Acosta
14) Weston McKennie
15) Luca de la Torre
16) Yunus Musah
17) Cristian Roldan
18) Brenden Aaronson
19) Gio Reyna
In the Mix: Richard Ledezma, Eryk Williamson, Gianluca Busio
Summary: There are a lot of locks here. Adams is the starting No. 6 and Acosta is the backup. Musah and McKennie have rounded out an effective starting trio. Aaronson has been both a winger and a midfielder (most recently a midfielder), and Reyna is also a No. 10, winger, or a false No. 9. Reyna continues to miss a lot of time – so while he will likely go to Qatar, the amount of minutes he can log are in question.
De la Torre and Roldan have been backups for most of qualifying. Roldan can plug into different roles and seldomly plays much anymore, but he has had a good season for Seattle and Berhalter appreciates his tenacity off the bench if needed. De la Torre has had a good run with the national team and should make it although it remains to be seen if he will play much at Celta Vigo after a rough ending to his 2021/22 season with Heracles.
20) Christian Pulisic
21) Tim Weah
22) Jordan Morris
23) Paul Arriola
24) Jesus Ferreira
25) Jordan Pefok
26) Brandon Vazquez
In the Mix: Malik Tillman, Ricardo Pepi, Haji Wright, Daryl Dike, Matthew Hoppe, Jeremy Ebobisse, Josh Sargent, Konrad de la Fuente.
Summary: For almost the entire cycle, Weah and Pulisic have been the starting wingers when healthy. Reyna, Aaronson, Arriola and Morris have been the backups. But with Aaronson likely now playing more in the midfield and Reyna still in question over when he will be able to start regularly, Arriola and Morris are the best bets to backup right now. Malik Tillman is raising his game right now and that could change things. But the tiebreak still goes to the incumbents.
At center forward, it is tough to read because no one has claimed the job. Pepi and Sargent have struggled. Matthew Hoppe looks more like an Olympic player at the moment after a lost season at Mallorca and now a likely loan to Middlesbrough.
Ferreira, Pefok, and Vazquez are the hottest three right now. Ferreira is a different kind of forward who looks to combine with wingers and make plays. Pefok is a straight finisher and while his last time with the USMNT went poorly, a strong start to the season with Union Berlin could open doors. Vazquez would be the most surprising pick on the roster as he has never played with the USMNT before. But he’s amid an outstanding season that should give him a look in September as a “last look” opportunity. It remains to be seen if he makes the team, but watching him this season, he looks the part.
Bubble Watch: Trending Up
These are some players not on the roster above, but who are trending in the right direction to move into the inside of the bubble.
Malik Tillman: He only played a few inconsequential games for Bayern Munich last season and his USMNT debut was lackluster as he was trying to play through an injury. But he’s off to a strong start to the season with Rangers. He could take a spot either on the wings or in midfield.
Tim Ream: The oldest player in the USMNT pool, Ream had a great season in the Championship in 2021/22 and might start in the Premier League at the beginning of this season. If Issa Diop replaces him in the starting lineup, he’s in a tough spot. But he was the captain in Fulham’s opener against Liverpool and played well. Having a veteran another veteran on the World Cup roster wouldn’t hurt.
Sam Vines: The former Colorado Rapid left back is off to a strong start this season where he has started for a Royal Antwerp team that has nine points from three games in Belgium’s top-flight. As of now, he’s the second-best pure left back in the pool after Robinson. The question for Vines is convincing Berhalter that the back-up left back spot needs to go to a pure left back as opposed to sliding over a right back in Dest (or maybe even Scally).
Joe Scally: Scally made 30 Bundesliga appearances in 2021/22 with Borussia Monchengladbach and he played well in the 2022/23 opener. He can play both on the right and left sides, although he is primarily a right back. His versatility helps his case here. The back-up left back spot is unclaimed and being able to play both should give comfort to Berhalter that he has adequate cover. If he’s viewed strictly as a right back, it gets harder for him as Cannon has been with the team much longer and hasn’t played poorly at all for club or country. Cannon has been consistent over the past year and doesn’t appear as if he’ll be overtaken.
Bubble Watch: Trending down
John Brooks: In every single one of his press conferences over the past 10 months, Gregg Berhalter has been asked about the absence of John Brooks. Brooks had an up and down season in 2021/22 with Wolfsburg, but some argued he was still among the best players in the player pool. That’s irrelevant now. Wherever anyone stands on that side of the debate anymore, Brooks is not in a good spot – by any standard.
It’s his own fault too. Heading into the middle of August, Brooks has now been without a club since May 14th, when Wolfsburg’s season concluded. Brooks has also been able to sign with any club since January. He’s missed the entire European preseason. This is coming at a time when all players throughout the pool are doing whatever they can to make their best case to make the World Cup team. Brooks has done nothing.
Even if he signs with a club now, when will he be fit to play? Will he immediately unseat the starters? If he was on the margins over the past year, how is he going to put himself on the inside of the bubble after missing preseason come mid-August?
Gianluca Busio: Playing now in Serie B, Busio has slipped a little bit in the depth chart and Venezia has been unconvincing this preseason that they’re going to be among the best in Serie B. Deciding to remain with Venezia probably hurts his World Cup chances although it’s better for his long-term growth. Fighting in Italy’s second tier for the club that owns his contract (avoiding the loan army) is going to help him. He needs to add more physicality and defense to his game.
George Bello: Bello has been the regular backup left back for most of the past cycle although he has probably lost his grip. Even last year, Sam Vines was the better left back between the two at the Gold Cup. But Bello was struggling at the end of his final season in Atlanta, his time at Arminia Bielefeld has not gone well. Now with the club relegated in to the 2.Bundesliga, the start to his season in Germany’s second tier hasn’t gone well as he isn’t the starter to begin 2022/23.