Tomorrow, US Soccer will unveil its 26-player roster that will take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar beginning on November 20th.
The roster is coming.— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) October 13, 2022
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The USA has been drawn into Group B alongside England, Wales, and Iran and look to make a strong return to the international stage after missing out in 2018. Going back to 1990, the USA has qualified for 8 of the last 9 tournaments and has advanced out of the group stage four times with their best showing a quarterfinals appearance in 2002 in the Korea/Japan edition.
Gregg Berhalter however has many questions to answer with his roster and depth chart and we will get some of those answers tomorrow. Specifically the biggest roster questions will be at centerback, left back, and striker as injuries and form have hampered the US down the stretch as they prepare for the World Cup.
Below is who I think Gregg Berhalter will bring to the World Cup based off their experience with the national team over the last year or so and club form. There’s a lot of variables to this list and while I prefer players who can play multiple spots, Berhalter’s preferred system has been fairly rigid over the past couple of years which might allow more specialized role players to make the final cut.
Three players I’m going to designate with a utility tag (^) are essentially the extra three players that might not have made a standard 23-player roster in years past, which for the USMNT’s 4-3-3 would have been three keepers, eight defenders, six midfielders and six attackers in total. These are the players who I think are the most likely to not be on the plane but are extremely strong candidates for final roster. Alas, even if there was a 30-man squad, there would still be players on the outside looking in and a never ending debate of who should be on the plane to Qatar next week.
GK: Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, Sean Johnson
Obviously we stan Matt Turner as the #1 goalkeeper for the USA but his groin injury has kept him out of Europa League action for Arsenal the past couple of weeks. Steffen to his credit has had a solid run of form with Middlesbrough in recent weeks after a rough start to the season. Sean Johnson grabs the third spot over Ethan Horvath merely over familiarity with the national team during this cycle but it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Horvath in Qatar.
Only real question mark in this group is whether or not Berhalter sticks with his guy in Steffen who has not be great for the US the last couple of years or Turner who spearheaded the bulk of qualifying and the Gold Cup win last year. Turner started the last two USMNT games with Steffen unavailable, a 2-0 loss to Japan and a 0-0 draw to Saudi Arabia in two games where the US attack struggled mightily to create chances.
FB: Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon
CB: Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream^
Sam Vines’ significant injury on the eve of the World Cup means the US likely goes into the World Cup without a true left back option behind Jedi Robinson and, honestly, that’s fine. Neither Vines or George Bello or anyone else the MNT have put at left back not named Antonee Robinson have done all that well at the spot. Dest can deputize over there just fine as can Tim Ream and Yedlin and Cannon are options on the right hand side so there’s enough options in case of heavy rotation.
Ream gets the utility tag and probably should have been with the US team much more frequently after the injury to Miles Robinson and probably just in general because he’s the captain of an EPL team and a young crop of backline players could gain a lot from his veteran presence. Ream might not have a high ceiling internationally but I know where his floor is and it’s pretty solid. At this point, it’s a take your pick after Zimmerman for the centerback depth chart with either EPB or CCV the odd man out after Long and McKenzie featured as a platoon in the last window of games. James Sands a potential longshot here but doesn’t have an appearance in 2022 but would’ve been a solid candidate in my book for one of the utility spots with his CDM coverage.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS (6)
DM: Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta
CM: Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Malik Tillman, Cristian Roldan*
We know the standard starting midfield triangle for the USMNT in Adams-McKennie-Musah with Acosta as the deputy in the holding midfield spot. The US should have enough cover with some of their wingers like Pulisic, Gio, or even Aaronson being able to drop in the midfield fairly easily though on paper it feels a little thin.
Roldan gets the asterisk for Luca De La Torre in case the Celta Vigo man is ruled out for the tournament but it would be LDLT’s spot if he’s healthy. Ideally, I would like to bring an additional utility midfielder like Roldan or Djordje Mihailovic due to the 26-man roster but the struggles for the USA up top take precedence over the insurance depth in the back of the midfield. The US hasn’t looked great with a double holding midfield pivot anyway so I don’t mind loading up with the extra attackers and I think Berhalter will do the same.
Tillman doesn’t get the utility tag despite being the least experienced in this group internationally with just four caps but he featured off the bench against both Japan and Saudi Arabia so I’d like to think he’s on the final roster and is a solid like-for-like sub with McKennie or Musah in a more aggressive/attacking central midfield role.
Wings: Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna
Strikers: Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent^, Jordan Morris^
Yes, I’m bringing four strikers to the World Cup for a team that only uses one. Because I want as many potential hot hands to ride as often as possible because that’s how bad the situation is for the USA. Ideally I’d have a Jordan Pefok or Daryl Dike as more of a target man to alternate with the more standard advanced striker the US tends to use in Pepi and Ferreira, but if Berhalter wasn’t going to call up Pefok last month when he was in blistering form with Union Berlin in Germany, he’s probably not going to get the call tomorrow.
Sargent and Morris grab the last two utility/extra spots being that they can operate as both a striker and winger and under normal circumstances, it would be hard to justify bringing all four strikers for essentially one spot. Paul Arriola could very easily be on this roster over Morris, but with the USA’s struggles up top, I don’t think they have the luxury to bring Arriola despite the MLS veteran being an excellent sub option for Aaronson as a pressing menace out wide in particular. Striker is the most volatile and under preforming group in the pool right now but part of that is Berhalter’s style not getting them involved enough. We’ll focus on that more next week in the full USMNT preview.
What are your thoughts on the players above? Obviously there’s going to be some snubs and disappointment as players are left home. Who does Berhalter bring and start at centerback next to Zimmerman? Can the US survive without a true backup for Jedi? Will any primary striker score at the World Cup? We’ll find out in a few weeks when the USA kicks off against Wales on November 21st at 2pm Eastern.
Leave your thoughts on the potential roster below and tune in to ESPN2 or ESPN+ tomorrow at 5pm EDT for the full roster announcement from US Soccer.