The United States’ preparation for the 2022 World Cup this November continues with a pair of friendlies during this weekend’s international break, as the USMNT will face Japan on the neutral ground of the Merkur Speil-Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany, the home ground of Fortuna Dusseldorf of the 2.Bundesliga.
The USA-Japan match kicks off at 0826 hrs EDT with coverage on ESPN2 on a glorious Friday morning.
The weekend starts early. pic.twitter.com/aO8NMa0tRT— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) September 22, 2022
Gregg Berhalter has called in largely his first choice group barring several key injuries as the amount of international game minutes between now and the USA’s World Cup opener against Wales might be few and far between. But there are still questions for the USMNT to answer of the next few weeks.
As far as everyone in New England is concerned, this has been Matt Turner’s job since the 2021 Gold Cup. Gregg Berhalter has clearly preferred Zack Steffen but the Man City on-loan to Middlesboro keeper has struggled with injuries and form over the last year and Turner has excelled in net as the top starter.
Turner set a national team record with 11 shutouts in a calendar year for the MNT in addition to his club accolades winning the MLS Supporter’s Shield and MLS GK of the Year. To date, Turner has 13 shutouts in his 18 international appearances.
For your viewing pleasure pic.twitter.com/oh3gwS8dF8— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) September 22, 2022
How many minutes Turner gets with Arsenal over the next few weeks is also crucial, as the Gunners starter is England international Aaron Ramsdale. But between Europa Leauge and cup fixtures upcoming in the Arsenal schedule, I don’t think match sharpness is a big worry for Turner long term.
The backup goalkeepers however, are a question. Steffen dropping down to the Championship hasn’t seen his form improve when healthy, Ethan Horvath seems to be doing pretty well on loan at Luton Town recording a shutout last week, and Sean Johnson is the top MLS veteran with NYCFC.
Unless there’s a major shift in Steffen’s health and form the next two months and barring other injuries, I think these are the three goalkeepers the USA brings to Qatar in two months. I think it would be best to get Turner all 180 minutes against Japan and Saudi Arabia but if Berhalter is going to rotate the squad heavily after playing his starters today, splitting the second game between Horvath and Johnson is also a solid option.
Aaron Long getting a big opportunity to start today next to Walker Zimmerman in central defense is a big deal. Long was ideally penciled in for a starting job last year before a serious injury knocked him out and gave Miles Robinson the nod at the Gold Cup. Now Robinson is out with an major injury and it gives Long a shot to win his job back. Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown are the other centerbacks in camp currently as Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards are unavailable due to injury.
There are centerback spots on the World Cup roster up for grabs though I’m surprised Tim Ream wasn’t called in due to his versatility. The Fulham captain deputized at left back for the Cottagers last week in a win at Nottingham Forest.
Left-back Antonee Robinson isn’t here, which gives Berhalter a chance to figure out who his backup fullbacks are. Sam Vines is getting the nod today and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see backups Joe Scally or Reggie Cannon at some point this week to spell starter Sergino Dest on the right side with DeAndre Yedlin the veteran option if needed.
The midfield is fine, even without Yunus Musah for these games. I don’t know if longshots Johnny Cardoso or Malik Tillman can break into this team before the World Cup but certainly they’ll be around next cycle and it’s nice to see them get a shot. Clearly Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are feeling the pressure...
Tyler Adams & Weston McKennie up next for #USMNT— Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) September 22, 2022
Asked about their chemistry in midfield, Weston says "Tyler does all the running and I do all the playing"
These two, man...LOL
Yeah, I can’t with them either...
What’s not fine is the USMNT’s #9 position. Jordan Pefok not getting called in is a horrifically bad decision from Berhalter. I am of the opinion that due to the tremendous depth and options the USA has on the flanks, that Christian Pulisic should be deployed as a false nine up front to combine with the midfield triangle. The US has struggled to get their lone striker involved in the game outside of pressing, and Pulisic should be stationed in the middle give him free range to be a threat just about anywhere in the final third.
That said, Jesus Ferreria has the inside track for the job right now. He’s scoring with FC Dallas, and has totaled 5 assists with 40 key passes so far this season in MLS. The US can’t afford to play a pure scorer up top that doesn’t get any touches aside from shots. If Pulisic isn’t going to play in the middle, Ferreria is the best of the striker options to get heavily involved in the game since Pefok isn’t here with plethora of goals and assists for Bundesliga leading Union Berlin.
The excuses for Gregg Berhalter not calling up Jordan Pefok sure sound a lot like the ones for John Brooks omission. #USMNT #FutbolAmericas @ESPNPlus— herculez gomez (@herculezg) September 20, 2022
FULL https://t.co/Jd0NNt7r59 @SebiSalazarFUT pic.twitter.com/2GrOJcR890
However, good on Josh Sargent for playing his way back into the mix. A drop down to the Championship with Norwich and minutes up top for the Canaries has done him a lot of good. The US has tons of options at striker/winger like him and Jordan Morris but with the way the US presses with their wings, it’s not surprising to see Paul Arriola here either. With the three extra roster spots on the 26 man roster, Berhalter has the luxury to bring a couple of very specific role players and it’s entirely possible to bring Arriola to Qatar as a late game pressing option off the bench.
With about two hours to go until kickoff, what are you expecting or hoping to see during these two international games for the United States? Leave your thoughts and comments below.