From that group, nine are regulars who played various roles in World Cup Qualifying and fall somewhere on the spectrum of ‘in the mix’ to ‘highly likely’ when it comes to booking a Qatar 2022 plane ticket in November.
“My last game with the national team was I think 2020, so it’s been a couple of years,” Mihailovic said at CFM training. “It’s almost like when I was younger, I didn't really know what it was worth to wear the colors of your country. And when it’s been a long time, it’s a dream again and it’s an honor. I’m grateful for this opportunity again.”
To be precise, that last appearance came in December 2020 – nearly two-and-a-half years ago – during a friendly against El Salvador. He was still a Chicago Fire FC player at the time, then got traded to Montréal a week after the 6-0 drubbing in which he entered as a second-half substitute.
The move has certainly panned out, as Mihailovic is the attacking centerpiece of manager Wilfried Nancy’s side that’s pushing for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. The 23-year-old had 4g/16a a season ago, his first at the Canadian side, and has 6g/4a in 12 league matches this year, producing some Landon Donovan MLS MVP buzz.
Suffice it to say, Mihailovic has earned this chance.
“Coming here [to Montréal] was the best thing for my career,” he said. “I’m not going to look back and have any regrets, because I’m putting all my effort and energy into making the most out of this opportunity.”
There are questions as to how Mihailovic fits into Berhalter’s 4-3-3 system, which operates differently than the 3-4-2-1 Nancy deploys. He’s a ‘raumdeuter’ at the club level on the ‘2’ line, playing in a role similar to what Thomas Mueller has at German Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich. With the USMNT, they typically deploy dual No. 8s and wingers who stretch the field.
Answers could arrive in friendlies against fellow World Cup-bound counties Morocco (June 1) and Uruguay (June 5), then Nations League contests against Grenada (June 10) and El Salvador (June 14). Mihailovic has six caps and one goal at the senior level already.
Naturally, Mihailovic hopes to impress and keep building his case.
“I know that the best way to get back with the national team is to play well, so that’s all I have to focus on – is to keep playing well, to keep doing what they’re asking of me and also what the coach here is asking of me as well,” he said. “That’s going to be my best chance to make it in the World Cup team.”
The USMNT will also play two friendlies in September, amounting to six matches before the World Cup. It’s a small window for MIhailovic and others to enter what Berhalter hopes expands from a 23-man final roster to a 26-man one.
At the World Cup, the Yanks are drawn into Group B alongside England, Iran and the final UEFA playoff winner (one of Ukraine, Wales or Scotland).