The US men’s national team roster is in for next month’s trio of qualifiers, which see the US host Jamaica on October 7, head down to Panama three days later and then come back home to face Costa Rica three days after that.
Like you guys, I’ve only just seen the 27-man roster Gregg Berhalter called in. Here are some topline reactions:
By the end of the first round of qualifiers the US were without Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie, who most folks would argue are four of the top five players in the pool. Zack Steffen, who’d entered the qualifiers as the No. 1 ‘keeper, was also gone after contracting COVID-19. Yunus Musah, Gyasi Zardes, Sam Vines, Daryl Dike, Tim Weah, Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris were all various degrees of injured, to say nothing of Aaron Long’s long-term injury.
Chris Richards, Shaq Moore, Bryan Reynolds and Reggie Cannon, each of whom are obvious contenders to be on any gameday roster (or starting XI, even) weren’t injured, but given their lack of club playing time they understandably weren’t called in.
You could make an excellent gameday 18 out of that group. The first three games of this cycle were disappointing for the US in various ways, but it’s worth remembering they were playing through an almost incomprehensible avalanche of injuries, absences and one very important suspension.
The good news is almost everybody from the above list is back, and we’ve rapidly reached the point where Berhalter is spoiled for choice. Most of those who aren’t a part of this October camp are missing because they’re further down the depth chart, not because they’re carrying knocks.
Still, Pulisic and Reyna in particular are big misses. That’s $100 million worth of talent right there. Morris and Long are still rehabbing (Morris is close; Long isn’t) and with Cannon still not getting any playing time (that Boavista move has turned into a rolling disaster), it’s no surprise to see him omitted from this roster.
This one’s simple: Last time, Berhalter brought four fullbacks and this time he brought five. Last time he brought four central midfielders along with the misguided notion that playing Brenden Aaronson there against El Salvador was a good idea, and that Kellyn Acosta was as effective as a No. 8 as he’d been in the Gold Cup as a No. 6.
Given the guys who he brought this time, he has learned his lesson. There are now five fullbacks and six No. 8s.
September’s roster had some weird holes. This one doesn’t; it’s damn near perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Sixteen players made their World Cup qualifying debuts last time. SIXTEEN IN ONE WINDOW!!!
Not all of them were up for it, but most of them were, and it stands to reason the on-the-job knowhow gained from the September window will help ease the transition back into international play for the October window and beyond.
There will be new debuts this time as well, though far fewer. Richards is the biggest one for me – I will be zero percent surprised if we leave this three-game set with Richards and Miles Robinson as the first-choice CB combo – though I’m also looking forward to Musah and Weah, both of whom are potential starters in the short- and long-term.
Again: Berhalter’s about to be spoiled for choice. One thing even his biggest critics have to admit is he’s done a wonderful job of recruiting, and now the main job is to do as wonderful a job of integrating all this talent, keeping the legs fresh and getting more out of the collective than he managed in the first window.
Ok here’s the roster:
- Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
- Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
- Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Turner’s something close to being the undisputed No. 1, though over the past 10 days he’s gone through the roughest patch I’ve seen from him in his MLS career with regard to shot-stopping. He even said as much after this weekend’s 2-1 win over Orlando City, a result he ultimately preserved with a late PK save on Nani (he’s now 9-for-19 saving pens in his career):
But it’s still got to be his job given the other two guys who’d been in that chase – Steffen and Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest) – have only played one game each over the past month, and both made serious errors (Steffen’s was smaller than Horvath’s, which was a true howler) when they did.
They’ve got to find situations where they can play themselves into the job at some point. The lack of game action has apparently cost Horvath his job for this camp at the very least, and nobody should have any problem with that.
Missed the cut
I’ll say straight-up I’d be more comfortable if Brad Guzan (Atlanta United) was on this roster instead of Johnson. Guzan’s not the ‘keeper he was four years ago – if he’d started in Couva, the US would’ve qualified for Russia 2018 – but he’s experienced, in excellent form and is generally mistake-free. Johnson was excellent in 2020, but has been below his usual standard in 2021.
Horvath is the other big omission here, obviously.
- George Bello (Atlanta United)
- Sergino Dest (FC Barcelona)
- Shaq Moore (CD Tenerife)
- Antonee Robinson (Fulham FC)
- DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray)
I know Dest has played on the left the past couple weeks for Barca, and can do so at times for the US. But I’d really, really like to see Berhalter resist the urge and just give him 180 minutes as a right back in this camp. Moore and Yedlin, in some order, are the back-ups.
With Vines still hurt, Bello is the obvious backup LB, and my guess is he’ll start at least one match this window.
Missed the cut
Kevin Paredes (D.C. United) is in better form than Bello right now, and Berhalter has name-checked him in the past as a guy he’s paying attention to.
But the real omission is young Joe Scally (Borussia Moenchengladbach), who’s walked into the XI and contributed on each side for a very good Bundesliga team. I am genuinely shocked he wasn’t on this roster as a 3rd-choice option at both spots, even given Berhalter's preference for players who've been in camps and know the system.
Also: Aaron Herrera (RSL) is third in MLS with nine assists! He’s been excellent.
One more: Note there’s no Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy) in this roster. He’d previously turned down call-ups for both the Gold Cup and the September World Cup qualifying window.
I don’t know if he was once again called in and once again declined, or if Berhalter has read the room and moved on. But it really seems like Araujo’s future is going to be Green, as opposed to Red, White & Blue.
- Mark McKenzie (Genk)
- John Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg)
- Tim Ream (Fulham FC)
- Chris Richards (1899 Hoffenheim)
- Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
The No. 1 job of this camp is to collect as many points as possible – it’s got to be a seven-point window, hopefully nine.
The No. 2 job is to bottle the attacking shape and intent of the second half of the 4-1 win at Honduras and prove that Berhalter’s system can generate lots of quality chances.
And the No. 3 job is to integrate Richards as much as possible. He should start at least one game (I’m hoping for two). He is a massively important piece of the puzzle for the US over the next 14 months, but also potentially over the next 10 years.
Missed the cut
The only thing surprising about this is the omission of Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC). I’d have him no lower than fourth on the depth chart, and against certain teams (Costa Rica’s just begging for it) I’d put him and Robinson out there to annihilate all comers on set pieces.
I strongly believe the US would’ve gotten three points from El Salvador if Berhalter had taken that approach.
For what it's worth, I strongly hope King Henry Kessler (New England Revolution) gets properly introduced to Concacaf someday:
- Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
- Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids)
Berhalter got the squad rotation wrong last time, which meant Adams had to play all 270 minutes. He can’t make that mistake again given Adams immediately went back to Germany, picked up a muscle injury and hasn’t played for 10 days (though it was a relief to see him get 12 minutes vs. Brugge on Tuesday).
That means Acosta’s got to start at least one game as a true No. 6. This isn’t a hard decision to make – he was great there in the Gold Cup knockout rounds, including a Man of the Match performance vs. Mexico in the final.
Missed the cut
James Sands (NYCFC) has looked exhausted and in poor form for the past month, but I’d argue his best showing during that time was the first 30 minutes of the second half of the win in Honduras when he played as an honest-to-god No. 6 in a 4-3-3. He’s rarely getting to play that role for club or country these days, which I think has contributed to him being out of sorts.
Still, if Adams picks up an injury Berhalter better have Sands on speed dial to get him into the camp.
Beyond him there’s nobody, really. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though, that Matt Polster (New England Revolution) gets a call-up to the expanded January camp ahead of those qualifiers. He’s earned it with his club play, and building just a touch more No. 6 depth should be somewhere on Berhalter’s priority list.
- Gianluca Busio (Venezia)
- Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo)
- Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)
- Weston McKennie (Juventus)
- Yunus Musah (Valencia)
- Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Welcome back, Wes! Hope he understands there’s no +1 for this get-together.
Lletget and Roldan have obviously earned it, and continue to earn it, with their play for club and country. Lletget is likely to start one or two games this camp.
Hopefully the same goes for Musah, who is one of my two favorite players in the entire player pool (along with Paxton Pomykal). His combination of ball-winning, ball-security and ball progression is just… \\chef’s kiss\\. Unfortunately he doesn’t get to play in central midfield for Valencia at all so we don’t get to see that on the club level, but I will continue to hang my hat on the small sample size we’ve gotten of him as a No. 8 for the US:
He puts so much pressure on opposing defenses with his ability to stride forward on the ball and make them commit, and the US have often missed that.
Busio has been much better for Venezia early in his Serie A career than I expected, and part of that is he’s unmistakably a No. 8 these days, and not a No. 6. That might revert down the line at some point, but right now it looks like a smart call.
De la Torre knows that’s what the US have lacked. The kid even posted his own comp of him slaloming through Eredivisie defenses earlier this week!
Missed the cut
I completely understand why Pomykal (FC Dallas) isn’t in the mix yet given his injury history and the fact Dallas are wasting him on the wing. The fact remains, though: He’s a problem-solver in the way virtually no one else in the US midfield mix has proven to be:
Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes) was the emergency McKennie replacement last time and has been playing well for the Quakes over the past six weeks. But he's a level less dynamic than the other guys in the mix and has shown as much during his US caps over the past six months.
- Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg)
- Paul Arriola (D.C. United)
- Tim Weah (Lille)
So there it is: No Pulisic or Reyna. Ooof.
Thank goodness for Aaronson, who has largely been superb for the US when he plays on the wing (please only play him on the wing, Gregg) and the return of Weah, who has long been one of my favorite players in the pool. He adds game-breaking verticality with unselfishness and a high soccer IQ, and picked a good weekend to have maybe the best game of his young career.
Arriola, meanwhile, is just a grinder who brings constant energy, makes good runs and is always up for the Concacaf fight.
Missed the cut
I would’ve been surprised if Pulisic was fit enough to start any of these games. But here’s the dirty little secret: The US have been better without him recently! Pulisic gets full-on Kobe Brain when he wears the Red, White & Blue and seems to feel like he has to do everything himself, which leads to 1) a ton of dribbling into 1-v-3 torture chambers, and 2) a ton of turnovers.
That is literally how he picked up this injury! He was 35 yards out against a backpedaling Honduran defense with multiple passing options around him, and instead of picking one of those he tried to be Messi and dribble the world. It was a bad choice.
Reyna is, in my opinion, a bigger miss than Pulisic right now. Both guys are individual match-winners in the way few other US players can be.
I’m genuinely surprised at Konrad de la Fuente’s (Marseille) omission, but at the same time I kind of understand it. The three guys listed here are clearly above him on Berhalter’s pecking order at the wing, as was Roldan last camp. De la Torre can play there too, as can Lletget, as can Matthew Hoppe (Mallorca), who we’ll talk about here in a minute.
Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montréal) and Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas) also deserve mentions. If this were any other USMNT era, they’d be shoo-ins even though neither really plays as a winger (it should be said both are made for the “halfspace merchant” role Berhalter likes his wingers to play).
- Matthew Hoppe (Mallorca)
- Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas)
- Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
Pepi had a chance to grab the starting job last camp and did so, with both hands. That was a legendary performance, and now everyone else is trying to catch up to him.
Gyasi gave a reminder this past weekend of just what he can do, and given the laser-precise runs he makes as well as his improved hold-up play, it’s no surprise that he’s back in the mix now that he’s healthy.
I’m also not surprised to see Hoppe here given his Gold Cup performance, versatility and made-for-Concacaf swagger he’s displayed in his short career thus far.
The most important thing for all three of these guys: Their off-ball movement is dangerous. Always.
Missed the cut
And that pretty much explains the omissions of Josh Sargent (Norwich City) and Jordan Pefok (Young Boys). Neither put as much pressure on opposing defenses last camp as Pepi did or as Zardes does, and it’s hard to make an argument you belong in the team if you’re neither scoring nor creating goals (Pefok, at least, has started scoring again with his club).
Dike (Orlando City) is the only other center forward who’s worthy of consideration at the moment.
October Camp Best XI
Since I know you guys can't resist a good lineup graphic, here you go:
Just bear in mind these three-game windows aren't about "Best XIs" really. It's 270 minutes in seven days with a lot of guys coming off of, and headed towards, heavy club minutes on either side of the window, with a couple of intercontinental flights thrown in. They're about the ability to mix-and-match personnel and lineups, so it's about creating three well-balanced squads that function at a high level.
Berhalter didn't do a great job of that last time. Let's hope he's learned from that experience and is able to bring the superior USMNT talent available to bear.