We are less than two weeks away from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar starting.
The buzz surrounding this fall’s marquee event is growing – not just from the media, but the players as well. I feel the energy from all aspects, and I absolutely love it.
The first match of the tournament is Nov. 20 between host nation Qatar and Ecuador, and after that, a month of the best sporting event on the planet.
All our eyes will be on the United States and their first Group B match against Wales on Nov. 21. Who are the 26 players that will be on the plane to Qatar?
I will say, no one’s USMNT stock rose from the last two lackluster September friendlies against Japan (2-0 loss) and Saudi Arabia (0-0 draw). I’m not judging how things will look in Qatar based on those two matches, but it wasn’t pretty.
I am also sure head coach Gregg Berhalter already has his 26-man squad selected in his head, barring last-minute injuries.
So, will there be any surprises? Who will be left behind?
Note: I want to be sensitive to the guys that won’t make the final roster. I have been in those final pre-World Cup camps where guys are being told they're not a part of the squad. That disappointment and angry feeling you see on their faces, it’s hard to witness. It sucks. But that is part of the game, and we all know it.
Ok, let’s go front to back before Wednesday's big reveal in Brooklyn (5 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN+). Here is my 26-man USMNT roster that will, at a minimum, get out of Group B.
- Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas)
- Ricardo Pepi (FC Groningen)
- Josh Sargent (Norwich City)
I have said it before, and I will say it again: I am strictly going off form in this position. Yes, I know people will say club form does not always translate to the international game, but without a normal send-off series or a three-week training camp before the first match, I’m bringing the strikers that are in form now. Ferreira, Sargent and Pepi all have that form, and each present something different in the No. 9 position.
If we need to gain more possession through the middle, Ferreira – who earned a spot on the 2022 MLS Best XI presented by Continental Tire with 18 goals and six assists in 33 games – is very good at dropping into the midfield to create a numerical advantage, while still also making good forward runs into the box.
Sargent provides excellent movement around the box as a No. 9 and has shown good positional flexibility, scoring as both a striker and a left-sided attacker for Norwich City this season. His eight goals in the EFL Championship are tied for sixth-most in the league.
Pepi (who would not have made my list of 26 a month ago) is a young player who went through a very tough period with FC Augsburg and the USMNT, but has since rediscovered his impressive goal-scoring form while on loan in Holland. He even scored against my beloved PSV in a 4-2 home win. Bringing the former FC Dallas standout is a gamble, but I think it's worth it.
Our strikers need to handle business on the world’s biggest stage. Can they? We will see. But for me, those three give us the best possible chance.
MISSED THE CUT
- Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin)
- Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati)
If the World Cup started a month ago, Pefok would have been on my list. But in the last 10 games, he only has one goal, so he just misses out this time.
The only reason I didn’t put Brandon Vazquez in the 26 is I have never seen him in a USA shirt. In my opinion, he deserved to be in the last full USMNT camp, as well as the recent camp for MLS players whose club seasons have ended.
- Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United)
- Paul Arriola (FC Dallas)
- Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
- Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
- Timothy Weah (Lille)
I think this position is the only one that’s set in stone. I don’t see anyone else sneaking in at the last minute and removing any of these players. Depending on how Berhalter wants to play each game, we have so much quality in our wing play. We just need to be more consistent.
Aaronson has been one of the few bright spots in a Leeds United shirt this season. Though he hasn’t been on the score sheet as of late, he has been immense in creating opportunities for teammates who haven’t been able to put the ball in the back of the net. Whether the Philadelphia Union product plays in the middle, as he often does for Leeds, or out wide, as he has with the USMNT, you know what you’ll get from him.
Reyna and Weah look sharper than expected after coming off lengthy injury problems. Gio has a unique skill set – technically very good and intelligent on the field – and no game or occasion seems too big for him. Weah can be the guy we need to run in behind defenses when there are times to play direct. His ability to stretch defenses vertically will be an asset to the squad. Paul Arriola can do that as well and he's had a very productive season with FC Dallas, notching 10 goals and seven assists in 32 games.
Pulisic can and will play a big part in this World Cup. I don’t see Berhalter leaving him off the teamsheet against Wales, but if he doesn’t start, he’s at least proven with Chelsea he's dangerous coming off the bench. The fact he missed out on Russia 2018 means he’ll be relishing the chance to make a huge impact in Qatar.
MISSED THE CUT
- Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
I think having five wingers for two spots is enough, and both Aaronson and Reyna bring flexibility. Jordan Morris is a good player, but I think these five players are ahead of him this cycle.
- Kellyn Acosta (LAFC)
- Tyler Adams (Leeds United)
- Luca de la Torre (Celta de Vigo)
- Yunus Musah (Valencia)
- Weston McKennie (Juventus)
- James Sands (Rangers)
- Malik Tillman (Rangers)
The first name on the teamsheet against Wales is Tyler Adams. I have watched quite a few Leeds United matches this season and he’s been very good, always knowing when to play simple and/or through lines. His ability to break up play and win duels in the midfield is going to be so important in Qatar.
Acosta will also have a big role to play after winning MLS Cup 2022 with LAFC. He won't start, but his ability to come in and close a game out if needed will be key for us.
The trio of Adams, Yunas Musah and Weston McKennie is what everyone’s been wanting to see. They all bring a lot of quality and will undoubtedly have a big part to play. I’m excited to see what Musah does on this stage. He is an absolute joy to watch.
But if you add a Reyna or Aaronson in the middle, does that make us more goal dangerous? I think it does. These decisions are why I’m glad I’m not a coach!
Further down the depth chart, I think Luca de la Torre and Malik Tillman have shown that they can play at a high level. I still don’t know what Tillman’s best position is for this team, but I think his versatility is what gets him on this roster. Same with Sands. He can play as a deep-lying midfielder or in any position across the back four.
MISSED THE CUT
- Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC)
I was going back and forth between Roldan and Sands. Both bring versatility. There isn’t much between the two players.
- Reggie Cannon (Boavista)
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic)
- Sergino Dest (AC Milan)
- Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes)
- Tim Ream (Fulham)
- Antonee Robinson (Fulham)
- DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF)
- Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Yes, you see it correctly. Mr. Tim Ream is on my 26-man roster heading to Qatar. The guy can still flat-out play at age 35. Just look at his performances for Fulham this year. He’s started every single Premier League match and his side is all the way up to ninth place. Remember though: this is my roster and not what Berhalter is going to do.
I don’t think Chris Richards will be fit in time to make this roster. It would be a huge gamble for Berhalter to take a center back that hasn’t played since August, hoping he will be ready. So, I will go with Erik Palmer-Brown. He is playing week in and week out for Troyes in Ligue 1 and has been steady. Carter-Vickers gets in as one of the captains at Celtic who's put in solid performances at the club level this season.
If Dest and Robinson are fit, they’re our best outside backs. That's no secret. I think we have good options for backups, too. Yedlin has played in a World Cup (2014) and his experience will be valuable. Cannon’s energy getting up and down the wing when he plays is helpful as well.
I know I don’t have a like-for-like left-back option for Robinson on my list. And I am ok with that.
MISSED THE CUT
- Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)
- Mark McKenzie (Genk)
- Chris Richards (Crystal Palace)
- Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp)
All good players who have a part to play in a USMNT shirt for the next few years. But they miss out on the plane ride to Qatar, with Vines' absence due to injury.
The biggest miss on my list is Aaron Long. He was a lock before an Achilles injury kept him out for a substantial amount of time. I just don’t think the RBNY center back has looked the same since his return.
- Sean Johnson (NYCFC)
- Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough)
- Matt Turner (Arsenal)
The only question here is who the third goalkeeper will be.
I’m going with Sean Johnson. In the last two years, he’s been playing lights out for NYCFC. He's a good pro and a leader with a great attitude who will push to compete with the other two keepers every day.
I still don’t know who will be the No. 1 starting goalkeeper when we play against Wales. Steffen has put his name back in the hat after a few clean sheets for Middlesbrough, but new Arsenal man, Matt Turner, has also played well in the Europa League and made some big saves when needed in the last two friendly matches with the USMNT. Turner seems back from a groin injury, too.
MISSED THE CUT
- Ethan Horvath (Luton Town)
Historically, we’ve been blessed with top goalkeepers and this cycle is no different. I had a couple of USMNT camps with Ethan before I retired. He is the ultimate teammate – a great goalkeeper with a good head on his shoulders.
My 2022 USMNT World Cup squad.
- Strikers (3): Ferreira, Pepi, Sargent
- Wingers (5): Aaronson, Arriola, Pulisic, Reyna, Weah
- Midfielders (7): Acosta, Adams, de la Torre, Musah, McKennie, Sands, Tillman
- Defenders (8): Cannon, Carter-Vickers, Dest, Palmer-Brown, Ream, Robinson, Yedlin, Zimmerman
- Goalkeepers (3): Johnson, Steffen, Turner