Armchair Analyst 2017 - logo ONLY

The US men's national team, on Tuesday afternoon, announced a March 28 friendly at Northern Ireland, the first of two friendlies in that particular FIFA window. These mark the first time head coach Gregg Berhalter has had a full roster* together since the pandemic started, one composed of both domestic and European-based players.


(*) Hopefully. Travel restrictions are still possible, after all.

To find the last time the US fielded their full-strength XI, you have to go all the way back to the 4-1 Nations League destruction of Canada way back in November of 2019, nearly a year-and-a-half ago. That was before COVID-19 even existed. It has been a long journey.


With that in mind, and with a massively busy and massively important year ahead, now seems like a good time to take a look at a player pool which has expanded and evolved in the interim.


The following is my perception of the current US depth chart as Berhalter seems to see it, though I've taken some liberties in certain spots. It is my guess that every single player who gets on the field in World Cup qualifying over the next 16 months will come from the below list, because the time for experimentation is over.


Goalkeepers and defenders today, midfielders and forwards tomorrow.




Goalkeepers


  1. Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
  2. Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
  3. Sean Johnson (NYCFC)


I don't think there's much question that these are the top three guys in the pool right now. Most consider Steffen to be the clear-cut number one — I'm pretty sure Berhalter's in that group — and while I disagree with that, I certainly understand it. He has looked perfectly fine for City, save for picking up one back-pass, and while I'd be more comfortable with him in a big game if he was out there twice a week for the Sky Blues, it's not like he's not playing at all. At the time of publication, he'd made eight appearances, which is a few more than I'd expected.


I've made the case for Turner as the No. 1 repeatedly based upon his superior shot-stopping. The boxscore numbers back that up, as does the eye test:

If you want to go deeper, look at the numbers provided by the folks from American Soccer Analysis. I'll wait for one of the nerds to lay out the full analytical case, but will present you with this: In the past half-decade, going by G-xG/96 across all competitions, Turner has the best season in their database (2019), the third-best season (2020) and the 11th-best season (2018). He has done that in his first three years as a starter. No other 'keeper shows up even twice in the top 15.


That includes Johnson, who did have his finest season in 2020 and might still be No. 2 on Berhalter's personal depth chart. Whether he's second or third, though, what's clear is Johnson is a good soldier and occasionally great distributor who has become much less gaffe-prone (though not entirely!) over the past couple of years.


I'm not sure we're quite back to the Friedel/Keller/Meola days in terms of strength at this spot, but we're not far off.


THE NEXT GROUP:

  • Bill Hamid (D.C. United): Hamid didn't have his best year with D.C. but did enough to get himself back into the picture for December's friendly win over El Salvador.
  • Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge): Horvath barely plays these days, but has looked pretty good the few times he's been out on the field. It looks like he'll run his contract down and leave Brugge on a free this summer, which will be good for the US's depth, but probably meaningless in the fight for the No. 1 shirt.
  • Brad Guzan (Atlanta United) It looks like he's been usurped by Johnson in the "reliable veteran" category. In large part that's because Guzan, during the 2020 season, really only checked one of those boxes.


YOUNGSTERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes): No one, really. JT Marcinkowski's the only US U-23 'keeper who's a starter, and he was beaten out by Union back-up Matt Freese last month. RSL's David Ochoa might push in, but all of these guys seem more likely to be factors for the 2030 (!!!) qualifying cycle than 2022.




Right Backs


  1. Sergino Dest (Barcelona)
  2. Reggie Cannon (Boavista)
  3. DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray)
  4. Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake)
  5. Bryan Reynolds (Roma)


Easily the deepest position in the player pool, even if both Dest and Cannon have hit something of a rut in their respective seasons. The issue for Berhalter here is whether he wants to have Dest in his natural spot, or if it's worth it to shift him to left back in order to get him on the same side as Christian Pulisic (a compelling argument) and to get Cannon on the field (a less compelling argument given that both Sam Vines and Antonee Robinson look like they could be actual solutions at left back).


Yedlin has always made me nervous, but he played well for Newcastle in his final few games there and Galatasaray is a very good landing spot. Herrera... I just love him:

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He has a meanness to his game the rest of this cohort kind of lacks. He is more than just that bite, though — the dude can ball.


Reynolds can obviously ball as well, and is the type of talent who could shoot all the way to the top of this list if Roma toss him into the deep end. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he's won this job a year from now.


THE NEXT GROUP:

  • Nick Lima (Austin FC): Lima's mostly played well for the US in his caps thus far, but not well enough to maintain his place in the top five. He wins his duels and can cross the hell out of the ball, though, so don't write him off completely.
  • Shaq Moore (CD Tenerife): Moore's something of a specialist, in that he's a gifted crosser of the ball who's sometimes pushed up into an attacking role in order to exploit that. He was pretty good for the US in five appearances back in 2018, but hasn't featured under Berhalter.


YOUNGSTERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy): He started in December against El Salvador, and struggled a bit with his decision-making and touch. Unlike many of the other guys on this list he's a true defender, and has a Cannon-esque upside. Hopefully Greg Vanney gets the 19-year-old 2,000 minutes at right back this year.
  • Kyle Duncan (NY Red Bulls): Duncan's four years older than Araujo and Reynolds, and a year older than Cannon, so it's not really fair to think of him as a prospect anymore. But he's still in the mix and his ability to beat defenders off the dribble in the attacking third is a legitimate weapon. He's a long-shot to factor in past the Olympics, but sometimes long-shots hit.




Right Center Backs


  1. Aaron Long (NY Red Bulls)
  2. Matt Miazga (Anderlecht)
  3. Chris Richards (Hoffenheim)
  4. Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)


This is the first time in my history of doing depth charts I've broken down the CBs into right center backs and left center backs. It is a brave new world.


It is also a world in which Long has yet to do anything that would cost him his position at the head of this particular depth chart. No, he didn't have a great 2020 season, but he didn't put a foot wrong in any of his performances for the US over the past year, and remember it was Long who was the choice and rose to the occasion vs. Canada in the Nations League win back in 2019.


Miazga has been more hit-and-miss for both club and country, though it seems like he's settled in well now at Anderlecht, historically Belgium's biggest club. 


They will both have to elevate their games if they're to stay ahead of Richards, who made his Hoffeinheim debut on loan from Bayern Munich this past weekend. He was mostly competent defensively (you're free to pick on his set-piece marking if you wish), and occasionally very pretty in distribution:

Richards has just one start above the 3.Liga at center back, though, so let's give him some time before we push him to the top here.


Zimmerman stays in the mix thanks to his combination of superb club form and physicality, but I got the sense that this past January camp was his chance to show he should be ahead of Long on the depth chart, and that he didn't do it.


THE NEXT GROUP:

  • Miles Robinson (Atlanta United): Robinson is like a younger version of Long in a lot of ways. He checks all the physical boxes, reads the game very well defensively, wins everything in the air and has become better on the ball than most realize, but will he ever be a plus distributor? If he answers that in the affirmative then he will be in the mix for a starting spot (and a multi-million-dollar move overseas), but that's a massive "if."
  • Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire FC): Pineda is the opposite of Long and Robinson in that the questions are about his physicality and defensive reading of the game, while his distribution is already a weapon. I'm looking forward to seeing how he develops in Year 2 in Chicago, but I'd be shocked if he figured into the 2020 USMNT cycle at all. I think Pineda's path is with the U-23s, and then working his way into it (if he can) for the 2026 cycle.


YOUNGSTERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No one, really. There are good young CBs, out there, but none of the 19-year-olds in the pool seem to be at the level Richards and McKenzie were at in 2019, or Miazga in 2015.




Left Center Backs


  1. John Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg)
  2. Mark McKenzie (Genk)
  3. Tim Ream (Fulham)


The reason we can do separate LCB and RCB depth charts is because we finally have some depth at left center back, which is honestly a first in program history (though you could argue Jurgen Klinsmann could easily have had a Matt Besler/Brooks/Ream depth chart for the duration of his tenure with zero need to tinker beyond those three guys, but I'm digressing).


Brooks is still the clear starter for the obvious reasons: His distribution, which still unparalleled amongst US center backs; his experience, which is also unparalleled amongst the current crop; and his aerial dominance. Brooks is amongst the best in the Bundesliga in the air, which matters a ton given the growing importance of restarts in the modern game.


McKenzie is actually right-footed, but I have him as a LCB because, well, watch:


He has had a not-great start to his career in Genk, but growing pains are to be expected and I'm not worried about a rough first month. What I am worried about long-term is that McKenzie, thus far, is not any sort of an attacking threat on set pieces. That's something to keep under consideration.


Ream's not a set-piece threat, either, but his distribution is fantastic and he's been reliable under Berhalter, even as his role dwindles for Fulham.


Bear in mind it's still entirely possible to imagine a scenario in which Long, Richards or Zimmerman get minutes at LCB while another of those three (or Miazga) is at RCB.


THE NEXT GROUP:

  • None at the moment. It seems much more likely Berhalter will go with one of the RCBs at LCB rather than bring in a new LCB specifically for the spot.


YOUNGSTERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew SC)
If there was one who could break through, it would be Keita, who has played pretty well for the Crew across two years and has both vision and the skill to pull it off:



It is fair, though, to worry about his mobility.

  • Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids) I'm adding Trusty at my own discretion since he's pretty well out of the picture — he's never played for the US, and hasn't been invited to a camp since Berhalter's first back in January of 2019. But he's 6-foot-4, fast, left-footed, and bounced back well for Colorado down the stretch after a tough year. That is the type of profile that can help you knock down a lot of barriers and get into the mix if things go well.



  • Left Back


    1. Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)
    2. Antonee Robinson (Fulham)


    Two actual left backs! That is a luxury the US have never really had before, and it has already opened some doors with regard to final-third entries:

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    Vines has not put a foot wrong for the US across three appearances, and has steadily improved for the Rapids as well. Remember, his original reputation was as a defensive specialist (repeatedly shutting Carlos Vela down 1v1 is a good way to burnish that rep).


    Robinson has never had that rep, though he's improved a good deal while under constant bombardment for a sure-to-be-relegated Fulham squad this year. Even so, he had a "fell asleep at the back post" moment in his most recent cap against Wales.


    I wouldn't be shocked at all if Berhalter had this order reversed, or if Dest was actually atop the depth chart here with these two guys behind him.


    THE NEXT GROUP:

    • George Bello (Atlanta United): It was fun watching an 18-year-old Bello improve in real time last year for Atlanta, and then watching a 19-year-old Bello earn his USMNT debut last month. He probably has more upside than either Vines or Robinson, but isn't at their level just yet.
    • Chase Gasper (Minnesota): I think the book's probably closed on Gasper, who came off the bench vs. Costa Rica a year ago and then didn't get a camp invite this year. But if he learns to cross, he immediately becomes a factor.


    YOUNGSTERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

    • Marco Farfan (LAFC) Farfan, a career back-up to this point, was fine in his USMNT debut vs. El Salvador. It's possible he earns more of a role with LAFC this year — especially with Diego Palacios likely on call for international duty quite often — and propels himself up the depth chart. Possible, but unlikely.
    • Chris Gloster (Jong PSV - for now): Gloster was the starter for the 2019 U-20 World Cup team, and parlayed a strong showing into a contract with PSV after a year-and-a-half in Germany with Hannover '96's youth squads. But thus far the RBNY academy product hasn't been able to break through, and PSV recently announced Gloster was free to sign elsewhere. It's possible he ends up at the right club with the right manager and pushes his way into the mix. Again: possible, but unlikely.

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