I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there are some US men’s national team games coming up during the June window.
It includes two friendlies on home soil against fellow World Cup-bound nations in Morocco (June 1) and Uruguay (June 5), then two Concacaf Nations League games against Grenada (June 10) and El Salvador (June 14). And it's the biggest and penultimate chance for the USMNT to gather and play real games before Qatar 2022 arrives in November. These next couple of weeks are huge for the team as a whole, both for the coaching staff and for specific players.
That “specific players” bit is what I’m focusing on today. This four-game stretch presents a real opportunity for some MLSers to improve their standing within the USMNT. Now, “improving your standing” can and will look different depending on the individual situation.
So, let’s look at a handful of players and pinpoint one goal for each of them as we head toward this next set of matches.
Mission: Make some big, big saves
With Zack Steffen out for the June window due to family reasons (we’re wishing Steffen and his family all the best), the door is very open for Matt Turner to come in and make some noise ahead of his move to Arsenal later in June. Turner hasn’t been great in his five MLS games this season, but we know he’s an extremely capable shot-stopper based on his previous full seasons with New England.
At this point, we don’t know if Gregg Berhalter is even considering promoting someone over Steffen on his goalkeeper depth chart. Realistically, we won’t find that out until the two-game international break in September when Berhalter has his final chance to get the team together before the World Cup.
For Turner, though, the key in this window is to apply pressure. Apply upward pressure on the goalkeeper depth chart. Apply pressure on Berhalter to think about making – or actually make – a change to his GK1.
If Turner pulls out a few more saves like the one above and helps the US keep the ball out of their own net, he’ll have a successful June window.
Mission: Develop chemistry with someone…anyone
Because of a few different reasons (John Brooks’ exile, Aaron Long’s injury last year, Miles Robinson’s injury this year, and his own excellent play), Walker Zimmerman is closer to being a lock for the USMNT’s World Cup roster than any other central defender in the pool.
Zimmerman was pretty darn good for the US to close out World Cup qualifying and has been pretty darn great for Nashville in 2022. Per American Soccer Analysis’ goals added (G+) metric, Zimmerman has been the best center back in the league this season, rating positively in all six of G+’s categories.
The key to this window for Zimmerman is to start developing some chemistry with a center back partner. Regardless, Zimmerman needs to show that he can continue to do his thing while playing next to someone other than Robinson in the backline. If he does, you can write his name down in pen on the USMNT’s World Cup squad.
Mission: Win the other starting center back job
Do you know how I just mentioned how there are open auditions for the part of Zimmerman’s center back partner? Well, Aaron Long is one of the players trying out for that role, along with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown.
It seems to me that Long, though he’s a somewhat limited passer, has the inside track for that open center back spot given that he’s been a starter under Berhalter before. Berhalter and Long know each other quite well at this point and Long’s mobility is certainly a big selling point. Among center backs in MLS this season, Long is in the 90th percentile for top sustained speed, per Second Spectrum. He doesn’t quite have Miles Robinson-level speed, but he’s a little quicker than Zimmerman.
Now, let's not forget that both Carter-Vickers and Palmer-Brown have speed too. So if Long wants to win this job in June, he’s going to have to be extremely strong defensively, dangerous in the air on set pieces, and maybe even show a little on the ball.
Mission: Eat up extra minutes all over the field
If you’re Kellyn Acosta, you know what your job is with the USMNT at this point. Your job is to pinch-hit wherever and whenever you can.
Sure, at this point it seems clear that your best spot on the field for the US is as a No. 6. But if there are some open minutes in one of the No. 8 spots, why don’t you grab those too? Oh, what’s that? A couple of the fullbacks have gone down injured? Sounds like Acosta time.
I’m not saying that I love Acosta as an eight or as a fullback. I don’t, really. But it seems like Berhalter does – and in the grand scheme of things, having a utility player who also serves as a decent option behind Tyler Adams on the defensive midfielder depth chart is a useful thing.
Acosta doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel with the USMNT in June. Instead, he just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing for both LAFC and the national team: playing all over the field.
Mission: Impact games quickly off the bench
Cristian Roldan is in a tough spot with the USMNT. He’s clearly a player that Berhalter likes and he’s also clearly a player that helps bind locker rooms together. But unfortunately for Roldan, the winger spot that he’s found real success in while playing for the Sounders happens to be the deepest position in the entire Yanks' player pool.
What does that mean for Roldan? Well, first of all, it means that he needs to continue being a glue guy in the locker room. I made my high school sports career (I know that’s a super impressive level, but you can un-drop your jaws now) by being a glue guy in locker rooms. Roldan needs to keep doing that, while also doing the absolute most he can to impact games if/when he gets on the field in June.
I would be surprised if Roldan slots in as a starter for one of these four games, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t get off the bench. When that happens, he needs to help the US on the field. It’s that simple.
Mission: Score. Goals.
The real goal for Jesus Ferreira in June is to win the striker spot, but the most probable way that FC Dallas’s No. 9 can do that is by putting the ball in the back of the net. So I boiled things down a bit and ended up with “Score. Goals.”
Based on how Ferreira is playing in MLS right now, it feels totally possible that we all turn the page on the June window feeling good about the USMNT’s striker situation. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but Ferreira has been excellent in MLS this season. He’s currently leading the league in goals (9) along with San Jose’s Jeremy Ebobisse and he’s ninth in MLS in xG+xA per 96 minutes among players with at least 500 minutes in the league this year, according to ASA.
We’ve known for a while now that Ferreira can change games by dropping deep into the midfield. But now we know that he can change games by bursting forward into the attack and putting the ball into the back of the net, too. Again, I think there’s a non-zero chance that Ferreira scores some goals in these next four games and puts at least some of the discourse around the USMNT’s starting No. 9 discussion to bed.
Now it’s just up to Ferreira to go out there and execute.