Tick tock, tick tock. Can you hear it?

Outside of maybe a dozen or so blessed regulars whose place on the final roster for the 2022 World Cup is all but assured (and even they would probably caution that there are no guarantees), an invisible clock is ticking in the heads of everyone in the US men’s national team’s player pool.

The USMNT’s first Group B match in Qatar, vs. Gareth Bale’s Wales, is now less than four months away (Nov. 21). The first of their two September friendlies in Europe vs. Japan and Saudi Arabia, the final tuneup/proving ground before Gregg Berhalter’s roster decisions, is less than two months out.

Though Berhalter would likely insist that nothing is set in stone yet, many of the seats (likely 26 players) on that plane to Doha are effectively accounted for already. But whether they’re vying for a roster spot or a starting role, every minute on the pitch over the next three-plus months – for club and country alike – is vital for USMNTers. Many of them have moved to new places in light of that, including recent MLS arrivals like Shaq Moore and Nicholas Gioacchini.

Here’s a rundown of where the MLS-based USMNT players stand as August looms.

STOCK UP

The versatile center midfielder was a regular during World Cup qualifying and his January move from Colorado to LAFC has only enhanced his standing. The Black & Gold are three points clear (with a game in hand on their nearest pursuers) atop the Supporters’ Shield standings and Acosta has appeared in every single one of their league matches, starting 18 of them, with 1g/2a and an 85% passing completion rate. The sight of him taking in the MLB All-Star Game alongside Berhalter at Dodger Stadium speaks volumes.

Another USMNT regular who has found another level after a winter MLS move, the 27-year-old winger is thriving at FC Dallas, with 9g/3a and a whopping 37 key passes already, just two shy of his career best. Arriola is pivotal for the north Texans and has benefited from having a prolific club-and-country teammate to feed, namely…

FCD’s 21-year-old homegrown striker is in the thick of the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race with 12g/5a – and it’s not exceedingly often that you see a domestic player doing that in the league’s contemporary era. Whether Ferreira's club form is being fueled by his growing centrality in the USMNT picture this year or vice versa, “Cheetah” is in the form of his life and looks to have pole position in the national team’s chronically unsettled No. 9 situation.

The 22-year-old attacker has already scored a few goals in his eight USMNT caps (six of which came in 2021) and contributed to last year’s Gold Cup triumph. After plenty of good work in France’s second tier, he went on loan from Caen to Montpellier last season yet found steady Ligue 1 minutes hard to come by. So this summer he returned to the US to join Orlando City, where he’s presently working towards his MLS debut. There’s competition up top at OCSC, but the Lions' front line hasn’t exactly been lighting it up lately, so we expect him to have a real shot at regaining Berhalter’s full attention.

During the USMNT’s last camp in June, we wondered whether SeanJohn might quietly be rising from perennial reserve to low-key contender to start in Qatar should Zack Steffen and Matt Turner struggle for minutes in England this coming season. The veteran goalkeeper has done nothing to weaken that admittedly left-field possibility, leading MLS in clean sheets (11 in 21 league games) and keeping MLS Cup holders New York City FC near the top of the table.

A relative veteran (age 29) anchoring a very young New York Red Bulls side, Long clearly maintains Berhalter’s trust and RBNY’s surprisingly strong campaign to date has further boosted his credentials. The rugged center back seems to have returned to full bore after a severe Achilles injury and he’s even chipped in three goals this season, already matching his career high. While 2023 may hold changes as Long enters free agency this winter, he’s right on course for a fall trip to Qatar.

The right back/wingback just moved to Nashville SC from CD Tenerife in the Spanish second division, his first stateside club destination since a stint in Dallas’ academy during his adolescence and one that offers a more prominent platform for clinching his World Cup spot. While Moore hasn’t debuted for the Coyotes yet, the NSC brain trust’s warm praise for him, their need for a specialist option on their right flank and the reported $2 million transfer fee they paid for him suggest that he’ll log ample minutes in the coming months.

Portland’s central-midfield linchpin is finally back at full speed after suffering a torn ACL at a brutal moment last August – just a few weeks after starting in the Gold Cup final for the USMNT – and might just be primed for a late run onto the World Cup squad. A consistently impactful performer in just the type of do-everything No. 8 role that is so crucial to Berhalter’s system, Williamson has tabbed six assists in 14 MLS games this season and looks like the X factor for the Timbers yet again.

It’s been a just-OK 2022 for Nashville so far rather than the breakthrough campaign they hoped for in the leadup to the opening of their beautiful new GEODIS Park home. We don’t see that reflecting all that negatively on Zimmerman, though, a Berhalter regular who signed a groundbreaking new Designated Player contract in April. A 2022 All-Star, the commanding center back is currently the highest-ranking USMNT-eligible player in American Soccer Analysis’ goals-added statistics at 2.85, fourth-best in the league overall.

STOCK DOWN

Atlanta United’s dime-dropping right back/wingback was one of MLS’s best crossers in 2021 and had quietly risen right to the edge of Berhalter’s lists as a result. Unfortunately, he suffered a viciously unlucky MCL sprain in his left knee during warmups before a late-June match at Toronto FC, ruling him out for 6-8 weeks. That blow landed in the midst of a wider season of struggle for the Five Stripes, and Lennon faces a race against time to climb back into the reckoning this fall.

Once an ever-present on USMNT rosters – he earned 16 caps last year, scoring 4g/1a – Da Boy has dropped off the map in 2022, making nary a single US appearance despite a solid (if perhaps unspectacular) first campaign with the New England Revolution, where he’s notched 2g/5a in 18 MLS matches. Lletget’s last Yanks outing was a 90-minute shift in the unsightly 1-0 Concacaf Octagonal loss at Panama back in October, yet he’d scored the final goal in the 4-1 win at Honduras just a month before. Did one off night in Central America really scupper his World Cup hopes?

The Chicago Fire academy product has done just about everything in his power to surge into the Qatar roster reckoning. Last season he finished second in the league assist charts with 4g/16a, then spearheaded CF Montréal’s impressive 2022 with 7g/4a, earning a long-awaited June call-up – only to suffer an ankle injury just days before, cruelly preventing him from making his case in person. Now Mihailovic is finally poised to become a regular starter for CFM again, and every moment will count double.

This is a tough one. After missing nearly all of 2021 due to a torn ACL sustained during a loan stint with Swansea City, J-Mo returned with a vengeance this past spring, earning a spot in the Concacaf Champions League best XI as his Seattle Sounders made history as the first MLS team to win the tournament in its modern iteration. Despite their CCL hangover in league play, he’s still posted 6g/3a in MLS action and last weekend’s relentless display in the win over the Rapids showed how dominant he can be (his 2.63 G+ ranks just behind Zimmerman’s). Yet the USMNT depth chart is stacked on the wings; just two of his eight caps this year were starts, and he wasn’t awe-inspiring in the most recent, a 5-0 Nations League win over Grenada in June. We’ve got him on the bubble at present.

The outlook is similar for Morris’ friend and Sounders' teammate. The elder Roldan brother was a force of nature in the CCL run, making one decisive play after another, and his huge importance to MLS’s model club is apparent. Alas, the outlook is different with the national team. While a roster regular during qualifying, his minutes were scarce as Berhalter’s obvious respect didn’t translate into playing time. His versatility may even cut against him, considering the Yanks have ample options at the right wing spot he mastered for Seattle before shifting back to a deep central role last week.

The only recent call-up with World Cup experience, he’s a thoughtful veteran presence on this historically youthful USMNT and we expect that to be a powerful factor in his favor come roster time. That said, right back is one of Berhalter’s deepest spots and with two assists and 22 key passes so far, Yedlin has been steady rather than spectacular for Inter Miami, whose performances have fluctuated from playoff-caliber to bottom-dwelling this season. Still, he’s a 2022 All-Star and knows how to crank it up a notch down the stretch.

A longtime Berhalter acolyte dating back to their time together in Columbus, Zardes has cooled off this year after many years of steady service for club and country. An April trade from the Crew to Colorado offered a better chance at regular minutes; he’s tallied 4g/2a in 1,226 MLS minutes overall this season, modest numbers considering his excellent career track record. He appeared in the USMNT’s first two games of the year, starting in the 2-0 loss to Canada in chilly Hamilton on Jan. 30, and hasn’t featured at the international level since.

Robinson slots here by default after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon back on May 9. Were it not for the ill-timed injury, Atlanta's top center back would likely be partnering Zimmerman at Qatar 2022. Things can change very quickly, as the 25-year-old is learning on his road to recovery. He featured in 11 World Cup qualifiers, a huge part of the USMNT finishing third in the Octagonal.

SOON

There's a range of highly promising players who we consider to be on the cusp of meaningful USMNT involvement, yet are probably a step short of truly being in contention for Qatar. Here’s the top of that list.

One of several MLSers to shine during the US Under-20s’ sterling run to U-20 and Olympic qualification last month, we know the San Jose Earthquakes’ teen phenom is on Berhalter’s radar. Reports say Cowell, 18, cannily sought to obtain Mexican citizenship via his family heritage, making himself El Tri-eligible and probably raising the stakes for U.S. Soccer in the process. He may well blossom into a key figure in the 2026 cycle.

The Revs’ attack-minded left back was called in for January camp, where he reportedly made a positive impression on the coaching staff. Jones probably deserved more consideration for the USMNT’s left back situation – where no one has really locked down the backup spot behind Jedi Robinson – than he seems to have gotten. Who knows? Perhaps the 25-year-old can still make a push this fall. He’ll need to add significantly to his 1g/5a in 20 MLS games to date this season.

Ask devoted NYCFC watchers about Parks and you’re likely to hear rave reviews about his vital engine-room contributions for the defending MLS champs, and maybe a bit of grousing about his lack of USMNT consideration to boot. The Plano, Texas native was in the mix at the start of this cycle, earning his first senior cap in 2018, only to be left out of the picture since Berhalter’s hiring. He sure looks like a Berhalter-an type of center mid to us. Out after a second blood clot-related surgery, it's also a matter of Parks staying healthy.

The Chicago Fire homegrown has been exploding widely-held conventional wisdom about goalkeepers’ development timelines for some time now, signing his first MLS deal at 14 and making his first-team debut at 16. Still just barely 18, he’s the Fire’s clear No. 1, has already gotten USMNT call-ups (though no caps yet) and it’s a matter of time before he makes a big-money move to a prominent European club, with Chelsea reportedly in the driver’s seat there. We wouldn’t bet against Slonina being in goal for the States’ opening match at the 2026 World Cup, having turned down Poland earlier this year in another dual-national push-and-pull situation.

The Red Bulls’ all-action left back is days away from his 20th birthday and has already been name-dropped by Berhalter as someone on his watch list. Tolkin’s playing every week – and contributing, as his two assists and 18 key passes in 2022 suggest – for one of MLS’s top teams and we expect his quirky, expressive personality will serve him well on his career climb.

With 15g/7a in 52 MLS games since the start of last year (roughly 2600 minutes), there’s already a loud and growing Vazquez hive – led, it seems, by MLSsoccer.com’s very own Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle – asking why the 23-year-old FC Cincinnati striker and former US youth international hasn’t gotten a USMNT call yet. Berhalter says “he’s close,” though Qatar probably comes too soon for him. Yet with Vazquez leaving the door open to representing Mexico, where he began his pro career with Tijuana, the US fed might not want to wait too much longer.

IN THE MIX?

Obviously the pools of effective MLS players and aspiring USMNTers overlap significantly, giving us too many names to properly delve into here.

Each individual’s circumstances vary and it’s always possible that outsiders can push into the reckoning suddenly. Others who earned consideration but didn’t really fit into the above categories include Jeremy Ebobisse, Henry Kessler, Jonathan Lewis, Aidan Morris, Paxton Pomykal and Jackson Yueill.