Voices: Joseph Lowery

World Cup outlook: Are USMNT’s established MLS players rising or falling?

This is not a drill. We’re less than six months away from the World Cup, people.

With only a couple of international breaks remaining before the tournament starts in November, it’s important to monitor how some of the US men’s national team’s established MLSers are performing at the club level.

Which players are in the best form and may be on the USMNT’s Qatar roster? And which players need to pick things up a bit? Let’s run through the data on some of the US’s key domestic performers to find out.

Of note: Those like NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, New England Revolution midfielder Sebastian Lletget and Colorado Rapids striker Gyasi Zardes are on the bubble for this exercise.

Stock: Steady

He’s back! After missing the first two months of the season through a foot injury, Matt Tuner has started three consecutive MLS games for Bruce Arena and the New England Revolution. In his 270 minutes, Turner hasn’t quite been at his Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year level, but that'll come with time. So far, his shot-stopping has been okay. According to FBref, he’s helped the Revs in that category, but that’s largely due to the issues Earl Edwards Jr. and Brad Knighton had in goal before Turner’s recovery.

Understandably, it’ll take a bit more time for Turner to round back into his elite shot-stopping form. The fact that he’s back in the lineup for New England is the real win here, though he'll join Arsenal in late June and enter a competition for playing time with Aaron Ramsdale.

Stock: Rising

Helping your country qualify for the World Cup and landing a Designated Player deal in the span of a few months? Not bad Walker Zimmerman, not bad.

Zimmerman’s play on the field in MLS has been excellent this season. According to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, he has been the most valuable center back in MLS in 2022. Between his mobility, his aerial prowess and, unfortunately, Miles Robinson’s injury, Zimmerman will be a key piece for the USMNT later this year.

Stock: Rising

Speaking of Robinson’s injury, the door is now wide open for someone like Aaron Long to jump back into the USMNT conversation. Now that he’s back from his Achilles injury, Long has been a useful player for Gerhard Struber this season.

Per Second Spectrum, Long is currently 15th among center backs with at least 500 minutes played in pressing efficiency. That means he’s helping the Red Bulls force quite a few turnovers within five seconds of pressing the opposing ball carrier. It doesn’t look like Long is running as much at high speed as he was before the Achilles injury, but he’s still one of the fastest center backs in MLS.

With his athleticism, Long may be pretty high on Berhalter’s new center back depth chart. We’ll find out more after the June window.

Stock: Steady

DeAndre Yedlin is back in MLS after nearly a decade in Europe at the likes of Newcastle United and Galatasaray. He’s been an every-game starter for Inter Miami, regularly moving up and down the right side of the field from his right back position. Yedlin is one of Miami’s go-to guys in possession: he averages more touches per 90 minutes than all but one of his teammates with at least 200 minutes this year.

With those touches, Yedlin is in the 68th percentile among MLS fullbacks and wingbacks in expected assists per 90 minutes, according to Second Spectrum. He could be doing more for Inter Miami – in fact, Phil Neville probably needs him to do more (0g/2a in 11 games) – but all things considered, Yedlin has been a positive force for his team this season. It seems extremely likely that Yedlin will be on the plane to Qatar in November.

Stock: Falling

Kellyn Acosta is a statistical conundrum – and really, he’s a conundrum when you watch him on tape, too. He brings value for LAFC (and for the national team) with his set pieces and his ability to deputize at four different positions: the No. 6, the No. 8, right back and left back. In 2022, Acosta has been strong with his dead balls. He’s currently in the 84th percentile for average xG created from free kicks and corner kicks.

Still, he’s not actually been good this season at most of the open-play stuff that we usually think good soccer players are good at. Acosta isn’t winning the ball at a very high rate for LAFC and he’s not creating chances in open play, either. I doubt Berhalter would consider leaving Acosta off of his World Cup roster, but nonetheless, the USMNT will need more out of him as the year continues.

Stock: Steady

While his position for the USMNT isn’t totally defined, Cristian Roldan is a full-time right winger for the Seattle Sounders – and he’s been a strong performer at that spot for Seattle this year. Roldan is moving well in the attack, finding good spots to receive passes and bypassing defenders after he receives the ball. Per Second Spectrum, Roldan is in the 82nd percentile among wingers with at least 500 minutes in defenders bypassed per 90 and he’s one of the most frequent off-ball runners in the league.

Roldan has two goals and three assists this season and, according to ASA, he’s 75th in the league in xG+xA per 96 (0.38) among players with at least 400 minutes. He also placed on the Concacaf Champions League Best XI after dishing out five assists in CCL play to help deliver Seattle's historic title. With all of the other wide attacking talent in the US pool, Roldan will need to boost his chance creation and goalscoring numbers to guarantee himself a place at the World Cup.

Stock: Rising

Let’s look across the field at the player on the other side of the Sounder’s attack, shall we? Jordan Morris’ MLS-centric goals and assists numbers aren’t any better than Roldan’s, but the underlying numbers do like him more so far in 2022. Morris’ 0.60 xG+xA per 96 puts him 16th in the league among players with at least 400 minutes. On top of his expected numbers, Morris is still one of the fastest players in MLS. Per Second Spectrum, Morris has the eighth-fastest recorded top speed in the league this season.

There’s a ton of competition for winger spots, but if Morris continues to put up numbers like the ones we’re seeing now, he’ll make it very difficult for Berhalter to leave him home in November.

Stock: Rising

Like Roldan and Morris, Paul Arriola is another player competing for minutes on the wing. Unlike Roldan and Morris, Arriola has the advantage of playing in a Dallas system that mirrors the USMNT’s tactical setup. Arriola plays as the right winger in Nico Estevez’s 4-3-3 formation and is one of the most active pressers in MLS, per Second Spectrum.

Arriola’s defensive work rate and his ability to react and attack space right after Dallas win the ball have been on full display this season.

Unless he starts banging in goals at a wild rate, Arriola isn’t a shoo-in for the World Cup. But I do like his chances.

Stock: Rising

Take whatever benefit Arriola is getting from playing in Estevez’s USMNT-esque system and double it for Jesus Ferreira.

Apparently playing as a full-time No. 9 in a 4-3-3 suits Ferreira quite well. In 900 minutes, Ferreira is leading the Golden Boot presented by Audi race with nine goals and he also has some of the best xG+xA numbers in the league. Plays like this one are simple, but seeing an American striker crash the box and finish has to make Berhalter smile.

With his movement in the box and in midfield, as well as his soft first touch and technique in tight spaces, it sure feels like Ferreira is going to be getting real minutes at the World Cup later this year.