Armchair Analyst: Predicting the USMNT roster for the November window

Update (Nov. 2): The U.S. Soccer Federation announced that the November U.S. men's national team roster will be announced on Election Day, November 3:

Below, Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle shared his projected roster ahead of Gregg Berhalter's official squad unveil.


It has quite obviously been the very weirdest year for soccer in the US, and that includes for the US men's national team and every level of the youth national teams. March was supposed to be a Olympic qualifying for the U-23s and a massive, European-based camp with a pair of friendlies. There was no summer tournament scheduled for the USMNT, but there would have been at least six friendlies, the Olympics and a big U-20 camp. Then this autumn, World Cup qualifying proper was supposed to start.

All of that has been wiped out by the global pandemic, and so neither the USMNT nor the U-20s have played since January. The U-23s haven't played at all in 2020. It's been a year of nothing.

And yet it's also been kind of an awesome year for the USMNT, right? Christian Pulisic leveled up to become one of the very best wingers in the world. Tyler Adams has gotten healthier (though not 100% healthy) and slid into more of a game-controlling quarterback role instead of a game-destroying terrier role. Weston McKennie moved from Schalke, who play the worst soccer in the world, to Juventus, who very much don't. Gio Reyna put his miserable performance at the U-17 World Cup behind him almost immediately after it happened and has broken through in a big way for Borussia Dortmund, starting the majority of their biggest games even at just 17 years old. Sergino Dest went from part-time starter at Ajax to part-time-starter-after-a-$20 million-move to Barcelona, and acquitted himself well in his first El Clasico.

Just one of those things would have made 2020 some sort of win for the USMNT. All five of them happening in the course of a few months is kind of mind-bending. We have rarely had a single player suiting in those types of major roles for clubs at that level, and when it did happen it was usually a 'keeper. Now, however, we've got five players in major roles for five of the best teams in the world, and all are age 22 or younger.

It's not just those five, though. Chris Richards started getting sporadic minutes for Bayern Munich. Tim Weah made his first halting steps back from a long-term injury. Antonee Robinson almost moved to AC Milan, then did move to Fulham in the Premier League. Josh Sargent is a regular starter in the Bundesliga for the second straight season, and hasn't yet turned 21. Reggie Cannon made a move to Portugal with Lille — and a perennial place in European competition — the likely next stop. Zack Steffen has solidified himself as Manchester City's No. 2.

No USMNT fan could've realistically asked for more. In terms of how the vast majority of our young core has developed, this has been a banner year. So that means that for the USMNT, it has been a banner year.

And quite obviously the weird part is that we've yet to see these guys get on the field together and put the above progress and development to work in Red, White & Blue. Reyna and Richards have never played for the full national team. Weah, whose most recent cap came in 2018, has never played for Gregg Berhalter after missing basically all of 2019 with injuries. Adams and Robinson have played for Berhalter just once.

Those numbers would be very different if 2020 had been a normal year, in any sense. We'd have a better sense of how they fit and who Berhalter rated where, and, of course, how they'd play.

Extratime: What's the best USMNT XI right now?

Which brings us to next month's international date, during which the US are scheduled to play Wales on November 12 and maaaaaaybe Panama after that if all the paperwork can be sorted. Both games will be in the UK.

This is the first chance to see all or, at least, most of that young core on the field together in any sort of setting. After 10 months of waiting the USMNT will be back, and it should be a different and much-improved bunch over what we saw throughout most of 2019.

Given travel restrictions placed on people coming from the US these days, I expect Berhalter to call in a predominantly European squad with a few MLS players from non-playoff teams mixed in. There is no cap on the numbers of players Berhalter can call in, and given how many camps have been missed this year, I'm expecting him to go big — much bigger than the usual 23-man roster. Here we go:

GOALKEEPER: Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Jonathan Klinsmann (LA Galaxy)

Steffen is still the clear No. 1 in Berhalter's eyes, which doesn't appear likely to change. Horvath went a year without playing, then got on the field earlier this month for Brugge in the Champions League and had himself a blinder. It was a nice moment for the kid.

Klinsmann has struggled mightily since being handed the starting job in Carson, but he's one of just two U-23 US 'keepers getting starting minutes anywhere in the world. The other — and presumed Olympic starter based upon form and, especially, footwork — is San Jose's J.T. Marcinkowski, who will be busy prepping for the playoffs.

Berhalter and pretty much everyone at U.S. Soccer has talked about how important the Olympics are this cycle, so I suspect he'll give a potential qualifying 'keeper a call and an invite across the pond to train with the first team, which itself is packed with Olympic-eligible players. Even if Klinsmann seems unlikely to play a big role in Olympic qualifying... you never know. And there's no harm in bringing the kid to this camp.

FULLBACKS: Dest (Barcelona), Cannon (Boavista), Robinson (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Shaq Moore (CD Tenerife)

Dest and Cannon are locks, and are probably the starters. Robinson has struggled defensively in his past US appearances, but he was young, the competition-level was mostly high, and the entire team was mostly a mess in those caps. He is an easy call. So are Yedlin — despite the fact that he hasn't played for Newcastle this year, and is clearly out the door come winter — and Moore, who has quietly won a starting job in the Segunda Liga.

Something to think about with regard to fullback usage, which has been a point of contention since literally Berhalter's first game in charge: The last time the US took the field, back in February against Costa Rica, we saw both wingers pinch inside and both fullbacks (Sam Vines on the left; Cannon on the right) push forward at pace in a pretty linear way. There was no tucking into central midfield or any of the other misdirection that Berhalter spent much of 2019 trying to bake into the way the team plays.

Reggie Cannon, now at Boavista in Portugal, should get plenty of chances in November. | USA Today Images

That bodes well for Cannon (who actually won the match-deciding PK on the overlap), and especially Robinson and Yedlin. Both of those guys have the straight-line speed to go endline-to-endline but neither is the type of gifted technician who'd be comfortable coming inside and dictating play in the way that, for example, Dest or Adams (when playing fullback) can.

Moore is, I'm sure, a bit of a mystery to most US fans. The short scouting report: right-footed, straight-line player; exceptional crosser; probably a little sleepy defensively to the point that he's actually been played as a classic, non-inverted winger a bunch.

CENTER BACKS: John Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Tim Ream (Fulham), Matt Miazga (Anderlecht), Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Vienna), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Bournemouth)

The only questions here are fitness with regard to Richards and Carter-Vickers, each of whom have suffered knocks and been out for a bit.

And also, consider the stability and progress of that massive cohort of young players mentioned in the lede against the instability and one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of the careers of Miazga, Palmer-Brown and Carter-Vickers. It is a night-and-day difference, and should be a reminder to the fanbase to appreciate this moment when so many of our best players are steadily advancing their careers for great clubs.

Another thing to consider: If playing for the likes of Anderlecht, Austria Vienna and Bournemouth is the bad outcome... that's actually pretty good!

DEFNSIVE MIDFIELDERS: Adams (RB Leipzig), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional Porto Alegre), Chris Durkin (Sint-Truiden)

This is the "quarterback" role and we should pretty obviously see at least 150 minutes of Adams in this spot if he his healthy. Berhalter has indicated, over the past year or so, that he's planning to use Adams in central midfield, but has also been cagey about which spot. In the past I think there's been an argument that Adams' best skill — his front-foot pressing and ability to cause turnovers — can be best brought to bear in more of a No. 8 role, but given the role he's now playing for Leipzig, his personal preference and his growth as a passer of the ball, as well as need within the USMNT and the other options at the No. 8 and 10 spots... I hope Berhalter doesn't overthink this. Let's see the kid take a few snaps.

Cardoso might actually be more of a No. 8, though I have the 19-year-old listed as a No. 6 here. He's played both spots for the Brazilian giants both domestically and in the Copa Libertadores.

Durkin has played myriad roles for Sint-Truiden during an up-and-down season, and I think it'd be pretty easy to make the case that he hasn't really earned a call-up based upon his play. But his skillset matches what Berhalter has traditionally looked for from the No. 6, and Durkin's still just 20 — i.e., Olympic-eligible — so as with Klinsmann, it's an easy call to bring him to this camp even if he's very unlikely to see the field.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS: McKennie (Juventus), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Bryang Kayo (Wolfsburg U-23s)

Holmes has struggled for fitness and for playing time once he's been fit, but it's worth bringing him into camp. The same is probably true for Kayo, who's yet to make his first-team debut for Wolfsburg but seems to have been fast-tracked in a way that Uly Llanez and Kobe Hernandez-Foster were not.

I'm curious to see if McKennie and Adams would play side-by-side out of possession, as Sebastian Lletget and Jackson Yueill did against the Ticos. It was much more of a 4-2-3-1 double-pivot look than Berhalter had previously used, and would seem to be a snug fit for this group.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS: Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Lletget (LA Galaxy), Richie Ledezma (Jong PSV)

Reyna's debut is obviously one of the main selling points of this camp, and he should start and play as many minutes as Berhalter and Dortmund's sports science department think is appropriate in the middle of a Bundesliga season. I want to see how he'll fit into the same midfield as Adams and McKennie.

17-year-old Dortmund prodigy Giovanni Reyna will be a big focal point of November's camp. | Action Images / Reuters

Lletget gets the call because he is basically the only potential USMNT starter in MLS whose team did not/is not going to make the playoffs, and obviously he's been excellent for the US. There is no reason not to bring him even if he's unlikely to play much during this camp.

As for Ledezma... I still believe. His progress has been nowhere near as linear or quick as the likes of Reyna, McKennie, Adams or Pulisic, and there are times where his deficiencies — he's super right-footed; his set piece delivery is erratic; he lacks physicality — are on full display even in the Eerste Divisie, a level of soccer that is honestly no higher than the USL Championship.

But he's still pretty young (just turned 20) and still has a high upside. And like others on this roster, he's here because he's likely to be a big part of Olympic qualifying, so why not bring him along?

WINGERS: Pulisic (Chelsea), Weah (Lille), Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo), Llanez (Heerenveen), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Konrad de la Fuente (Barca B)

Pulisic on the left, and then we figure out what works best on the right. I'm hoping it'll be Weah, even though he's played few minutes (and they've mostly been at center forward) since returning from injury. Weah's also not a prototype modern right winger in that he's not super-dangerous 1v1 off the dribble, but he's a smart and inventive passer and is very good in the half-spaces. If you look back to the February game, Berhalter had the wingers tuck inside quite often and operate there while the fullbacks overlapped and the Free 8s pulled deeper.

De la Torre, unlike Ledezma and Llanez, is actually starting Eredivisie games, so into the mix he goes. Same with de la Fuente, who had a few nice preseason appearances for the full Barcelona side but is, as of now, still a Barca B player.

I could live without Boyd, who struggled in his last few US appearances and has been left out of Besiktas's squad both domestically and in European play. But also, I see zero harm in calling him in.

CENTER FORWARDS: Sargent (Werder Bremen), Nicolas Gioacchini (Caen), Sebastian Soto (Telstar), Haji Wright (SonderjyskE)

Sargent should basically get every single No. 9 second available here even though he's mostly been played as a winger or second forward for Werder (though that's about to change given the injuries in that squad; Sargent should get a few weeks to lock down the No. 9 job).

Gioacchini is a 20-year-old center forward playing at a decent level (Ligue 2) whose hold-up play is more impressive than his finishing for the time being. Soto is a 20-year-old center forward playing at a low level (Eerste Divisie) whose finishing is more impressive than his hold-up play for the time being. Neither have really earned a full USMNT camp, but deserve's got nothing to do with it at this point. They are here to get a feel for the system, which could/should lay some of the foundation for what they may be asked to do with the Olympic team.

The same is true for the 22-year-old Wright, who I've never particularly rated. He did not cut it in Germany or the Netherlands, but he now has five goals in 240 minutes in Denmark. There is real "Romain Gall" energy to this burst of form, and I will not shed a tear if he is not called in. But I certainly won't complain if he is.

I will complain a bit if Aron Johannsson is called in. He's about to turn 30, has played more than 2,000 minutes in a season exactly once, and is only scoring against bottom-tier teams in Sweden. Even when he was in his athletic prime and scoring regularly in the Eredivisie international soccer was too quick for him; I can't imagine that would be different now. 

If you want to reach for a European-based veteran to call for this camp, I'd honestly throw Bobby Wood a lifeline instead. Like Johannsson his career has been marred by injury, but he's just 27 and unlike Johannsson he has a history of delivering big goals for the USMNT and looking physically capable of handling international play. He has scored massive goals in official competition against Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, and those are exactly the type of goals the US will need over the next 18 months.

I'm not as concerned about our center forward depth chart as others — I think Sargent will come good, I think Gyasi Zardes will score tough goals, I'm betting big that one of Daryl Dike, Jeremy Ebobisse or Ayo Akinola will hit, and I think Jozy Altidore's got at least a little something left. But I do worry about the types of goals that Wood scored at Honduras back in 2017, and would feel like 10 percent better about the depth chart if he was somewhere scoring them.

So if you want a vet, call Bobby. Otherwise, for this camp I'm good with the four kids.


My XI:

  • You could pretty easily talk me into Dest starting on the left, Cannon on the right and Robinson off the bench.
  • This is early for Richards, who's only played a few minutes at right back for the Bayern first team, but he's worth it as a prospect and I'd be fine with this unless Miazga, Palmer-Brown or Carter-Vickers just buries him in training.
  • I could see Lletget starting in midfield and Reyna as the right-sided winger given the way that winger operates for Berhalter.

Anyway, it'll be great to have the USMNT back and I genuinely can't wait to watch these guys play. It's been too long.

Series: 
Topics: