Predicting the USMNT World Cup roster

We can say it without jinxing anything! The US Men’s National Team are going to Qatar! Immediately after qualifying for the World Cup, the USMNT were drawn into Group B, alongside England, Iran and the winner of the European playoff between Wales, Scotland and Ukraine.

There’s still eight months until the November kickoff (no, we’re not used to that yet either), but it’s always fun to speculate about the final roster. Everyone’s doing it. We’re no different. We’ll do this again after the USMNT plays matches in June and September, but for now, Chris Ivey and myself will wildly speculate on which players Gregg Berhalter could call up.

It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but coaches are discussing increasing the roster size from 23 to 26 players. We’ll use the 26 player roster for this exercise; it’s just more fun.

Write them in pen

  1. Zach Steffen (Manchester City)
  2. Matt Turner (New England Revolution / Arsenal)
  3. Sergiño Dest (FC Barcelona)
  4. Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
  5. Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
  6. Antonee “Jedi” Robinson (Fulham)
  7. Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
  8. Weston McKennie (Juventus)
  9. Yunus Musah (Valencia)
  10. Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
  11. Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
  12. Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg)
  13. Timothy Weah (Lille)

Ben Wright: This lock list feels pretty extensive, and it’s no coincidence that you could make an almost first-choice starting lineup from these players. There were a couple additional players that I almost wanted to include here, but might not be as nailed down as these 13.

Chris Ivey: The only name that I would add is Kellyn Acosta. But Acosta’s inclusion on this lock list is more a reflection of the lack of other viable options as Tyler Adams’ principal backup for the no. 6 role than anything else. U.S. National Team fans better hope that those two stay healthy over the next seven months.

Pencil them in

  1. Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC)
  2. DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF)
  3. Chris Richards (Hoffenheim)
  4. Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo)
  5. Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas)
  6. Paul Arriola (FC Dallas)
  7. Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)

Chris: The expanded rosters for this World Cup certainly help both Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola. Right now, Arriola’s seat on the plane feels more locked in than Morris’ seat.  But with the recent expansion from 23 to 26 available roster slots, it makes Gregg Berhalter’s decision much easier. 

Ben: I think Morris is more of a sure thing than people give him credit for. He was close to a starter under Berhalter before his injury, and while he and Arriola both play the same position, he’s a totally different player, and the best “vertical threat” in the pool not named Tim Weah. He’s still getting back from injury, but as his club form improves I think he’ll feel more like a lock.

Just making the cut

  1. Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)
  2. Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
  3. Ricardo Pepi (FC Augsburg)
  4. George Bello (Armina Bielefeld)
  5. Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest)
  6. Jordan Pefok (Young Boys)

Ben: In all honesty, I could see neither of these strikers making the roster. I could also see both going to Qatar as the starting no. 9. It’s completely up in the air and in my mind will come down to form in October. None of the strikers in the pool have made the job theirs. Ferreira at least offers a different dimension, which to me puts him ahead of anyone else in terms of just making the roster, but it’s an open competition. 

I think that third goalkeeper spot is also up for grabs, but it’s also arguably the least important spot in the squad. There are several players who could do a perfectly fine job there.

The other key issue is left back. Jedi Robinson has run away with the starting spot in the last 12 months, but there’s still not a clear backup. George Bello has been consistently called up, but he’s had a rough start to life in Germany. He’s in the squad for now, but that could change in the next couple months.

Chris: This is certainly the group where none of the six names eventually make it on the final roster. The striker issues are well documented. Jesús Ferreira’s spot feels more secure than the rest as he is a better fit for Berhalter’s system with his ability to drop back and link up play. After Ferreira, the remaining striker positions will come down to who is hot and if anyone impresses this summer. 

As far as the third goalkeeper, I am firmly in the camp advocating for Gabriel Slonina. The Chicago Fire youngster is a future national team star. Exposing Slonina to a World Cup atmosphere in a risk-free setting before he eventually takes the no. 1 role. Plus, he is not yet cap-tied to the United States. Anything the U.S. can do, within reason, to secure his long-term commitment must be considered.

Could play their way into contention

  • Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati)
  • Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
  • Gianluca Busio (Venizia)
  • Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
  • Gabrial Slonina (Chicago Fire)
  • Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
  • Mark McKenzie (Genk)
  • Sam Vines (Antwerp)
  • Tim Ream (Fulham)
  • Sebastian Lletget (New England Revolution)
  • Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montréal)
  • Josh Sargent (Norwich)
  • Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion)
  • Konrad de la Fuente (Marseille)
  • Jozy Altidore (New England Revolution)
  • John Brooks (Wolfsburg)

Ben: If someone like Brandon Vazquez keeps scoring like he’s doing now for Cincinnati, I’d at least give him a look in June or September. Gyasi Zardes is a Berhalter favorite and could get back in the mix with improved club form. 

Chris: Brandon Vazquez makes a lot of sense for a summer call up. He is finally receiving steady minutes and making the most of it. Some guys are just late bloomers. Plus, Vazquez seemingly would fit in well with the tasks asked of a Gregg Berhalter striker.

Ben: I just can’t get past the idea of Jozy Altidore hitting a hot streak and getting called back up. He’ll have just turned 33 and I will die on the hill that he’s still the most talented striker in the pool. If he’s healthy, in decent form, and the rest of the options look as bleak as they do now, I’d bring him.

Chris: While it is a fun rhetorical exercise, I would be shocked to see Altidore included. He has never been called up by Berhalter and does not play enough in New England to suggest that he could go on a scoring tear that would warrant a July call up. 

Ben: I think there’s potential for more minutes for him if Adam Buksa gets sold in the summer, but something would have to change for him to be called up. It also just goes to show how thin the striker pool is at the moment.

Joe Scally is an interesting name and one that the fans are firmly latched onto, and honestly I think he has as much of a shot as Bello to get into the squad. He’s playing regularly in the Bundesliga and will have time to jump up in the depth chart. I personally don’t love the idea of only bringing one left-footed fullback, but Dest has played enough on the left that it doesn’t seem to be an issue for Berhalter.

Chris: Dest is absolutely the backup left back in Berhalter’s mind. Scally makes the most sense if Berhalter decides to carry only four fullbacks on the full roster. Scally’s ability to play on both sides provides versatility to carry depth elsewhere on the roster.

Ben: John Brooks is last on this list for a reason, which was almost unthinkable at the start of this cycle. He’s an exceptional passer out of the back and his club form has bounced back, which was the initial reason for him to be dropped. It seems like there’s some off-the-field issues that are playing into things, though, and with Zimmerman and Robinson running away with the starting pairing, I don’t see him on the plane, barring undroppable form for Wolfsburg.

Chris: Beyond any rumored personal beef with Berhalter, Brooks needs to figure out his club situation. Wolfsburg already announced that they would not renew his contract. It is a precarious position for any player to switch clubs on the eve of the World Cup.

If you had to put money on one player breaking into the roster in the next eight months, who would it be?

Chris: As a betting man, I would lay a wager on Brandon Vazquez. It is the combination of talent, opportunity, and need. No one in this striker pool as entrenched themselves into the role. Throughout this entire cycle, there has been a new flavor of the week at striker. Vazquez’s scintillating start to the 2022 MLS season is leading to talk that he may be the latest in-form no. 9 to get a look. Vazquez also has familiarity with other pieces on this roster. He featured for U.S. Youth National Teams alongside Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Luca de la Torre. That history would help to quickly integrate him into a locker room that has already gone to battle together through World Cup qualifying.

Ben: I’d put money on Vazquez too. Djordje Mihailovic is a super intriguing option. He’s more creative than any eight currently in the picture and is playing lights out for Montreal. He’s always been on the periphery and fills a void in the roster. It feels less likely than Vazquez, but he’d bring a different look to the roster.

Chris: I agree with Mihailovic. I am not sure Berhalter would view him as a starter for one of the no. 8 roles. But if the U.S. is trailing late, Mihailovic is a chess piece that could flip the board to unlock a bunkering defense.

Starting XI for the World Cup opener

Ben: This is the most speculative part of this entire piece, but whatever… 

Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, M. Robinson, A. Robinson; Adams, Musah, McKennie; Pulisic, Reyna, Weah

Chris: Whoa!  We made it through the entire conversation and you are just now dropping the Timothy Weah in the no. 9 position on me. 

Ben: I had to sneak it in there. He’s in better form than any of the other strikers right now. If no one else grabs the starting striker spot, I think he has to be considered.

Chris: It is an intriguing option. My guess is that we will have our answer on Weah’s viability as the starting striker very soon. This summer’s Nations’ League matches are the golden opportunity to tinker with the system.  

Nothing earth shattering, but here is my Starting XI: 

Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, M. Robinson, A. Robinson; Adams, Musah, McKennie; Pulisic, Ferriera, Reyna

Ben: We’re both going to be so wrong and I can’t wait.

Chris: That really is the only guarantee at this point. We all will inevitably be proven wrong.

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