Stock Up, Stock Down: USMNT World Cup Qualifying

The US Men’s National Team wrapped up their first three-match window of the World Cup Qualifying cycle with a 4-1 win in Honduras, sending the team out on a positive note before they return for camp again in just over a month. The victory puts the US in third place in the standings, a needed improvement after draws against El Salvador and Canada.

Stock Up: Miles Robinson ↑

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The Atlanta United defender continued his excellent form after his strong Gold Cup showing, and was arguably the standout performer in the US’s three matches. He started and played every minute at the back, and was dominant in the air. He was consistently up to the task defensively, and covered for his teammates, cleaning up for their mistakes. He went from being a potential contributor with the full squad to arguably one of the first names on the team sheet.

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Stock Down: John Brooks ↓

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Going into qualifying, John Brooks seemed like a write-it-in-pen starter for the first-choice squad. He’s an every week starter in the Bundesliga and Champions League for Wolfsburg, and he’s in his prime. He’s a high-level distributor of the ball out of the back, and a consistent threat from set pieces.

But then he completely lost Cyle Larin on Canada’s goal:

And then gave the ball away and failed to track back on Brayan Moya’s goal:

Both of those, especially the first, are mistakes you don’t expect a defender at the international level to make, especially one with Brooks’ pedigree. It’s not the first time he’s struggled in Concacaf, either. We’re past the point where he should be an assumed starter every week, and Berhalter’s decision to pull him at halftime confirms that.

What’s somewhat mystifying is that Walker Zimmerman, one of the more no-nonsense defenders in the pool, played a grand total of zero minutes this window, while Mark McKenzie and James Sands both looked shaky. Come October, if he’s still performing at a consistent level for Nashville like expected, he deserves a larger role.

Stock Up: Tyler Adams ↑

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It’s not thrilling that Adams was basically forced into playing 270 minutes in six days, but with all the on and off field issues, he was undroppable. Many who cover the team have said that he’s the most important player for this side, and it’s hard to disagree after these three games.

He does all the dirty work off the ball, covering ground and winning tackles in a very N’Golo Kante-esque fashion. His passing range is better than credited. He’s clearly the leader of this team on the field, and one of the more vocal public faces.

Everyone knew he was important heading into this window. He’s even more important now…

Stock Down: Weston McKennie ↓

Ben Wright-Broadway Sports

…because of the nightmare week Weston McKennie had. The young Juventus midfielder was suspended for a violation of team rules, which ESPN‘s Jeff Carlisle reported included spending a night outside the team’s bubble, as well as bringing an unauthorized visitor into it.

At this point rehashing everything around McKennie’s suspension is unnecessary. I’ll be honest; I almost listed him as “stock up”, because his absence against Canada and Honduras showed just how important he is to this squad on the field. But the poor decision making is inexcusable. Hopefully he learns from it, moves on, and is back in the picture in October.

Stock Up: Anthony Robinson ↑

Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

Left back has been a consistent problem for the US for the last seven-plus years. Robinson didn’t really answer those questions in the Nations League, but his performance this window should make him the front runner for the starting job in the next window.

Robinson was excellent against Canada, delivering the assist for Brendan Aaronson’s crucial goal. And coming in at halftime against Honduras, he scored the equalizing goal. He’s consistently a wide option in possession, interchanges well with Christian Pulisic, and has really improved as a defender in the last 12 months. His progression was one of the more encouraging developments of this camp.

Stock Down: Josh Sargent ↓

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For starters, Sargent’s workrate is never an issue. He presses well, defends well from the front, and is always willing to check back and hold the ball up.

But in general, he wasn’t threatening at all this window. His best moment was a header back across goal against Honduras, but in general he looks unsure of where to move up front. Playing in an unfamiliar wide role for the first time in a US shirt on Wednesday didn’t help, but you need more from a starting striker at this level.

Sargent is young, played for a terrible Werder Bremen side for the last two years, and is still adapting at Norwich, who also don’t play an expansive style of attacking soccer. He’ll be a part of this national team for a long time, and should be involved in October. But he needs to show a lot more to be the starter every week.

Stock Up: Ricardo Pepi ↑

Fortunately for the US, Ricardo Pepi stepped up in a major way in Honduras. His first-ever international cap came under immense pressure, and he wasn’t phased.

He scored the winner:

He assisted the third:

And he played a major role in the fourth:

He did just about everything you could ask for a striker in a high-pressure game, and he’s just 18 years old! He’s the highest-scoring American in Major League Soccer this year for a reason, but it’s hard to translate club form to the international level, especially in such an important match in a hostile environment. He outperformed both Sargent and Jordan Pefok.

Pepi did what other no. 9s haven’t; scored and created goals from open play. For all else that gets asked of strikers in Berhalter’s system, that’s still the most important, fundamental thing you can do as a forward. That should pave the way for more minutes in October.

Which players impressed or disappointed you? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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