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A look at what the USMNT roster could have looked like in Russia


The U.S. Men’s National Team isn’t going to be in Russia next week for the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

It’s a reality that keeps hitting fans harder as as 32 other nations set their sights on the sport’s biggest tournament.

While the current focus is on youth and gearing up for the 2022 World Cup cycle, not many of the young stars in the talent pool would’ve received a call-up if the USMNT qualified for Russia.

Banking on experience, in-form players and a the best of the young group, we took our best shot at predicting what the 2018 World Cup roster might have looked like:


Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Zack Steffen 

Once seen as the most stable position on the roster, goalkeeper is suddenly becoming one of the top concerns moving forward for the USMNT.

The young collection of goalkeepers that was supposed to take over for Tim Howard and Brad Guzan never reached their full potential, which is why the experienced netminders would be on the plane to Russia.

Out of the next generation, Zack Steffen appears to be the frontrunner for the No. 1 shirt due to his tremendous form with the Columbus Crew over the last year-and-a-half.

Whether Steffen has the quality right now to start on the World Cup stage is up in the air, which is why he’s brought along in the squad to gain experience and kickstart the process for the 2022 World Cup cycle.

Missed the Cut: Bill Hamid, Ethan Horvath


DeAndre Yedlin, Jorge Villafana, John Brooks, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron, Matt Miazga, Eric Lichaj

The integration of younger players in defense is going to have to wait until after Russia, as the Americans rely on more experience to get through another tournament.

DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana are locks to start at the two full back positions, while Eric Lichaj is a solid third option just in case one of the two is out of form or goes down.

John Brooks is the unquestioned No. 1 center back on the depth chart, and he is one of the first names written on the matchday lineup sheet.

Brooks’ center back partner would be up for debate between the experienced Geoff Cameron, the in-form Tim Ream or the face of the future Matt Miazga.

Cameron’s been paired with Brooks the most of the three, which would lead you to believe he’d be the frontrunner, but you can’t ignore the season-long catalog of performances Ream produced during Fulham’s promotion campaign.

Missed the Cut: Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman


Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Alejandro Bedoya, Weston McKennie, Fabian Johnson, Darlington Nagbe Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola 

Before you lash out at Michael Bradley’s inclusion, he’s still one of the top five American players, and it would be silly not to have him captaining the squad in Russia.

Christian Pulisic, who is a potential future captain of the USMNT, is the second easy choice to make when selecting the midfield group. After that, it gets harder as we try and plug in players for the needs of the squad.

As the USMNT’s Swiss Army knife, Alejandro Bedoya receives a call for Russia, while Gyasi Zardes’ flexibility to start out on the wing shifts him into the midfield category.

Fabian Johnson brings pace on the wings, while Darlington Nagbe’s technical ability in the final third is vital for combination with Pulisic behind the forwards.

Paul Arriola serves as a well-rounded experienced part of the depth chart, or as a spot started in a group stage game in the tier of attack beneath the forward.

While Bradley may start by himself in defensive midfield, it’s wise to have an experienced body like Wil Trapp as his back-up.

The final choice in midfield comes down to Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams. Both players deserve the honor, but we’re going with experienced gained from a hardened league like the Bundesliga over MLS by a slight edge.

Missed The Cut: Tyler Adams, Wil Trapp, Kellyn Acosta, Benny Feilhaber


Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Andrija Novakovich, Josh Sargent

With Jozy Altidore injured, the USMNT needs to find goals from somewhere else at a major competition once again.

Clint Dempsey is the obvious choice in terms of experience, and he’ll break Landon Donovan’s USMNT scoring record during the group stage.

Bobby Wood is in terrible form, and if he was representing any other country, he’d probably be on the outside looking in, but the USMNT forward depth chart is scant.

As the in-form member of the group, Andrija Novakovich receives a spot on the plane to Russia, while the raw talent displayed by Josh Sargent in small glimpses earns him the final spot on the roster.

Although the USMNT could’ve opted for older, more in-form options, Sargent is the future and it’s worth taking a chance on him.

Missed the Cut: Jozy Altidore, Dom Dwyer, Teal Bunbury


  1. this has got to be the most depressing discussion ever. But, for the sake of argument assuming they had qualified, why would BA have changed anything at all in his approach? Mostly MLSers with Pulisic, Yedlin and maybe JABrooks, plus a couple of guys playing in Mexico, (OG and JV.) Because of the USSoccer’s set up, there is always going to be tension between putting the best team on the field and filling the seats with people wanting to see familiar names on the roster. Up until now it had mostly been a problem on the women’s side but it finally caught up with the men this cycle.

  2. I don’t think Brooks or FJ is a certain call up. Both guys just came off a season or 2 of non stop injuries. In form for sure both guys are starters but I don’t think either guy is in form today. I also think Jozy somehow makes the team and starts. Not a Jozy fan just saying he seems to be the starter no matter what

  3. I know this…

    BA would have played a 442 empty bucket with uncreative CMs and no linking wide or center necessitating bypassing the midfield with long balls to non ball winning forwards with no pace. Defenders would be instructed to clear everything that touches their feet without trying to play from the back or shuttle the ball to you deep lying CMs because they would just back pass anyway. Offensively we would be limited to hoping for a lucky corner kick set piece from a piss poor crosser of MB most corners not getting over the first defender of course leading to wild counters in which we’d get punished at least once a game.

    Of course all SBI mafia readers would watch every second of every game and yell at any woman who dares distract them from the match. This rabid viewership is what is good for business and all the soccer powers of SUM/MLS really want anyway. Unfortunately for them and FIFA the next bidding process will have to discount the chance of missing a WC to a greater degree than before in the pricing equation. A good bargaining chip for the Fox/ESPNs/Netflix/Youtube’s or whatever streaming service is next.

    If your name is Chandler, Williams, Johansen, Green, Morales, Steffen, Hamid, Lichaj, Johnson, and possibly Cameron you would not even be considered for a spot.

    Here is BA’s starting 11 (442) given full health Game 1 with primary backups in () :

    -Nagbe(Zardes out of position)————————–Pulisic(Arriola)———–




    And Rimando would have been third string keeper too. Maybe McKennie would have been an unused sub and on the bench. An ugly starting 11 and even uglier with a few injuries that will surely happen. All because we can’t “change” now we have to go with who has experience, which is code for “we can’t call up and start players with no name recognition how would that help us market MLS”.

    Rant over flame away.

    • I would say that is more likely the starting lineup. I just wanna say Tim Ream should start over OG at this point. So maybe OG and Nagbe are the only two I don’t think would start on the first group game. I could see another DM instead of Nagbe. How many times have we seen 3 DM’s in the lineup

    • Orozco: Never played after Bruce took over and barely played for Tijuana this season.
      McKennie: probably takes McCarty’s spot, Bruce and Tab had both talked that McKennie was to be added this Spring after qualification ended
      Wondo: Never saw the field for Bruce, but given Morris Altidore and AJ would be out its possible he makes it.
      Dempsey: Makes it by default if nothing else, but when all 3 were available Bruce chose Wood and Altidore

      This team wouldn’t have made it out of the group stage and even getting a point would have been an accomplishment. I’m not sure the squad playing France would have done any better even with Pulisic. The old guys were old and tired, but the new guys are undersized, underskilled, and naive at this point in their careers.

  4. Yikes, those forwards. Two play for second division sides and Sargent has been playing in 3rd division. Why not call in Dwyer? He has looked good the few times called in.

  5. This is a weird list. It’s too old and too full of players in bad form, and I hoped you’d have learned your lesson about that.

    My 23:

    Howard, Steffan, Horvath
    Cameron, Ream, Miazga, Brooks, Zimmerman, Villafana, Robinson, Yedlin, Chandler
    Bradley, Pulisic, McKennie, Nagbe, Acosta, Adams
    Zardes, Altidore, Dempsey, Weah, Saief

    1) If FJ is healthy he’s at RB instead of Robinson
    2) If Saief is not healthy he can be replaced by, IDK, Sargent if he can play wide? Otherwise (ugh, form) Arriola

    I mean, at forward you chose a guy who can’t play 90 minutes (who I chose too, so don’t feel bad), a guy whose form is terrible, and two guys with literally no experience against anyone with half a pulse. Then you took Zardes but put him in midfield where he doesn’t play. Bedoya who is over the hill at a position that requires major fitness. A primary backup who’s been a mess for years. And Will Trapp, like Schrodinger’s Cat, somehow makes and misses the team.

    • I think the author is trying to pick who would have made it. Had this group earned a point in TnT, there would have been no clear need for the overhaul. Some youngsters would have worked in like McKennie, but unlikely Robinson or Zimmerman would have been invited.

      • I can’t imagine how bad a manager one would have to be to think a team that barely qualified against CONCACAF minnows was the team one wanted to take on the world with, but, sure, Arena was a terrible coach who liked The Olds and was incredibly risk adverse.

  6. This is all academic, of course, but I don’t see how you cannot even consider Timmy Chandler for the defensive line. He had an outstanding season at Frankfurt and he at least should make the roster. Without Altidore, this team would have a lot of trouble scoring and I would probably bring Dwyer instead Sargent. Also, given Zardes’ success at Columbus, he might be a decent alternative up front. Finally, I would choose one of the young players like Adams or Acosta ahead of Bedoya. I don’t think Bedoya has done much since he came to MLS and would take even Dax McCarty over Bedoya. Dax is a very good passer.

    • Yikes Dax. I would take anybody over Dax and Bedoya. Agree with Chandler but don’t forget this Bruce Arena the manager and his probably taking Zusi, Lichaj over Chandler.

  7. yikes, calming my natural reaction to spit out a whole bunch of roster changes and realizing that this would have been a very difficult world cup.

    had Bruce Arena successfully earned a draw in T&T and was still the coach, no way that Sargent, Novakovic, Johnson, Brooks, Cameron would be part of his squad. Replace them with Altidore (or Juan Agudelo or Teal Bunbury), Adams, Zusi, Gonzalez and Besler and now we are that much more screwed.

    choosing to believe that if there was a WC on the horizon Howard and Dempsey would still be playing, instead of their semi-retired phoning it in status

    anyway you cut it, it would be an ugly 3 and out – worse than Arena’s Germany 2006 and this whole series of U23 friendlies that has been surprisingly refreshing would have never happened.

    • perhaps? but how to solve the deeper problem? non-mexico, non-canada, non-usa (and sometimes non-costa) concacaf nations play UGLY SOCCER. an ugly kick and foul game, painful to watch.

  8. the us military is testing out “iron man legs” (google it) – artificial robotic legs that a soldier wears on his body to help him to march across challenging terrain. in the future, our national team can use this when we play away games in concacaf on their horrible, pot hole filled pitches. using the iron man legs will help our players to avoid injury and “getting concacaf’ed”. so i think it’s good.

    • Ok yesterday I said your idea to let the fans vote for the USMNT was the dumbest idea I had heard on SBI comments but you’ve just passed it. Two cents did your eight-year-old hijack your account?

      • well johnny razor, the concacaf nations league cometh, we must prepare.

      • US doesn’t start Nations League until 2019, in a three-team league with one other Hex qualifier and one other likely Canada, Haiti, Jamaica, and then maybe a less than a skillful squad.

  9. i agree with imperative about the youth. and i am equally intrigued and excited about the new generation of American coaches coming up the ranks. (and i’m not just saying that because i want an american coach.) what marsch and berhalter and now friedel are doing as mls coaches is something that we’ve simply not seem before in us soccer coaching, is it? new tactics, new strategies. the hard press team, the transition team. we’ve not seem these before in mls, have we? it’s truly exciting to me to wonder what our future national team might be like with our exciting new players PLAYING IN A SYSTEM WITH ONE OF OUR EXCITING,NEW COACHES like jesse marsch, for example. that’s the other half of it, and that’s what i really want to see.

  10. this us team would SUCK and be so boring to watch. and not go far. i think we did the world a favor by not qualifying this time around.

      • that’s a good point. i think concacaf sucks after costa rica and should have done the world a favor by losing the play-in game with oceania or whatever for the fourth wc spot or whatever.

    • Honduras did lose the play-in game. CONCACAF gets three spots (Mex, CR, Pan) and a play in spot this time against Asia (Honduras vs Australia)

      • thanks johnnyrazor, i just saw that. in the group c preview it says that australia beat honduras in the two legged series.

    • i really believe Arena would have taken Acosta, Tyler Adams and Saief over Bedoya, Trapp and Zardes in midfield. I however could see him taking Zardes at Fwd, with Dempsey, Wood and Novakovich. It’s a bit better than the one the article suggested

  11. I don’t think you can’t say Michael Bradley is still one of the top 5 players. I watched him turn the ball over last weekend 2 times in the first 6 minutes that led directly to 2 wide open scoring opportunities. He just isn’t anywhere near the player we all remember for those 8-10 years. I don’t have a personal grudge against him coming back. He had a young family, and received a GREAT contract. Wise decision. At some point in your life, it differs for everyone, you have to make the best decision for your family and move on. He did. I am ready to move on as well.

  12. I think the GK/D/M lists look superficially more impressive than they are. Brand names heavily on the wane. There is a reason we are watching. Defense in particular is a mix of past it/ never was. I’d be more interested in a future oriented 23 than in pretending this bunch was any good, which reality is, they weren’t.

    • IV and Byrdman, I think the purpose of the article was to guess who would have been called in for the WC not necessarily who is our best 23. Arena would have likely added some youth (McKennie, maybe a young forward given injuries to AJ and Jozy) but would not have launched a complete overhaul. I don’t see any way Arena would have taken Cameron or left off OG. Of course, perhaps he would have had JGone to choose if we had qualified. Williams health is still a question, and I’m not sure Arena would have brought FJ given his long injury time this season. Somehow I think Bruce would have also brought Zusi just to mess with people. I think its also funny that Joe listed Zardes as a midfielder, if we’ve learned anything over the past year its that he’s a CF not a winger.

  13. The younger forwards probably wouldn’t have made the squad. Or at least more than one token, for purposes of exposure to the camp and atmosphere, which would probably be Sargent. In theory McKennie might have stood a chance but then if we’d made it maybe even a few more would have been in for a shot as well. It’s kind of a counter-factual exercise but it was always going to be an old fart team qualifying with kids coming up behind it, and a question of when they were ready. But the reality is they weren’t ready fast enough so meh.


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