It is an international fixture week across the globe, and while teams in South America and Europe are getting to play in meaningful national team matches, and other countries are playing useful friendlies, the U.S. Men’s National Team is stuck in limbo due to the unique challenges the United States is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At one point, the USMNT looked like it might pull off playing some October friendlies, and if it had, those matches were expected to consist exclusively of MLS players due to travel restriction issues, which would have allowed Gregg Berhalter’s European-based contingent to stay with their clubs and focus on their club situations before taking part in the expected November friendlies in Europe.
The proposed October friendlies never materialized though, leaving the MLS contingent of USMNT prospects facing the grim reality that they might not get another chance to impress with the national team until 2021, what with the November friendlies expected to consist almost exclusively of foreign-based players.
What might have a USMNT squad made up strictly of MLS-based players looked like? Here is a breakdown of the options Gregg Berhalter may have considered if he had October friendlies for the USMNT to play:
Sean Johnson, Matt Turner, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid.
All four players listed have been part of past USMNT camps under Gregg Berhalter, and while it hasn’t been a great season for Guzan and Hamid’s teams, they are both still in the conversation.
Johnson has been arguably the best American goalkeeper in MLS this season, though Turner has a good case for that distinction as well. Johnson’s form with NYCFC would have made him a good candidate to start October friendlies ahead of Guzan and Turner.
Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie, Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson, Kyle Duncan, Aaron Herrera, Sam Vines, Chase Gasper
There is no denying that Aaron Long hasn’t had his best season, but he is still near the top of the centerback depth chart, and would be one of the first defenders Berhalter would call in.
In terms of form, you can argue that no American centerback has been better in MLS this season than Mark McKenzie, and he would be a good candidate to start if there were March friendlies.
Much like Long, Miles Robinson hasn’t been at his best in 2020, but he remains an elite prospect and would be a worthy addition to an October roster. Zimmerman would make a safe fourth pick in central defense.
At fullback, Kyle Duncan has quietly put together an outstanding season, and while staying healthy has been an issue for the New York Red Bulls defender in the past, this season he has stayed on the field and done well at right back.
Aaron Herrera has benefited from playing regularly and steadily at right back for Real Salt Lake and would be a solid choice, though Keegan Rosenberry and Nick Lima would also be on Berhalter’s radar. Brandon Bye is having a solid season for New England but may not be a good enough passer to garner interest from Berhalter.
At left back, Sam Vines and Chase Gasper are the top two left back options, though Atlanta United youngster George Bello has been turning it on in recent weeks. Berhalter favorite Daniel Lovitz has been playing well for Nashville SC, but you have to think Berhalter would have looked at younger options.
Brenden Aaronson, Sebastian Lletget, Cole Bassett, Cristian Roldan, Jackson Yueill, Hassani Dotson
There are some very impressive young attacking midfielders emerging in MLS, and Berhalter would have a heck of a time settling on three of them for an October squad. Brenden Aaronson leads the pack, and would be a solid pick to start, while Cole Bassett was red-hot before the Colorado Rapids had their season put on hold by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Djordje Mihailovic misses out on this group, with veteran Sebastian Lletget included, but Berhalter knows and rates Mihailovic so if he can keep things rolling with the Chicago Fire then he would certainly be in the mix.
In terms of defensive midfield options, Jackson Yueill has had his struggles during a tough season with San Jose, but he remains one of Berhalter’s favorite options among the MLS contingent. Cristian Roldan has been played mostly as an attacking midfielder by Berhalter, but now may be the time to consider shifting him into more of a defensive midfield role, which Roldan can handle.
Dotson gets the edge as a last defensive midfield pick, but NYCFC’s Keaton Parks is someone who should be in the conversation, along with Kellyn Acosta, who is in the midst of a renaissance with the Colorado Rapids. (UPDATE- Eryk Williamson was omitted from the original version of this projection, but absolutely deserves serious consideration). Sporting Kansas City’s Gianluca Busio has also shown some good qualities since being moved into a defensive midfield role.
Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Morris, Chris Mueller, Jeremy Ebobisse, Ayo Akinola, Jonathan Lewis
Jozy Altidore’s latest injury leaves him off this list for now, though if he were healthy he would definitely be included. At striker, Gyasi Zardes and Jeremy Ebobisse lead the way, though Berhalter having a look at young Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola would make plenty of sense. His performance at the MLS is Back Tournament catapulted his stock, and with Altidore sidelined again, Akinola could be key to TFC’s push for first place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
In terms of wing options, MLS is light on in-form pure wingers for the USMNT pool, which is why Chris Mueller is fully deserving of a look. He is enjoying a breakout season for Orlando City, and has shown he can operate well on the wing. Brooks Lennon is someone Berhalter has shown interest in before, and his monster game on the wing for Atlanta United in its recent romp over D.C. United served as a reminder that Lennon is very much a winger rather than a right back.
Jonathan Lewis has enjoyed a strong recent run and he has the distinction of being the rare left-footed wing option, as well as someone Berhalter rates as a late-game threat.
Luckily for Berhalter, there are far more wing options in the European-based contingent of USMNT players, but the empty October window will mean a missed opportunity for players like Mueller and Lewis, who will be hoping there is a January camp instead.
What do you think of this squad? Who would you have included that didn’t make the list? Who are you happy to see on the list?
Share your thoughts below.