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What an MLS-only roster might have looked if there were October USMNT friendlies

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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:

Goalkeepers

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.


Defenders

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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.


Midfielders

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.


Forwards

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.

Comments

  1. Supposedly playing Wales in Nov. and possibly one more match in the UK against unnamed opponent. MLS will be starting playoffs so no one on a playoff team available.
    ————————————
    GK: Steffan, Horvath, Mike Lansing
    Def: Dest, Robinson, Richards, EPB, Brooks, Ream, Cannon, CCV
    Mid: Adams, McKennie, Kayo, Durkin, Ledezma, Mendez, Lletget?
    For: Pulisic, Reyna, Sargent, Llanez, Konrad, Gioacchini, Soto
    Just missing: Shaq, Sabbi, Cappis, Kobe, Wright, Gloster
    I am sure I forgot someone obvious.

    Reply
  2. F Morris Mueller Wooten Zardes Akinola Ebobisse
    M Bassett Mihailovic Lletget Lewis Acosta Busio

    So many of the picks are ventriloquizing GB being goofy. Yeuill Aaronson Roldan if you went by effectiveness in caps or productive club stats they don’t make it. They only make it circularly because they have before. This does not convince.

    Reply
    • You peeked my interest Wooten is 31 and has 1 g in 22 app for the Union. He had 1 NT app 5 years ago and played 18 mins.
      ————————————
      Yueill it’s hard to go off numbers he’s a deep lying midfielder so he’s not going to have great goals and assists he’s usually not much past midfield. I haven’t seen any analytics for this season but his xG and other deeper stats were good last year.
      ————————————
      Aaronson 4g 3a over 18 matches just under one every other game which is pretty good. He’s had 1 cap so not sure how you can say he hasn’t been effective. Mihailovic has similar club stats over the last two years so I guess you rate his 1 g vs Panama’s C team instead of watching them because Aaronson is obviously a better player.

      Reply
      • wooten and mihailovic both have 4A. both have been in camps before. mihailovic and acosta, whether people like it or not, scored nice goals in the shirt. that to me stacks him slightly above the similarly productive aaronson — who was anonymous when capped — if i have to play qualifiers that count. personally i am amused at favoring people like guzan and aaronson and such for the circular fact they are “veterans” regardless how they’ve looked.

      • Aaronson has impressed me in his Union games. Originally I thought he is a bit too slight to take the abuse successful attacking players often get in the MLS, but he seems to have handled it well. He moves without the ball intelligently, especially for a 19 y.o.. He is skillful, fast and has quick feet. Curtain used him in the position usually occupied by Bedoya and he did well there against Miami. Despite his single cap with the US, he is at the top of the list for #10s for US players in MLS

    • So again Aaronson’s one appearance was all you needed to see? Mihailovic’s 229 minutes in his other 4 appearances including 3 starts doesn’t count?

      Reply
      • until aaronson has an impact on a game in the shirt, yes. “taylor twellman.” it’s not a club stats honorific, it’s who plays well for the NT. otherwise you put a team out there of guys who’ve never scored or assisted in the shirt to play a top 8 regional team and good luck with that.

    • So by your philosophy if you don’t score in your first appearance your out. Not sure then how you justify Wooten since he didn’t score in his appearance and doesn’t start or produce for the same club as Aaronson.

      Reply
      • it’s not just he didn’t score. it’s i literally cannot remember an impactful thing he did. scoring is just an obvious version of when the game was over i could remember he was there. which is the normal way one evaluates players to add to their team from a try out. any idiot can tell you what they did for some other team. but you brought them in for a trial and llanez and others were the ones who looked good instead. to me to then say, ok, aaronson again, is saying games don’t matter. i think we should run this exact opposite. this team should be defined by “game players.” it’s not a competition for practice players or coach’s pet.

  3. long parker zimmermann robinson lennon romney duncan mckenzie polster o’neill hollingshead — you know, the defenders on teams with decent GA. lima’s team sucks but he has demonstrably produced when called upon.

    Reply
  4. guzan’s GAA is well over 1 — and has been in previous years too — in a year when a lot of young talent is under 1. during the period when he began to succeed howard last cycle, he was on the hook for the Mexico and CR qualifying losses, the argentina copa america blowout, the loss to mexico in the regional playoff, the gold cup 2015 debacle. i understand the superficial pull of “experience” but don’t you want it to be good experience?
    hamid’s GAA is also horrific this year.
    if you set aside incumbency bias, seanjohn should make it, with turner frei and maurer. frei is a citizen who has made himself available to us for years and is a cup winning keeper for a consistently good seattle side. at a loss how that never happens.

    Reply
    • guzan and hamid are another couple dudes who as discussed above seem to circularly make the team because they played before. shouldn’t results and performance come in at some point? last big game i remember him starting he blows the ireland game. and i will be forever stuck on how him and johnson played in oly qualifying.

      Reply
  5. You don’t talk about the best national t ran player last year in the article about national team play. A guy who is playing lights out for a first place team and won two OLD championships already.
    Th anal for mentioning his name?

    Reply
    • Wow some sort of spell checker there
      Two MLSchampionships…..it won’t let me put a space in without changing it…a sight about US soccer you can’t type M L S
      .
      And thanks for mentioning his name?

      Reply
  6. No mention of Nagby? He just makes teams better and other players love playing with him. Roldon, Yueill , Lletget, and Mihailovic ask these guys how they like chasing Nagby with the ball? Pair Nagby in the midfield with high work rate tough on the ball defender and all of sudden your back four are connected with the attack through Nagby.

    Reply
    • your girlfriend broke up with you, let her go. if the intangibles that we supposedly get instead of goals and assists were so useful, why did we miss out last time?

      Reply
      • 2 mile: he has been repeatedly called and refused. That is not hyperbole. That is borderline restraining order, I say half joking. Hence the girlfriend joke. Seriously, move on. He was merely OK, part of a team that didn’t qualify, wasn’t sure if he had his heart in this when he started — and there are articles about his lack of passion — and is telling you no now. I want productive and eager players. I dispute he checks either box and find it to be perseverating.

  7. I saw am article about Akinola, where Beerholder has gotten word he might switch national teams to Canada. Anyone know if that is true? He is eligible for USA and Canada both.

    Reply
    • Akinola was asked by a Canadian reporter if he’d decided which country he’d like to represent….Akinola responded with a non-committal statement. So far he’s only represented the USYMNTs, so would have to file for his 1 time switch to change over to Canada.
      If the kid has 1/2 a brain he’ll keep his options open for the moment and see which way the wind blows. The US has a couple aging strikers (Jozy, ArJo, Zardes) and a couple prospects (Sargent, Gioacchini, Nova, Soto, Pepe). He’s not going to be part of the 2022 WC for the US….and He’s likely to be overtaken by younger players by 2026.
      Canada is starting to build a nice squad of players…and a Co-Hosts for 2026 that maybe his only shot at making a WC squad. Kind of the reverse of Bunbury back in the BB days.

      Reply
      • Canada had David and Cavalini, add in Davies if he plays as an attacker. Cyle Larin is still young although he’s struggled a bit for Canada so the path to minutes isn’t assured either. Pretty much all the other young strikers at TFC have gotten first team caps though and he knows he’s better than those guys.

  8. Honest evaluation of the players Listed as part of the potential call-ups:
    Defense – Only 2 players worth discussing (McKenzie, & Robinson) and they’re on the outside looking in.
    Midfield – Aaronson, Yueill, Acosta/Dotson are the only midfielders worth the call. Bassett’s an option for the U-23s, but the rest aren’t worth the discussion.
    Forwards – Morris & Zardes are givens at the moment. Mueller is the only one missing an option to impress & get included w/ the U-23s. The Rest are far down the pecking order.

    Reply
    • Right but the premise was if you could only use MLS players because of travel restrictions. I’m not so sure of your evaluation of McKenzie I think Berhalter really likes his ability to play with both feet. I also wouldn’t count out the guys on the fullback list. Gasper is good possession he’s an upgrade to Lovitz, not good enough to compete with Mexico but good enough for pretty much everyone else in Concacaf. Vines and Duncan are U23s but probably on the top 5 depth chart. Remember there are potentially 4 competitions next summer so on this hypothetical roster Gregg would have been looking for guys to fill those rosters.

      Reply
    • relative to what??? i like some foreign players like richards who haven’t gotten capped yet. several of the regular foreign based are mediocre or unproven or suck. there is actually a very short list of “locks” abroad……pulisic, mckennie, steffen, reyna.

      Reply
      • I know you don’t rate him but I think most pundits and most importantly the NT staff would list Brooks as a lock when healthy.
        I’m assuming you just forgot Adams as well.

      • JR: he hasn’t played for the NT in a long time. i like him but pretending he’s identically situated to mckennie or pulisic — without any new games — is a stretch. if nothing has changed he would quickly progress to “lock,” but we don’t actually know that yet, do we? for that matter, GB has dithered how he would be used. absurd as it is, i think GB would say he has something to prove, just the same.

      • re Brooks, Arena dumped him as well. I am not the only one who thought he was overrated. go back and watch him ship 3 qualifying goals to costa rica, or how poorly he played in some of the 2018 games. i understand some rate him based on club location, but i watched dortmund burn him down for wins and his proponents can’t seem to give me big NT games where he played well that aren’t 6 years old or against second rate opposition. everyone wants to make excuses for, “but that’s colombia.” yeah, will if you can’t beat a good team with your players how the heck are we elevating our ccompetitiveness with them?

      • Adams is an absolute lock, Berhalter likes to make comments about where he might play but he has never wavered that he’s a starter. Nagelsman moves him all over the place too doesn’t mean he doesn’t rate him.

  9. Editing error? Morris is listed as one of the attackers and then he’s never mentioned in the following paragraphs. Plus it says that there we are light on in-form wingers. Every time I watch the Sounders Morris is on the wing and he has been outstanding.

    Reply
  10. “ 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.”

    This is the second year we’ve been talking about an Aaron Long drop-off in a row after his transfer abroad was blocked. Honestly I have real doubts about a player who can be that unmotivated as to drop down this far in terms of performance, and it says to me that maybe the exceptional play, which wasn’t for that sustained of a period, was the exception and flash in the pan. I think calling him in just for the sake of it, based on work done two seasons ago, is a huge mistake.

    Reply
      • Not sure anymore. He’s been bad the last year, year and a half. Meanwhile Robinson has been progressing. McKenzie @ Phili is keying up for a transfer overseas. Sands @ NYCFC as a CB or CDM. Glad & Salt Lake has been playing well. Then there’s the more veteran group in MLS like Zimmerman.
        Not saying he’s not a top 4 CB….but the margin is smaller than many may think

    • the career decision to stay put doesn’t in any way make him a worse player. the decision to play in germany doesn’t make brooks good either. that’s snobby gibberish. i could understand if he went into an agudelo extended pout that affected performance, but that would be saying he’s playing poorly not his choices broke him.

      Reply
    • Probably the biggest difference in talent between the two that we’ve had for awhile. What usually gets the “Euro” squad is there isn’t a lot depth after the top couple guys. This year we could almost fill a 23 with guys in first division or a top second division.

      Reply
      • Definitely more players playing in Europe but most importantly getting minutes at established clubs. Also popping up as being the best players on the field in big moments and not just roster spots.
        Very hopeful the type of talent coming up in MLS youngsters though. Guys who are willing to get on the ball and can do something with it. The high work rate hustle guys are being beaten out by some ball skill. Ball don’t lie!

    • the europeans would buy the MLS developmental and young player creme of the crop then say something like this. if the game was players developed here vs academy guys there it comes out different. they cherry pick.

      Reply

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