The absences of Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna from the U.S. men’s national team’s October roster was enough to leave USMNT fans understandably concerned, but the voids left by the two best attacking threats in the U.S. player pool will present some prime opportunities for different players to step into the spotlight.
The trio of Tim Weah, Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola are back from injuries that kept them out of the September qualifiers, and Berhalter will be hoping their speed and experience will help pick up some of the slack in the absence of Pulisic and Reyna.
The October roster wasn’t without its surprises, and question marks, but it would be an exaggerating to portray the overall roster as all that surprising. There are clearly some players missing who could have very easily been included, but part of that is down to the improved depth in the talent pool, particularly at the centerback and striker positions.
Consider that Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok and Daryl Dike were left out of the striker spots, while Matt Miazga is earning La Liga starts and still didn’t make the cut.
Some of the leading storylines coming out of the roster announcement were covered on SBI on Wednesday, including Weston McKennie’s return, and the shakeup at striker, but there are plenty of other storylines to touch on.
Here is a closer look at some of the key takeaways from the USMNT roster for October’s qualifiers:
Weah leads the wing options
No Pulisic and no Reyna means Berhalter will need some new faces to help on the wings, and Tim Weah should be front and center among the options to step in.
The Lille speedster has been in excellent form, and only an injury in late August kept Weah from taking part in the September qualifiers. Weah has had bad luck with injuries coming on multiple occasions when he was ready to step in and potentially take on a more prominent role with Berhalter’s side, but if he can stay healthy for the October qualifiers, Weah could be one of the most important pieces to the USMNT’s attacking puzzle.
“For Timmy, I like his versatility,” Berhalter said of Weah. “He’s another one that plays up front sometimes for his club, plays wide sometimes for his club. He’s a threat vertically, he’s a threat in transition and he’s in a good run of form right now. He got fouled for a penalty the other day, he had an assist the other day in his game and he’s doing a good job. I really like how he’s been playing and we think he’s going to help us.
“When I’m talking about rotation talking about depth talking about the ability for substitutes or solutions to impact the game you know he’s certainly one that can do it in a couple ways right either from the start or coming off the bench.”
Busio, Musah and De La Torre add creativity to midfield
Along with leaving the USMNT light on quick attacking threats, Pulisic and Reyna being absent also cuts into the team’s creativity, which is something Berhalter will be hoping he can offset with some of his central midfield callups.
Gianluca Busio is on an excellent run of form for Serie A side Venezia, Yunus Musah brings some quality on the ball and the ability to keep possession, and Luca De La Torre comes in on good form as well with Dutch side Heracles, with his improving two-way ability making him a good fit for one of the box-to-box midfield roles in the USMNT midfield.
“With Luca, we really like how he’s performing with his team,” Berhalter said of De La Torre. “We liked what he gave us when we saw him in camp for the friendlies and we think he gives us, I think this directness is a midfielder, a midfielder that can break lines dribbling, is good in combination play, and again, we think he’s in good form.”
How Busio, Musah and De La Torre do in camp will determine whether Berhalter will have the luxury of deploying Brenden Aaronson in a wide role. Aaronson plays in a central role for Red Bull Salzburg, and has played centrally for much of his club career, but he has seen more time on the wing for the USMNT, and the absences of Pulisic and Reyna make it more likely Aaronson stays wide for the October qualifiers.
Moore over Scally a surprise at right back
A choice between a fullback starting regularly in the German Bundesliga over a fullback stuck on the bench in the Spanish second division might seem like a fairly easy decision to make, but Berhalter’s call to bring in Shaq Moore over Joe Scally showed that it wasn’t quite that simple.
Scally, who has started seven consecutive matches in all competitions for Borussia Moenchengladbach, has been one of the breakout stories of the season among Americans in Europe, with the 18-year-old taking full advantage of his opportunity to break into the Bundesliga side.
Scally’s early-season success hasn’t gone unnoticed by Berhalter, who admitted to coming very close to calling up the teenager.
“I had a conversation with Joe probably 15 minutes before this call, explaining to him that the reasoning but also letting them know that he was really close,” Berhalter said. “He’s a guy that we’re excited about, has been playing in the Bundesliga as a wingback, sometimes a fullback, and doing a decent job. But most impressive is his age and that he’s able to compete at that level. So I think he’s going to be a key contributor to what we do in the future.”
Moore’s inclusion was a bit surprising because of his lack of minutes for Tenerife since returning from an impressive run with the USMNT at the Gold Cup in July. Moore has not started a match since returning to Tenerife, but that didn’t stop Berhalter from giving him the call-up alongside Sergiño Dest and DeAndre Yedlin due to his recent experience against opponents in the region.
“What we’re talking about now is is somewhat guys that have been through it before,” Berhalter said. “If you look at our fullbacks on the roster, these are the guys that all know what Concacaf is about and we thought that was important for this window.”
Berhalter’s September lessons should mean more rotation
Something that was largely overlooked in the wake of September’s World Cup qualifiers was the fact that those matches served as Berhalter’s first experience coaching a team in qualifying, and the trio of matches provided him just as much of an education as it provided his players.
“From a coaching standpoint, I think we learned about rotations and the importance of the impact of substitutes,” Berhalter said. “I think the impact of getting fresh bodies on, how we can physically wear down opponents, what these what these games end up looking like as the window goes on. We played 21 different starters in this last window and that’s a lot. To be juggling that in seven days, use 21 different starters, is a really interesting task for the coaches. So I think in general that’s what we’re taking away, is how we need to use the entire squad to be successful.”
Berhalter will need to spread out minutes even more for a variety of reasons, including the team’s plan to leave it’s UK-based players in the United States when the team travels to Panama for the October 10 qualifier in Panama City. Panama’s status as a red-list country means UK-based players face a daunting challenge to return to their teams if they play in Panama, and Berhalter went on record on Wednesday saying he would let those players travel directly to Columbus, Ohio ahead of the October 13 qualifier against Costa Rica.
That means Antonee Robinson, Zack Steffen and Tim Ream won’t travel to Panama, with Robinson’s absence being the most consequential, because it will mean either starting Sergiño Dest at left back against Panama, or going with youngster George Bello, who struggled mightily as a starter in the road qualifier against Honduras.
There will also be the concern over avoiding the burning out of players. Miles Robinson and Tyler Adams were the only field players to play all 270 minutes in the September qualifiers, and it is a safe bet Berhalter will try to avoid having any of his field players log every minute, especially with Tyler Adams having just recovered from a minor injury, and given the number of centerback options he has brought into camp.
Konrad and the other snubs
Konrad De La Fuente’s omission was a surprise given the team’s need for wingers, and the absence of Pulisic and Reyna, but the reality is he failed to make a major impact in his start against El Salvador, and has started just one of his six matches since returning to Marseille, which made it easier for Berhalter to bring back the veteran Paul Arriola instead.
“Konrad came back from the (September) camp and took some time to get back into his role in Marseille, but is still contributing there at a decent level,” Berhalter said. “He was another difficult decision.”
“You have Matt Miazga, who’s playing for Alaves, they just beat Atletico Madrid. James Sands, who’s done a good job with us in the past, (you have) Walker Zimmerman,” Berhalter said. “These are the really difficult decisions and you know, we tried to put a roster together balanced roster that we feel can compete through all three games.”