We are two months away from the U.S. men’s national team reconvening for the next-to-last World Cup qualifying window, and the trio of matches at the start of 2022 will go a long way in determining whether or not the USMNT will accomplish its task of securing a place at the 2022 World Cup.
Plenty can happen between now and then, but it is a good time to think about what the squad might look like that Gregg Berhalter calls into camp. It is a group that won’t necessarily mirror the group we saw take four points from two matches in November, and that’s for a pair of key reasons.
For one, the January/February window is three matches instead of two, meaning Berhalter can and should bring in a larger group than the one we saw in November. The second reason is the fact that Major League Soccer won’t be in season, so we could see some MLS players who are on the fringes be left out in favor of European-based options who are in their seasons.
Just how much that will impact the MLS contingent remains to be seen, though it certainly works in that group’s favor that Berhalter has convened a camp and friendly in December, to close the gap between the end of the MLS season and start of the January World Cup qualifying camp.
There are also some unresolved questions regarding the availability of some players, including Gio Reyna, who hasn’t played since September due to a lingering hamstring injury that he has yet to recover from. Two more months feels like a long enough time for him to be able to recover and play a part in the January/February qualifiers, but at this point there is so little known about Reyna’s status and his injury that it does feel a bit like wishful thinking to assume he will be back for the January qualifiers.
With all this in mind, here is an early look at what the USMNT roster could look like for the next set of World Cup qualifiers, in January and February:
Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath
Steffen and Turner are the locks to be included, leaving the third goalkeeper spot a bit of a question mark. Sean Johnson will be out of season, but as things stand Ethan Horvath isn’t getting games either. Berhalter could choose to bring both and see which emerges to take the third spot on the roster.
On the Outside: Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan
Sergiño Dest, John Brooks, Miles Robinson, Antonee Robinson, Joe Scally, Mark McKenzie, Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, DeAndre Yedlin, Sam Vines
John Brooks makes his way back to the team, and given his current form for Wolfsburg, that feels like a safe projection. Zimmerman has earned a place on the squad, even if he won’t be in season when the next qualifiers roll around. That could make it tougher for him to maintain a starting role ahead of the European-based options, but he should still be in the running.
At fullback, Sergiño Dest returns and so does Joe Scally, who continues to start regularly in the Bundesliga, and gives the group some versatility. DeAndre Yedlin did well in November and should maintain his place.
Reggie Cannon and Tim Ream are two players right on the fringes who could jump in if there are any injuries between now and mid-January.
On the Outside: Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, James Sands, Shaq Moore, Cameron Carter-Vickers, George Bello
Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Gianluca Busio, Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Luca De La Torre, Tanner Tessmann
This is the most interesting group to consider for January because of the handful of MLS players who could be left out in favor of European-based options. Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta are included in this projection, but could Berhalter to be tempted to bring in different options, such as Christian Cappis, or will the experience Lletget and Acosta bring to the table keep them in the conversation even though they will be out of season?
Luca De La Torre is one European-based midfielder who should find his way onto the squad if he is continuing to play regularly for Dutch side Heracles.
Tanner Tessmann is an interesting prospect because of his qualities as a defensive midfielder, a position where there aren’t a wealth of ready-made options. Tessmann has started to earn more playing time for Serie A side Venezia, so if that continues he will have to be considered a candidate for January.
On the Outside: Cristian Roldan, Djordje Mihailovic, Christian Cappis,
Christian Pulisic, Ricardo Pepi, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna, Paul Arriola
Does Gio Reyna make it back in time for the January camp? That is a question that is going to continue to longer as long as he remains sidelined with Borussia Dortmund. If Reyna is unable to return, that will open the door for some other wing options, such as Konrad De La Fuente and Matthew Hoppe.
In terms of the striker role, Berhalter turned heads when he brought in Jesus Ferreira and left out some more traditional striker options. It was understandable given Josh Sargent’s goal-scoring struggles and Jordan Pefok’s club form, but Daryl Dike’s form should have earned him a look.
Will Dike get a look in January, when he will presumably be out of season (barring a January transfer)? We project Sargent on this list because the USMNT will be facing a different set of opponents and Sargent could be a better fit against El Salvador, Canada and Panama.
Zardes is another candidate, and he should be fully recovered from the knee sprain suffered late in the MLS season. Zardes, Dike and Jesus Ferreira should all take part in the upcoming December USMNT camp, and that camp should help Berhalter have a better idea of which of the three will be the biggest challenger for a place on the qualifying roster in January.
On the Outside: Jesus Ferreira, Gyasi Zardes, Daryl Dike, Jordan Pefok, Matthew Hoppe, Konrad De La Fuente, Tyler Boyd, Haji Wright, Nicholas Gioacchini, Emmanuel Sabbi
What do you think of this projected squad? Who would you like to see included that didn’t make the cut?