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Projecting the January USMNT World Cup qualifying roster

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The U.S. men’s national team returns to World Cup qualifying action in less than two weeks, and the trio of upcoming matches will give the Americans a golden opportunity to climb within striking distance of the World Cup berth they so desperately crave.

Two home games against two of the teams near the bottom of the Octagonal standings gives Gregg Berhalter a great chance to help his team secure at least six points in the next window, with seven or nine points also possible if the Americans can knock off current Octagonal leaders Canada.

There are challenges in the upcoming window, though, including the reality that the USMNT’s MLS-based contingent isn’t in-season, which will give Berhalter some difficult decisions to make.

It is a safe bet the USMNT will continue to lean on its European-based contingent, but we shouldn’t expect the MLS-based players to suddenly be put on the bench. At least not all of them.

There is also the matter of squad rotation, and while the memories of the disappointing loss in Panama in October will surely resonate as Berhalter plots out his plan for personnel across three matches, we are still very likely to see major changes at some point in the three-match window.

Before we can get into discussions about which players will start in which games, we have to consider which players will actually get the call for the upcoming qualifiers. The current USMNT camp featuring MLS-based players will have some

Here is the 27-player roster we could see Berhalter calling up for the January/February World Cup qualifiers:


Projected USMNT World Cup Qualifying Roster


Goalkeepers


Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, Sean Johnson

No change to this group, with Ethan Horvath still not earning minutes at Nottingham Forest. Zack Steffen’s hold on the starting spot should remain secure, though you wonder if Berhalter will consider starting Turner for one of the three matches.

Missed the Cut: Ethan Horvath, Gabriel Slonina, Bill Hamid


Defenders


Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, Reggie Cannon, Chris Richards, John Brooks, Sam Vines, James Sands

Will John Brooks make his return to the USMNT fold? Based on form, the Wolfsburg defender absolutely should be one of the four or five central defenders called in, but only Berhalter knows what he has planned for the upcoming window. MLS not being in-season should lead to a limiting of MLS central defenders to Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman, with Aaron Long unlikely to be ready to contribute just yet.

We include James Sands in this group due to his versatility, and with the caveat that he only earns the call if Berhalter brings in a larger-than-normal squad into camp. Sands has joined Scottish giants Rangers, so he should be fit and ready to go for the upcoming qualifiers if he gets the call.

At fullback, Sergiño Dest hasn’t played in more than a month, but Berhalter has gone on record saying he isn’t worried about the Barcelona fullback’s availability. DeAndre Yedlin has fallen out of favor at Galatasaray and hasn’t played in a month either, which opens the door for Reggie Cannon to return. Cannon is starting regularly for Boavista, and

Joe Scally is coming off a bout with COVID-19 and only recently returned to action for Borussia Moenchengladbach, which will likely keep him behind the established veterans already in the fullback mix, but if Berhalter decides to bring a fifth fullback, Scally’s versatility could earn him a spot.

Missed the Cut: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, Mark McKenzie, Tim Ream, Joe Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Brooks Lennon, Shaq Moore, Cameron Carter-Vickers, George Bello, DeJuan Jones


Midfielders


Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos

Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Sebastian Lletget, Gianluca Busio, Cristian Roldan, Kellyn Acosta

The usual suspects should get the call in midfield, though you wonder whether Berhalter will consider going with fewer than three MLS-based central midfielders and turning to someone like Luca De La Torre, who is currently in the middle of his season and more match-fit than someone like Cristian Roldan.

Tanner Tessmann is an interesting option. He has seen his playing time increase at Venezia, and his qualities as defensive midfielder make him a good alternative if Tyler Adams or Kellyn Acosta were not available. Acosta’s experience edge keeps him in the squad even though he isn’t in-season.

Missed the Cut: Luca De La Torre, Djordje Mihailovic, Tanner Tessmann,  Christian Cappis, Jackson Yueill


Forwards


Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, Tim Weah, Daryl Dike, Josh Sargent

The big questions here are whether Gio Reyna makes the trio and which striker/strikers will join Ricardo Pepi in camp. The Reyna decision isn’t an easy one because he hasn’t played in more than four months, and Berhalter couldn’t be blamed for not wanting to rush him back. Bringing him into camp to be around the squad and to continue his rehabilitation wouldn’t be a bad move, but actually playing him in the upcoming qualifiers when he will not have featured yet for Borussia Dortmund would be a questionable move.

Another question to ponder is whether Tim Weah will be ready to contribute in the upcoming qualifiers. He only recently returned to action for Lille after missing more than a month with a thigh injury, and while we didn’t initially have Weah listed, his return to the field this week would give him time to be part of Berhalter’s setup so we have added him as a 27th player.

As for as striker goes, Daryl Dike has completed his move to West Brom and is in-season, making him a good option to pair with Pepi, but will Berhalter take the opportunity to bring Josh Sargent back into the fold? Sargent has been earning regular playing time for Norwich City, but he is still searching for his first Premier League goal. It wouldn’t be a bad time to bring him back into the mix.

Missed the Cut: Gio Reyna, Paul Arriola, Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Pefok, Matthew Hoppe, Konrad De La Fuente, Nicholas Gioacchini, Jesus Ferreira


What do you think of this group? Who made the cut that you were happy to see included? Who missed out that you feel should have made the team?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. A thought that I wanted to see about thoughts about on is whether or not Aaron Long could maybe become a back up as a #6 . He played midfield before , he is strong in the air, solid with his feet and could provide the support similar to what Acosta does when Adams is out. This is an area that the US needs depth in and our center back pool has grown since Long has been out with his injury . Could this be a way to get him on the field much like how James Sands was used by Berhalter ? Or just use him as a #6 for depth behind Adams ?

    Reply
    • Do you think Long is some kind of special generational talent player? A player that has to be somewhere on the field for the USMNT to succeed?

      If you are not in love with Acosta as the Tyler backup there are other alternatives to him or Yuiell.

      And they are all preferable to Long, whose only claim to Qatar is he is a teacher’s pet. Aaron shouldn’t be anywhere near the qualifiers. If he wants to go to Qatar let him prove it on the field in MLS.

      The manager just seems loathe to try anyone other than Acosta/Yueill as backup 6’s.

      He seems bent on giving Kellyn just enough rope to hang himself in Qatar, if they get there. Kellyn is a great comeback story but he’s also a mistake waiting to happen. I can see him making a game losing error should he get to play in Qatar. Put him on a Lewandoski, Kane, Jota, MBappe, DeBruyne, Phil Foden, and see what happens.

      Reply
  2. Juggling 3 game windows with omicron in the middle of winter in the upper Midwest and Canada….a fools errand. Good luck Gregg! The guys called in need to be strong of heart, gritty, workers.

    Reply
  3. Agree we need a couple more bodies for a three-game window. Outside back especially looks thin, considering how much running is required there, I believe Ives just had two for each side, if just one of them gets covid/injured then we’re in trouble so I would at least bring one of Scally/Yedlin if not both. Once you get past the top three centermids, then the list above is all MLS…I know they have been training but let’s be honest about the recent play of Roldan and Lletget this year being quite poor. Acosta is a notch above for me and deserves the call, but I would bring de la Torre and maybe Tessman over the other two. Most of the attacking players can interchange positions so cover probably isn’t a problem, but again I would trend towards guys in season. Maybe stretch for Morris if he is indeed as fit as Berhalter says, but not sure how Arriola makes it over any of the in-season guys on the “missed the cut” line.

    Reply
  4. I’m also of the opinion that we need to leave the MLSers at home, more specifically the mls midfielders(I think the CB’s would be okay), because we have nice depth in the midfield areas. The last thing we need is a mls player starting a match without being fully fit and sharp, leading to another Panama scenario(and they were in season for that game), so I’d be more inclined to call in a full european midfield, and give he mls contingent another crack at it in March….just my 2 cents though

    Reply
  5. 26 seems super light given we’re in a pandemic and the last time we had a 3 game window covid and injuries bit us in the ass, leaving us scrambling to find healthy players. I think this roster has to be at least 28, if not 30 players, for the same reasons. We can’t take any chances with someone, or multiple players, coming down with Covid or getting injured, better to lean on the side of covering our basis even if it’s understood that some players won’t suit up on gameday!

    Reply
    • I agree. Particularly with those positions where there are players with yellow cards. Know Berhalter has to weave between club needs and team needs. But this is it .All hands on deck with fit players

      Reply
    • Agree that this is a window for the healthy, game fit, card free types.

      Unlike you, I don’t care where they play. Given the conditions, I wouldn’t expect a lot of stylish football. This is more of a grind it out, just get the points window.

      Reply

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