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Projecting the USMNT roster for March World Cup qualifiers

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We are three weeks away from the final three World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. men’s national team to secure its place at the 2022 World Cup, and Gregg Berhalter is facing some difficult challenges as he prepares for the crucial clashes in Mexico, against Panama, and in Costa Rica.

Weston McKennie’s broken foot has left the USMNT without arguably its best player for the most important matches the Americans have played in five years, but adversity is nothing new for a team that has not had the luxury of fielding a full-strength team at any point in the Octagonal.

Replacing McKennie is only one of the areas of concern for the U.S. team heading into the final qualifying window. The team’s striker pool is an unsettled bunch, with Ricardo Pepi in the midst of a goal drought, but with Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok gaining momentum as they push to regain their places on the USMNT.

Goalkeeper has suddenly become an area of concern, with both Zack Steffen and Matt Turner currently dealing with injury issues. Neither has been ruled out for qualifiers just yet, but the uncertainty surrounding their injury situations will have USMNT understandably nervous.

Plenty can still change in the next two weeks, before the USMNT squad convenes ahead of the trip to Mexico on March 24, but for now it is time to take stock of where the current player pool stands, and to consider the options most likely to make Berhalter’s squad for these all-important matches.

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


Projected USMNT World Cup Qualifying Roster


Goalkeepers


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Zack Steffen, Sean Johnson, Ethan Horvath

There are some serious question marks surrounding the goalkeeper position due to injury issues being faced by the top two options in the pool. Matt Turner and Zack Steffen have both missed matches in recent weeks, and with the first March qualifier against Mexico just three weeks away, Gregg Berhalter could find himself facing some tough decisions.

Turner is dealing with a foot injury which he may have picked up during the USMNT’s qualifying win against Honduras in early February, while Steffen is battling a shoulder injury. It remains if clear if either will be available when the USMNT convenes ahead of the March qualifiers, and there have been few details made available about the severity of their injuries.

The good news in the goalkeeper department is that Ethan Horvath has made consecutive starts for Nottingham Forest in place of suspended starter Brice Samba. Horvath has not allowed a goal in either start, and is due at least one more start before Samba returns from suspension. Could the run of matches push Horvath back into Berhalter’s plans, and could it be enough to earn him a start or two in qualifying? The memories of Horvath’s Nations League heroics against Mexico last summer are still fresh, but Sean Johnson remains a good candidate to start at some point in the qualifiers.

For the purposes of this projection, we will leave Turner out due to the growing rumors that he could be sidelined for a while. That said, if he returns to action for the New England Revolution in the next two weeks, then he should be in the squad and could be the starter against Mexico.

Missed the Cut: Matt Turner, Gabriel Slonina, Bill Hamid


Defenders


Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, Reggie Cannon, Chris Richards, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin

The big question here is whether Berhalter is ready to bring back Brooks, and the reality is there is no good reason not to call him back for the March qualifiers. Mark McKenzie has been the preferred choice over Brooks in recent windows, but McKenzie’s playing time has disappeared with Genk while Brooks is playing at a consistently good level for Wolfsburg these days.

Berhalter could turn to Tim Ream, who is playing well for Fulham, and who Berhalter started against Mexico in last summer’s Nations League final. Aaron Long is still working his way back to full fitness and isn’t likely to be ready for March qualifiers.

At fullback, Sergiño Dest has hit an excellent run of form, and may be the most in-form American player in Europe at the moment. If Berhalter brings two other right backs along with Dest like he did for the January-February qualifiers then we could see a Reggie Cannon-DeAndre Yedlin tandem again, with Dest joining Antonee Robinson as the left back options.

Sam Vines is the best left back option if Berhalter decides he needs another left back to go with Robinson. George Bello has struggled for minutes since his move to Arminia Bielefeld while Vines has returned to the starting lineup for Royal Antwerp.

One player who has fallen out of the picture is Joe Scally, who has lost his starting spot with Borussia Moenchengladbach. The teenager hasn’t started in six weeks, all but eliminating him from consideration for the March qualifiers barring some serious changes in the next three weeks.

Missed the Cut: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, Sam Vines, James Sands Joe Scally, Brooks Lennon, Shaq Moore, Cameron Carter-Vickers, George Bello, DeJuan Jones


Midfielders


Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Luca De La Torre, Sebastian Lletget, Gianluca Busio, Cristian Roldan, Kellyn Acosta

Weston McKennie’s absence due to injury leaves a huge hole in the USMNT midfield, and Berhalter will to call on multiple players to help him fill that void. Luca De La Torre’s stock is soaring after his strong showing against Honduras, and his continued good form with Heracles. Whether he gets the starting nod or not could depend on whether he can hold off Gianluca Busio, who should return to the fold after missing the January-February qualifiers due to Covid-19.

Berhalter could also be tempted to shift Brenden Aaronson into a central midfield role, where he plays regularly on the club level. Aaronson has been used mostly as a winger for the USMNT, but given McKennie’s absence, turning to the Red Bull Salzburg midfielder, who is in excellent form, could be the answer.

Kellyn Acosta is another option to start, particularly against Mexico, which he has faced multiple times, including in qualifying at the Azteca in 2017.

Missed the Cut: Weston McKennie, Djordje Mihailovic, Tanner Tessmann,  Christian Cappis, Jackson Yueill


Forwards


Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos

Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Paul Arriola, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent, Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira

The USMNT striker situation is a bit of a worrisome one, with Ricardo Pepi having gone five months since his last goal for club or country (his two-goal effort against Jamaica in October being the last goals he scored). His acclimation to Augsburg hasn’t been the easiest, and his contributions in recent qualifiers have been a shadow of what they were earlier in the Octagonal.

All that said, Pepi should be one of the two strikers, with Josh Sargent poised to make his return to the group. Sargent has fought to earn a starting role for Norwich City, and has registered two goals and two assists in his past five appearances.

Berhalter’s recent preference for Jesus Ferreira should earn the versatile FC Dallas attacker another call-back, even if Sargent gets the nod. Sargent’s steady run of games playing as a wide forward for Norwich City could boost his chances of getting on the field, potentially in a wide role if he isn’t deployed in his traditional target striker role.

Jordan Pefok is another player Berhalter has to at least consider given his club form with Young Boys. He has scored four goals in his past six matches, but even that run isn’t likely to get him past Pepi, Sargent and Ferreira, though he shouldn’t be that far from a call.

On the wings, Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah give Berhalter a trio of good options, with Gio Reyna looking unlikely to be healthy for the March qualifiers. If by some chance Reyna can get back on the field and play enough in the next three weeks to

Missed the Cut: Gio Reyna, Jordan Pefok, Gyasi Zardes, Daryl Dike, Jordan Morris, Matthew Hoppe, Konrad De La Fuente, Nicholas Gioacchini


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. Wow……
    A name that might be on GB’s radar here soon if he keeps on scoring in every game:

    Name: Brandon Vázquez
    Height: 6′ 2″
    Weight: 196 lbs
    Date of Birth: (23)
    Birthplace: Chula Vista, CA USA
    Position: Forward: Striker
    Preferred Side: Centre
    Team: FC Cincinnati

    ……I hope Berhalter is watching this kid. HE LOOKS SHARP…REALLY SHARP……on a team like FC Cincinnati no less (watching him I initially thought he was a DP😵)

    Back to back
    2 goals 1 assist against Orlando
    2 goals 1 assist against Miami

    It’s awesome to see an American forward with the skill and ability to score quality goals in MLS. I guess the test is going to be excelling against worthy opposition (NYCFC, LAFC, GALAXY< SOUNDERS etc)

    Reply
  2. Injuries and player inactivity will define this last crucial WCQ break.

    – In the most positive news, Reyna put in a substitution shift of about 30 minutes and looked pretty sharp. His game fitness will be a big question but even a sub role would be a boost.
    – The US is fortunate to have some GK depth, as #3 Horvath is getting minutes and playing well. Still unsure if Stefann or Turner will be ready by the break.
    – Still no Chris Richards sightings, who is still out from injury from last WCQ break. McKenzie minutes continue to fall. Redemption time for Brooks, who probably gets a lifeline call.
    – GB catches a Norwich game, meaning Sargent is on the radar. Norwich City is overmatched in EPL, but Sargent gets consistent minutes and shows flashes of quality.
    – We are fortunate MLS started in March, meaning key players will be in firm.

    Reply
  3. Even with McKennie & Reyna injuries I don’t get how Lletget, Roldan, & Arriola continue to be part of the USMNT picture. These 3 have been some of the poorest performers the last 9+ months for the USMNT, and yet they continue to get call-ups.
    I’d much rather see Morris than Arriola and Mihailovic & Tessemann than Lletget & Roldan.
    Not a huge fan of Ferreira, but not opposed to him being there either considering how little production or strikers have had. And at least he isn’t Zardes.
    Defensively I don’t have too many complaints. I’d prefer to see Scally included as he can provide cover at RB & LB…but I can also understand the others inclusions.

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    • I think most would agree but many would also opi w that at this poi t it doesnt make sense to bring in players who havent been apart of wcq to this point, especially considering this is the last window…..im my opinion there arent any players that havent been called in at this point that’ll tremendously boost our chances of qualifying over the incumbents. Once we qualify I think we’ll see “new blood” calles in for the friendlies over that 5 month period leading up to Qatar

      Reply
      • Ronniet, I agree with your reasoned logic based approach. Since Panama the three mentioned by Lost have combined for 32 mins over those 4 matches. So why complain given rosters are not limited. However, if they aren’t going to play and in Lleget’s case not even dress why not bring in someone else.
        ——————————————
        Lleget was very good post pandemic scoring 5g 1a from Nov20 to May21. After getting run over by the Swiss Gregg adjusted the positioning of his 8s to cover for advanced FBs that’s left Seb in a position he isn’t really suited for. He’d actually fit better as a tucked in winger now but we’ve got depth there. If he isn’t going to play my replacement for Sebi is Pomykal. Busio will be there if healthy but Pax fits well in Gregg’s wide 8 set up he is much more similar player to Wes and Yunus than Lleget. I know it won’t happen this window, but if he keeps playing the way he has he deserves a go this Summer.

  4. Pefok is still scoring goals. He is probably the best areal threat the US has in the attack especially with McKennie out. Pulisic, Weah, Aaronson and Dest can all supply quality crosses for him (A, Robinson makes a lot of crosses too but he does not seem to pick out a target).

    I think just from style of play he is more dangerous than Ferreira and Ariola. I know if I were a defender (and not hopelessly slow), I would prefer facing Ferreira or Ariola rather than Pefok.

    When the US needed a goal in the Nations League, it was headed balls from McKennie to Pefok to goal that claimed the winner. Despite good chances by Reyna, Pulisic and Dest, it was the headed shots by McKennie and Sargent that were the best attempts the US had until Pefok finished.

    The team needs to have a real areal threat, something they haven’t really shown often in the run of play to help unbalance defenses.

    Reply
  5. Why isn’t Pefok’s four goals in his past six matches likely to get him past Pepi, Sargent and Ferreira? You didn’t back up the assertion. It makes no sense to me

    Reply
  6. I know he’s not been in camp in a while, but given his form and the “replace mckennie by committee” approach I think Djordje Mihailovic might make sense to bring in and see how he looks centrally. I also would personally prefer Pefok over Ferreira.

    Reply
  7. Hmmm….so the USMNT are struggling to score goals. How are our Europe contingent doing?
    2021-22 scorers (American men in Europe)
    1. Jordan Pefok (Young Boys, Switzerland), 16 goals
    2. Christian Cappis (Brondby, Denmark), 5 goals
    3. Emmanuel Sabbi (OB, Denmark) 5 goals

    League rankings
    https://www.globalfootballrankings.com/
    Number 15: Swiss Raiffeisen Super League
    **Best team: Young Boys
    Worst team: Lausanne Sports
    Number 16: Danish SAS-Ligaen
    **Best team: FC Copenhagen
    Worst team: Sonderjyske
    Number 17: Major League Soccer
    Best team: New York City FC
    Worst team: FC Cincinnati

    The question is simple ……..why isn’t Jordan Pefok starting for the USMNT

    Reply
      • Ah, I see what you are saying Obvious…..
        As of February 20, 2022
        Jordan Pefok – 20 goals
        **Christian Ramirez – 15 goals**
        Haji Wright – 6 goals
        Brenden Aaronson – 5 goals

    • It’s not like the 1,000 best players play in the EPL, the next thousand play in LaLiga. Those rankings tell you that at least one source considers MLS on par with Swiss and Danish leagues. It’s also difficult comparing stats between MLS which has a pretty high level of parity, whereas Pefok plays for Young Boys who has a walkover about every other night and significantly more talent 9 out of 10.
      ————————-
      Cappis 2g against 12th place Vejle 1 g against 8 place Viborg, 2 g against 4th tier Allerod.
      Sabbi 1 g vs Viborg, 1g vs 10th place Brondby, 3 in Cup 2 at least against top league opposition 1 against 2nd tier team.

      Reply
    • Buzzy – Not that I agree with his tactics, but IMO GGG is generally picking players that fit how he wants the team to play. He wants to press and Dike and Pefok showed during the Gold Cup they weren’t very good at pressing at the time. Maybe they are better now but Zardes was significantly better at that time. Hoppe was very good at pressing but was injured for the last few windows so he may not have been a GGG snub. Similarly, McKenzie is faster, quicker, and has better recovery speed than both Brooks and CCV and the way GGG wants to play his centerbacks get isolated one v one a lot. Again, the tactics … why do you leave yourself susceptible to counter attacks when your team on whole is so much more talented (Canada …)? I don’t like the tactics but I understand the player selections for what he wants the team to be. With McKennie out maybe he will recognize that they need to play differently. I hope so or I fear could miss out again … Neither Roldan nor Lletget have played the last two windowa other than Roldan getting some cleanup time.

      Reply
      • Oops! Bizzy. Checked the entire message for typos before posting and got the first word wrong. I wonder what that says about my commentary. Yikes!!

      • Tele – The issue is that sometimes the tactics don’t work and you need a change of pace, or something different. Pefok is that… right now we can’t modify the tactic (See Jamaica game).

      • Turk – not disagreeing with you at all that the tactics need to be fixed and shouldn’t only be able to play in one way, I am just saying I understand his player selection based on his vision of the team. But really, how hard is it as a player to be able to play in different formations? Most players have to do this at their club teams. Not sure why it is so hard but everytime time they get out of his 4-3-3, it is complete chaos. Some of that has to be on the players but if they can do it for their clubs and not for the national team there is one obvious difference that applies to all players in the pool – the coach.

      • Tele,
        For one they have so much more training time with their clubs it’s easier to adapt formations. 2nd if you’re working all the time on a certain set of tactics (pressing triggers,, passing patterns, etc…) it’s in your head because everything maybe different from what you do week in week out. 3rd it happens in clubs too, look how much trouble Pulisic has had adjusting to Tuchel or even better Lukaku.

      • Turk- We’ve seen 3G be more pragmatic when push comes to shove, NL Group stage, NL final, GC, so we’ll see if he puts aside some rigidity to just win this window.

      • JonnyR – I understand your point, but its not calculus, it’s soccer; the players can do it. While some of it may be on the players the coach plays a big role if a team can only play in one formation and one style. After 11 qualifiers they haven’t been able to play anything well other than a 4-3-3 with high press. That is having all your eggs in one basket. How many national teams can only play in one formation and one style without a significant dropoff? I don’t think it is many. With McKennie and Adams out, the starting midfield would be Musah-Acosta-LDT. 3 games in 7 days, you wont get 270 minutes out of them. We might see a Lletget-Yueill-Roldan midfield in a game if he doesn’t change his tactics.

  8. I would include Pefok. Arronson can play midfield quite well so drop Roldan also Ferreira did not show that much in the last games so he is questionable.
    Morris needs to show more for Seattle in the next couple games, but if he does he is likely in the mix, but Berhalter does love him some Zardes so there is that.

    Reply
  9. “This article is available to Captain Level subscribers.”

    Three days seems like a long embargo for this kind of article even to get to Starting XI. If this is going to be Captain-only forever, please just say so.

    Thanks

    Reply
  10. Kinda weird the US is having trouble scoring goals and also has two forwards in Europe with double digit goal tallies and neither one have been in the last comps or are projected to make the coming roster – with one not even close to being in consideration. Things have definitely changed in US Soccer from a decade ago.

    Reply
      • The other Christian….Ramirez. 12 goals in all competitions for Aberdeen. He’s 4 off the pace for golden boot. Ten years ago that would mean something. Now we just shrug and opt for 18 year olds not scoring in “better leagues” for relegation teams. I don’t have much of an opinion but I find it interesting…

      • The thing with Ramirez is that we have a track record of him in MLS, where he was a pretty good striker, but never a great striker, over several years during his prime years. So his current production in Scotland can be viewed more as a reflection of the quality of the league (Scotland < MLS) and not a sign that Ramirez has significantly improved.

        Pepi was a pretty good striker in MLS for one year, at 18 years old, and therefore will hopefully improve going forward. Particularly since he's now playing in a league that is unquestionably better than MLS. So I get calling Pepi in over Ramirez.

        As for Pefok, I'd call him in. Maybe not for the next qualifiers, but for whatever the team does over the summer.

      • @Johnny99 I wasn’t really advocating from RAmierez other than to give him his due to at least mention him. I was just observing how if he did this ten years ago it would have been celebrated – which it’s clearly not now. Things have changed…

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