There are still transfers to be completed, a pair of September friendlies, and plenty of club form to persuade Gregg Berhalter, but a quartet of summer matches for the United States men’s national team means predicting the USMNT roster for the 2022 World Cup comes with precious few conditionals.
Of course there will be a few more injuries to consider and there’s always at least one surprise — Julian Green, anyone? — but Berhalter’s men have played a wealth of games in a variety of conditions ahead of raising the caliber of competition in November.
That, perhaps, is this coach’s biggest remaining hurdle, knowing which men who’ve navigated the mess and fury of CONCACAF can successfully make their way through England, Wales, and Iran and then, of course, whoever’s next in the knockout rounds.
Some of this can be done via the same personnel and a good tactical plan, for sure, but which center backs are best suited to deal with what comes next, should the team arrive past the group stage? Which of the club’s nascent center forwards will make the most of precious chances in Qatar.
Again, there will be injuries to consider and more nebulous questions like whether Premier League backups Zack Steffen and Matt Turner can quickly find their No. 1 shirt form in a short pre-tournament preparation window, but we’re in a period where discussing the path forward is as easy as it’s going to be at almost any point before the tournament proper: the 2022 World Cup.
Last night's #USMNT match v. El Salvador was a… messy affair. 😅
The match ended 1-1 after a Jordan Morris header in second half stoppage time. pic.twitter.com/2lt2jwCcfU
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) June 15, 2022
Projecting the USMNT’s 2022 World Cup roster
There is one last variable to consider, and that’s the size of the squad. Qatar may see a 23-man roster become a 26-man, so we’re going to put asterisks next to the three next men up (or last men off).
And remember, these are the players we believe Berhalter will choose for the World Cup, not necessarily the players we believe best comprise a team. After all, he’s the expert regarding the individual attitudes and collective chemistry of the bunch, as well as the man with the tactical plans and their associated ins and outs.
Locks: Matt Turner, Zack Steffen
Probable: Sean Johnson
Wildcards: Ethan Horvath, Gaga Slonina
Horvath (currently) misses out because he’s not playing regularly, though a transfer may come before the Nottingham Forest man begins the 2022-23 Premier League season. Slonina could normally be included in order to wisen the teenager to the tests of a World Cup, but Berhalter will and probably should bring NYCFC’s Johnson because of familiarity, experience, and regular playing time.
Locks: Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, Sergino Dest, Chris Richards, Aaron Long
Probable: DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon
Last man in: Cameron Carter-Vickers*
Wildcards: John Brooks, Joe Scally, George Bello, Erik Palmer-Brown, Shaq Moore, Mark McKenzie, Tim Ream
This one’s borderline impossible. The fact that Berhalter has not recalled John Brooks following Miles Robinson’s achilles injury means one (or more) of three things; Brooks is either a net-negative to the locker room, or Berhalter doesn’t see him as a starter but doesn’t need to see any more of him to include him in the group. Long is not as multi-dimensional as several other CBs in the pool but Berhalter clearly loves him for his system. Like Turner, he doesn’t fit the bill in certain technical areas but absolutely sidles up to the spirit camp with no problem.
We’ll lean away from the latter and say the final spot, presuming eight, comes down to Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Joe Scally. The latter’s versatility could work for him — see the section on midfielders — but Carter-Vickers’ form at Celtic had some mentioning him as a possible Scottish Premiership Player of the Year and it feels like Berhalter will add a fourth center back. That could also, however, bode well for Tim Ream, who’s been used by the NT as a left back in the past.
Locks: Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, Brendan Aaronson, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta
Probable: Cristian Roldan, Gianluca Busio
Last man in: James Sands*
Wildcards: Malik Tillman, Djordje Mihailovic, Sebastian Lletget, Paxton Pomykal
No player has surged further up the priority list this summer than Musah, who is still so raw but showing that he only gets better when used consistently in the middle. Though that is unlikely to happen at Valencia, the warm-up series for Qatar will be enough for the bright and rapid ball mover.
Acosta earned his spot in qualifying and De la Torre over the last month, while Roldan and Busio have seemingly produced resumes beyond exclusion.
There are some big questions, starting with whether Malik Tillman’s switch to the U.S. shirt from Germany came with plans of Qatar and beyond… or just the beyond.
The versatility and age of Sands (CB or CM), Scally (WB or W), and Aaronson (CM or F) give Berhalter so many options if he wants to carry one more “luxury player” along with them.
Locks: Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Giovanni Reyna
Probable: Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira
Last man in: Jordan Morris*
Wild cards: Haji Wright, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi
There are no certainties beyond Pulisic and Weah, though Reyna is a lock assuming health (which Is a little bold at this point). FC Dallas duo Arriola and Ferreira seem likelihoods for the plan due to Berhalter’s usage and Morris gets the edge over Pefok and Pepi if he continues his upward path after returning from ACL surgery. After all, he’s been used by Berhalter in nearly every game since he’s been able to step on the pitch. If that was to give him every chance to fail, then shame on us for not seeing it, but his late goal in El Salvador is going to linger in many memories. However, if Wright secures a permanent move away from Sonderjyske, as expected, he has every chance to force his way above anyone listed “probable” or below. The same can be said for Pefok and Pepi, to a lesser extent.