Huge questions surround USMNT roster for World Cup qualifiers

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The USMNT have three huge World Cup qualifiers coming up in October, but there are so many big questions swirling around their roster.

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From injury issues with Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna to possible travel restrictions and plenty of selection dilemmas, there is a lot going on right now.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter knows his side need to kick on in these games against Jamaica (being played in Austin, Texas), Panama (Panama City, Panama) and Costa Rica (Columbus, Ohio) after picking up five points from their first three World Cup qualifiers.

Anything less than seven points in these three qualifiers will be seen as a bad return by the USMNT fanbase, but Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica will likely be battling right until the end with the U.S. for a spot in the top three of the standings which secures qualification to the 2022 World Cup.

[ MORE: How to watch World Cup qualifying ]

Here is a look at just some of the huge questions facing the USMNT as they prepare to name their squad for the October World Cup qualifiers later this week.


Will superstars be fit to play?

There are huge question marks over Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, who haven’t played a single minute for their club teams since the World Cup qualifiers earlier this month. Reyna was injured in the draw with El Salvador, while Pulisic was hurt in the win at Honduras. Reyna and Pulisic are the USMNT’s most gifted players and have the ability to unlock any defense in CONCACAF. Not having one of them, or both, for these three games would be a huge blow.

Add in the fact that Tyler Adams wasn’t fit to feature for RB Leipzig at the weekend and three of the USMNT’s top five players at huge clubs in Europe may not feature. Now, about another one of those top five players…

What is the Weston McKennie situation?

In a recent podcast interview with U.S. Soccer, head coach Gregg Berhalter acknowledged that Weston McKennie could return for the October World Cup qualifiers. McKennie, 23, was sent home after a ‘violation of team policy’ in Nashville, as he didn’t play against Canada or Honduras. McKennie has had minutes for Juventus in recent weeks but Max Allegri criticized his inability to finish.

What with Andrea Pirlo leaving as Juve boss and rumors about McKennie being sold, plus this situation with the USMNT, it has been a rough few months for the midfielder. However, with plenty of injury issues to key players and McKennie a leader for this young squad, you’d think Berhalter will call him up for these games after disciplining him. Perhaps he would have liked to have left McKennie out for these qualifiers as he wanted to hammer home the disciplinary point, but it doesn’t seem like Berhalter has that luxury right now.

Gregg Berhalter
Getty Images

Which central strikers will be called up?

This has been the biggest question around the USMNT in recent years: who is going to score the goals? Josh Sargent is having a tough time with Norwich in the Premier League as the Canaries sit bottom of the table, and it seems like he’s better suited to being a secondary striker.

Will teenager Ricardo Pepi be thrust into the starting role after his heroics against Honduras? Or will Jordan Pefok start up top? What about Gyasi Zardes after his return to fitness, and form, in recent weeks? Could Matthew Hoppe have an impact? So many questions for Berhalter up top, and there is no clear answer. Pepi is probably the best fit for the way the USMNT play, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on a teenager.

Who will start in goal?

With Zack Steffen missing the recent World Cup qualifiers after testing positive for COVID-19, Matt Turner came in and impressed. The New England Revolution goalkeeper has let up a couple of cheap goals in MLS play in recent games, but he probably has the starting jersey now.

Steffen has had a lack of game time due to his recovery from COVID-19 and even though he is very talented, there were a few questions marks about him starting to creep in. Turner will probably start against Jamaica in Austin on Oct. 7, but it is pretty much the flip of a coin.

How will quarantine rules impact the roster?

This is something to keep an eye on with the USMNT players based in the UK. Currently, Panama is on the UK’s red travel list. That means that anybody who travels there must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days on their arrival back to the UK. That would, in theory, take Pulisic, Steffen, Sargent, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson and Ethan Horvath out of club action until late October. Their clubs would not be happy with that and FIFA is still discussing with the UK authorities and other relevant bodies about these quarantine restrictions and possible exemptions for international soccer players.

Remember: plenty of issues arose when some Premier League players defied their clubs and went to South America for World Cup qualifiers and Brazil vs Argentina was postponed mid-game. While plenty of star players did not travel at all. It’s a real mess and the only hope the USMNT has to make life simpler for their UK-based players is that Panama is removed from the UK’s red travel list between now and Oct. 10. If it isn’t, there could be a lot of players not making the trip to Panama City for the second of these three important qualifiers and that could also force Berhalter to call up other players from other leagues, as the likes of Gianluca Busio and Bryan Reynolds (both based in Italy at Serie A clubs) may get the nod to come into this squad.

FA Cup
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 03: USA team-mates Christian Pulisic of Chelsea and Zack Steffen of Manchester City chat after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 03, 2021 in London, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Visionhaus)

What is going on at center back?

John Brooks was the nailed-on starter at center back for the USMNT until a few weeks ago. But after shaky displays in the recent qualifiers and the same for Wolfsburg, he no longer seems to be an automatic starter. Brooks’ future at Wolfsburg is uncertain as he continues to negotiate a new contract and perhaps that is impacting his play on the pitch. With Michail Antonio set to start for Jamaica against the USMNT, they need a plan to stop the prolific West Ham striker who has just committed his international allegiance to the Reggae Boyz.

That means that Miles Robinson has all of a sudden been catapulted to the top of the USMNT center back pool following his strong Gold Cup displays. Alongside him, the experience of Tim Ream would be a sensible choice (if Brooks doesn’t start) and perhaps Walker Zimmerman is also a good option as a solid, reliable defender? Chris Richards is likely the long-term answer to the USMNT’s center back issues and he is at least playing regularly for Hoffenheim this season, as he once again joined on loan from Bayern Munich. Richards and Robinson may well be the two starters at the 2022 World Cup. If the USMNT get there.

Transfer news: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi to Ajax; Kalvin Phillips to Manchester United

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The latest transfer news sees USMNT teenager Ricardo Pepi linked with Ajax, while Kalvin Phillips to Manchester United is one heck of a report.

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There’s a lot to unpack here, especially with the second rumor.

But let’s start with Pepi, 18, as FC Dallas could well sell the clinical forward in January as he continues his incredible rise.

Plenty of European teams appear to be circling for Pepi…

USMNT rising star Ricardo Pepi wanted by Ajax, other European teams

An initial report from 90min stated that several European teams want to sign Pepi, while Fabrizio Romano has reported that at least one Serie A side and Bundesliga clubs are keeping a very close eye on the 18-year-old.

Pepi scored on his USMNT debut in September, and grabbed two assists, as he ignited a superb comeback win at Honduras in a crucial World Cup qualifying win.

The latest report from 90min says that Ajax met with Pepi’s representatives in Dallas over the weekend. It has previously been reported that FC Dallas would accepted a bid of around $10 million for the American striker, but this latest report says that the transfer fee would be over $22 million.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

That would see Pepi overtake Alphonso Davies as the most-expensive homegrown player in MLS history.

After producing the likes of Weston McKennie, Chris Richards, Bryan Reynolds, Reggie Cannon and Tanner Tessmann through their academy, FC Dallas continues to be the best team for young Americans to join if they want a speedy route to Europe from MLS.

Pepi is the next player set to leave, as his representatives want the move wrapped up by the end of the 2021 MLS season so he can train with his new team in Europe and then be ready to roll from Jan. 1.

Ajax would be a great fit for Pepi. It’s a club which plays an attractive, attacking style and is renowned for developing young talent in the right way. This would be a much better fit than Pepi going to a huge team in Germany, Italy or England and not playing right away.


Leeds hero heading to Manchester United?

One of the more unlikely reports out there is Leeds hero Kalvin Phillips moving to Manchester United.

According to the Daily Mirror, Manchester United have given up hope on signing Declan Rice from West Ham and will instead focus on trying to sign Kalvin Phillips.

Phillips, 25, had a sensational EURO 2020 alongside Rice in England’s midfield and he is the perfect two-way midfielder. Rice is valued at over $121 million by West Ham and Phillips would be cheaper and he’s currently in contract negotiations with Leeds.

Despite their rivalry with Leeds, Man United have signed plenty of their star players over the years as Eric Cantona, Alan Smith and Rio Ferdinand have all swapped Elland Road for Old Trafford.

Phillips, born and raised in Leeds, clearly loves the club but if the right opportunity arrives for his career, could he put the rivalry with Manchester United to one side? Probably.

His ability to turn defense into attack with his incredible array of passes has been a hallmark of Leeds’ success after they were promoted to the Premier League last season and that ability has also seen him become an influential member of the England team.

Manchester United need a savvy central midfielder to not only help protect the back four but also get attacks going.

Phillips is the perfect player to do that, as you can already see the Yorkshire Pirlo feeding Ronaldo, Rashford, Greenwood, Sancho and Co. with inch-perfect passes. Can we see this move happening? Hmmm. Leeds’ board surely won’t sanction this.

England player ratings for EURO 2020

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England lost in the EURO 2020 final on penalty kicks but they had an incredible tournament, and that is why we want to focus on player ratings.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned: England – Italy | Player ratings

The disappointment in the final aside, England went on a remarkable run under Gareth Southgate as they only conceded two goals in seven games and recorded their best-ever finish at a European Championship.

That won’t soften the blow of losing in a final at their Wembley home in such devastating fashion, but plenty of stars shone for the Three Lions this summer, and some were unexpected.

Overall, despite the pain of defeat, it seems like England are very much heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Southgate takes blame as England falters in final ]

Here’s a look at the marks out of 10, as we dish out our England player ratings for their displays at EURO 2020.


Goalkeepers

Jordan Pickford: 9 – Didn’t really put a foot wrong the entire tournament. Had some outstanding games, especially against Germany, Scotland and Denmark, and was so solid throughout. Silenced a lot of his critics.


Defenders

Kieran Trippier: 7 – Put in a great display against Croatia (at left back) and Germany, while also did well early on in the final with a fine cross to Luke Shaw for England’s goal. May be a bit frustrated he didn’t start every game.

Kyle Walker: 8 – A really good tournament. Showed his flexibility between being a right back and center back in a three. His distribution improved and his pace to recover when England were caught on the counter was key.

Reece James: 6 – Played in the Scotland game and almost scored with a powerful shot. Too many safe passes in that game, though.

John Stones: 8 – Brilliant tournament. Hit the post against Scotland when he should have scored and was dangerous from set pieces. Defensively solid as a rock and so calm on the ball. Only defender to start all seven games for England.

Harry Maguire: 8 – After missing the first two games after recovering from injury the Manchester United captain slotted in seamlessly. Some imperious defensive displays, scored a fine header against Ukraine and stood tall when his team needed him.

Tyrone Mings: 7 – Did not let anybody down when standing in for the injured Maguire in the opening two group games.

Luke Shaw: 9 – Fabulous tournament from the Man United left back. A real threat in attack from left back and left wing-back and he delivered three assists. Scored a beauty in the final to set England on their way early on. What a comeback he’s having.


Midfielders

Kalvin Phillips: 8 – What a great summer for the Yorkshire Pirlo. Only Jorginho covered more ground than him in the tournament and Phillips led England’s high-press from central midfield so well. This was his breakout moment.

Declan Rice: 8 – See above. His partnership with Phillips worked so well and they gave England a solid defensive base which allowed the full backs to push on. What a player the 22-year-old is.

Jordan Henderson: 6 – After missing so long through injury it is remarkable that Henderson played any part at all. Scored his first England goal in the win against Ukraine and always slotted in well off the bench, except he looked a bit shaky in the final.

Mason Mount: 6 – Started the tournament well but after missing two games after having to self-isolate, that seemed to impact his rhythm. Worked so hard, but England could never get him in dangerous positions.

Jack Grealish: 8 – Wasn’t used enough. It is that simple. England’s fans love him and chanted for him to come on and when he did play he made things happen. Got stuck with being an ‘impact sub’ but will surely be a regular for England soon.

Jude Bellingham: 6 – Came off the bench in a couple of games and worked hard and kept the tempo high. The 18-year-old has a bright future.

Phil Foden: 6 – The 21-year-old started the tournament well but was then hit with an injury which saw him miss the final. Still had an impact, especially in the semifinal.

Bukayo Saka: 8 – Wow. One of the stars of the tournament for England as his direct running caused so many problems. Man of the Match against Czech Republic and excelled against Germany and Denmark too. So cruel to see his penalty saved in the final, but at 19 years of age he will be a star for England for many years to come.

Jadon Sancho: 6 – Deserved a start against Ukraine and took his chance. Barely feature aside from that, and was gutted to have his penalty kick saved. The young winger will come back stronger.


Forwards

Raheem Sterling: 9 – Fantastic tournament as he scored important goals and was fearless as he ran at defenses time and time again. Just came up short in the final, but Italy were so wary of him. He has never let Southgate down and his partnership with Kane and Saka will be key moving forward.

Harry Kane: 7 – Started slow but dug deep to score four goals. Struggled to find space as teams targeted him, and the captain will have wanted to play a lot better in the final.

Marcus Rashford: 6 – Played a bit-part in this tournament off the bench as he battled back from a knock. Missed his penalty in the shootout in the final and looked devastated. He will bounce back. Great character on and off the pitch.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin: 6 – Used to give Kane a rest in a few games and looked up for the part. Will be disappointed he didn’t feature more.


England squad who did not feature – Goalkeepers: Aaron Ramsdale, Sam Johnstone; Defenders: Conor Coady, Ben Chilwell, Ben White

Player ratings: Italy v. England

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LONDON — The Italy – England players ratings from the EURO 2020 final were tough to dish out after a tight, tense clash at Wembley.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned: England – Italy | EURO 2020 hub ]

Luke Shaw gave England a lead inside the first two minutes, but then Italy equalized through Leonardo Bonucci in the second half as the Azzurri surged back.

In extra time they could not be separated and Italy won on penalty kicks, with Gianluigi Donnarumma saving two and Marcus Rashford missing a spot kick.

[ VIDEO: Celebrations underway as Italy lift EURO 2020 trophy ]

Below is a look at the Italy – England player ratings in full, with marks out of 10 and analysis on every single player who featured.


Italy player ratings

Gianluigi Donnarumma: 8 – Couldn’t do much on the goal. Tipped a header from Stones over. Then stood tall in penalty kicks.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo: 6 – Caught out by Shaw on the early goal and never truly looked comfortable. Recovered well defensively.

Leonardo Bonucci: 7.5 – Booked for hacking Sterling. Flashed a shot wide from distance. Scored the equalizer. England tried to drag him out of position but his used all of his nous. Slotted his penalty kick home. So steady and reliable.

Giorgio Chiellini: 8 – Usually unflappable captain and center back was dragged out of position by Harry Kane a few times but he kept chugging away, as usual. Could have seen red for dragging Saka back. Helped drag his team back into the game. Heroic.

Emerson Palmieri: 6 – Gave Trippier so much space to cross for the opening goal, and looked uneasy on the ball. Recovered well, though. 

Nicolo Barella: 5 – Subbed off in second half after having little impact.

Jorginho: 6 – Did his best to hold things together after taking an early knock. Missed a penalty.

Marco Verratti: 7 – Ticked things over nicely. His header led to the equalizer.

Lorenzo Insigne: 6 – Bright in stages. Curled a free kick wide and forced Pickford to save at the near post.

Ciro Immobile: 5 – Subbed off after a subdued display. One shot blocked in the first half, and that was it.

Federico Chiesa: 8 – Italy’s best player by far, as he fizzed one shot wide in the first half and then tested Pickford in the second. Such a shame he had to be subbed off due to injury.

Substitutions

Bryan Cristante (54′ on for Barella): 6 – Helped Italy gain control of midfield. Flicked header in for the goal.

Domenico Berardi (55′ on for Immobile): 6 – Tried his best to stretch the England defense.

Federico Bernardeschi (86′ on for Chiesa): 6 – Worked hard, but didn’t have the same flair as Chiesa, understandably. Scored his pen.

Andrea Belotti (90′ on for Insigne): 5 – Caused problems with one attack. Missed his pen.

Manuel Locatelli (96′ on for Verratti): 6 – Worked hard in the engine room.

Alessandro Florenzi (118′ on for Emerson): N/A


England player ratings

Jordan Pickford: 6 – Made a couple of good stops to deny Insigne and Chiesa, but should have done better on Italy’s equalizer. Rarely tested and distribution was a little hasty at times. Saved two penalties to give England a chance to win. Overall, what a tournament he had.

Kyle Walker: 7 – Recovered well when playing at center back on a few occasions. Switched to his favored right back spot. Solid defensively.

John Stones: 7 – Forced a save with a header. Solid on the ball and good positionally. Very good tournament.

Harry Maguire: 6 – Some solid defending but lost track of Bonucci for the equalizer. Had a good tournament overall.

Kieran Trippier: 7 – Excellent cross for Shaw’s goal and did a job defensively as a right wing-back. Sacrificed when England went to a back four.

Kalvin Phillips: 6 – Another gutsy display from the Yorkshire Pirlo who pressed high whenever he could. Struggled to maintain his tempo.

Declan Rice: 7 – Put in a heck of a shift in central midfield and ran himself into the ground. Henderson replaced him in the second half. What an epic shift from the West Ham man.

Luke Shaw: 8 – Took his goal extremely well and always a threat on the ball. What a tournament he had.

Raheem Sterling: 7 – Once again some electric runs at the heart of Italy’s defense. Never stopped being positive.

Harry Kane: 6 – Started well initially, but faded in second half as Chiellini and Bonucci took control.

Mason Mount: 6 – Buzzed around as usual, but couldn’t help England keep the ball. Replaced by Grealish.

Substitutions

Bukayo Saka (71′ on for Trippier): 6 – Some great work defensively but couldn’t quite get going in attack. Had his penalty kick saved.

Jordan Henderson (74′ on for Rice): 6 – Looked a little off the pace with a few sloppy passes.

Jack Grealish (99′ on for Mount): 7 – Made things happen and helped England regain some control.

Marcus Rashford (120′ on for Henderson): N/A – Hit the post with his penalty.

Jadon Sancho (120′ on for Walker): N/A – Had his penalty saved.

Tottenham talking to Nuno as managerial search continues

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The managerial search at Tottenham is officially into its sixth week (unofficially, 10 weeks since Jose Mourinho was fired), as they reportedly turn their attention to former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Man City to make $140-million bid for Jack Grealish ]

After spending four seasons at Wolves, where he helped to get the club promoted the Premier League and guided them a 7th-, 7th- and 13th-place finishes in their first three top-flight seasons, before agreeing his departure by mutual consent at the end of the 2020-21 season.

New director of football Fabio Paratici has led the way on the managerial search since his appointment almost two weeks ago, with nonstop links to clients of Jorge Mendes and current/former Serie A coaches the new norm. Paratici is even said to have considered Nuno for the vacant Juventus job last summer, when he held the title of sporting directory, before ultimately hiring Andrea Pirlo, who lasted just one season.

[ MORE: RB Leipzig sign 18-year-old USMNT prospect Caden Clark ]

Nuno to Tottenham: Good hire? Bad hire?

Perhaps if the first five chapters of Tottenham’s search for a new manager hadn’t played out in such embarrassingly hilarious fashion, hiring Nuno wouldn’t have felt inherently underwhelming, but there are no do-overs in the real world. So, if Nuno is who Tottenham end up hiring to replace Mourinho and interim boss Ryan Mason, the word “safe” immediately comes to mind.

With three years of Premier League experience already under his belt, Nuno is a far safer choice than Paulo Fonseca or Gennaro Gattuso, both of whom were previously linked with the Tottenham job, while quite clearly lacking the high-end potential of appointing the likes of Antonio Conte or Carlo Ancelotti. Is Nuno a better or more inspiring hire than, say, Graham Potter or Brendan Rodgers? That’s a little more difficult to say.

[ MORE: UEFA abolishes away-goals rule ]

Certainly, there are stylistic tendencies which would appear to fly in the face of Daniel Levy’s stated desire to return Tottenham to its roots as an attacking club, but the words “abject” and “anti-football” never once came to mind when watching Wolves the last three years.

Given the mass overhaul required to bring the Tottenham squad back up to speed, a rigid and structured manager like Nuno might be a good fit as Spurs look to effectively rebuild on the fly. If Nuno proves he’s capable of making the jump to elite European competition, he gets a contract extension and sticks around a while longer. If he appears only capable of stabilizing the club amid turbulent times and establishes something of a hard-nosed culture, Tottenham could undeniably use that for a season or two.

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