Wednesday, July 6, 2022

2022 FIFA World Cup USMNT roster prediction: Who’s a lock to go to Qatar, who’s on the outside looking in?

With seven months to go until the World Cup, Gregg Berhalter’s roster is taking shape

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We may be months away from the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but planning and preparation for it is already well underway for United States men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter. While current rules allow for a 23 man roster, teams are expecting an expansion to 26 players for the Qatar tournament in November. It’s a massive year for the red, white and blue to prove their ability on a global scale after missing out on the 2018 edition. With so many players playing locally in MLS and the top talent abroad in Europe, Berhalter has a huge pool of players to choose his roster from. The American manager has shown he isn’t afraid to go to struggling MLS clubs, second-division Europe or anywhere else to field a team he thinks can compete.

So how is that roster looking here at the beginning of May? Let’s give it a crack:

USMNT roster locks

When it comes to picking who will make the trip to Qatar, barring an injury or a situation where they’re no longer starters for their team — and for a few players even losing their starting spots wouldn’t stop them from going to the World Cup — the players below will be on the trip.

  • ZACK STEFFEN (GOALKEEPER)  

  • SERGINO DEST (DEFENDER)
  • WESTON MCKENNIE (MIDFIELDER)
  • CHRISTIAN PULISIC (FORWARD)
  • GIO REYNA (FORWARD)
  • TYLER ADAMS (MIDFIELDER)
  • ANTONEE ROBINSON (DEFENDER)
  • MATT TURNER (GOALKEEPER)
  • DEANDRE YEDLIN (DEFENDER)
  • KELLYN ACOSTA (MIDFIELDER)
  • BRENDEN AARONSON (FORWARD)
  • RICARDO PEPI (FORWARD)
  • YUNUS MUSAH  (MIDFIELDER)
  • WALKER ZIMMERMAN (DEFENDER)
  • MILES ROBINSON (DEFENDER)
  • TIM WEAH (FORWARD)

This isn’t a group of players who need much of an explanation but here are reasons for concern that we should walkthrough. There’s a good chance that unless Steffen gets a loan in the summer or Turner stays with the Revolution through the season that both of the top keepers won’t have starting roles. While that hasn’t mattered to Berhalter in the past, Steffen’s mistakes have to be adding up so his spot may not be as safe as it used to be. As Reyna spends more time on the sidelines recovering from an injury, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be healthy enough for making it to the World Cup. His talent is undeniable but availability is a player’s best ability. Similar concerns surround Dest but he hasn’t missed nearly as many minutes as Reyna.

On the bubble

  • Chris Richards (Defender): Far and away the most talented defender in the pool. He’s out for the rest of the European season due to injury, but sources tell CBS Sports he will be fine by the summer and should play a part in Nations League play. While Robinson and Zimmerman have been the top pairing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Richards end up starting in Qatar. He can also play full back, and he’s a rising star in the Bundesliga. 
  • Paul Arriola (Forward): Comfortable playing on the wing or in an advanced midfield position, Arriola is another glue guy who is needed to make a roster tick. His vision and work-rate are important to have in the squad and his leadership skills and intangibles make him as close to being a lock for the final roster as he can be. Or at least it would if there weren’t so many players at his position ahead of him.
  • Luca De La Torre (Midfielder): He doesn’t get much hype playing for a club most people haven’t even heard of in Heracles Almelo, but he has delivered in recent matches with the U.S. and has looked comfortable. He’s very technical, plays smart and should feel good about his chances of making the World Cup. If anything, he should be the top player off the bench in terms of attacking midfield. 
  • Gabriel Slonina (Keeper): A late push by Poland for Slonina’s international future could be enough to either vault him into the third keeper spot or see him fall out of the pool altogether but until proven otherwise, it’s safe to assume that this could move Slonina over Ethan Horvath to keep him tied to the USMNT. His current trajectory could see him get the number one shirt by 2026.
  • Jesus Ferreira (Forward): The most in-form forward on the radar right now, if Ferreira can consistently score in MLS this season, he’ll not only make the trip but also have a good shot at being the starting forward on the first day of World Cup play.
  • George Bello (Defender): This is where we enter the tier of players who are likely to fall out of contention at a moments notice. Bello is on the fringe now due to being a talented left back with a shot at starting in a top European division. As Armina Bielefeld are likely to be relegated, could that send Bello off the roster? If not, another left back being a consistent starter could.
  • Christian Roldan (Midfielder): Dinged a little as some of his best performances for the Seattle Sounders have come on the wing and not in midfield, Roldan keeps up the trend of versatility boosting a player’s case as he can play almost anywhere on the pitch. A creative midfielder who isn’t scared of going in for a tackle, Roldan is a more proven version of where Busio and de la Torre want to be at this time.
  • Jordan Pefok (Forward): He has been killing it in Switzerland with Young Boys, but then you think about his miss at Estadio Azteca in Mexico and it just brings you down. But it was only one chance, and he’ll improve. He is an in-form pure striker for the U.S, but he will just have to show up for the team leading up to the tournament to make it and get minutes.
  • Erik Palmer-Brown (Defender): What a rise from Palmer-Brown from not being on the radar to the emergency right back position after anchoring Troyes’ defense as they look set to stave off relegation in Ligue 1. Not someone who you’d look at to start games, but if Berhalter is serious about trying different formations, someone who is comfortable in a back three is important to have around.
  • Gianluca Busio (Midfielder): Likely headed to the second division in Italy with Venezia, where his future rests will be interesting to see. Berhalter likes him a lot, and he has been able to deliver some really dangerous balls while on international duty. He’s on the bubble, surely, but somebody of his technical quality and creativity is needed off the bench.

Roster projection 1.0

Goalkeepers (3): ZACK STEFFEN (MANCHESTER CITY), MATT TURNER (NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION), GABRIEL SLONINA (CHICAGO FIRE)

Defenders (8): SERGINO DEST (BARCELONA), ANTONEE ROBINSON (FULHAM), DEANDRE YEDLIN (INTER MIAMI), WALKER ZIMMERMAN (NASHVILLE SC), MILES ROBINSON (ATLANTA UNITED), CHRIS RICHARDS (HOFFENHEIM), GEORGE BELLO (ARMENIA BIELEFELD), ERIK PALMER-BROWN (TROYES)

Midfielders (7): WESTON MCKENNIE (JUVENTUS), TYLER ADAMS (RED BULL LEIPZIG), YUNUS MUSAH (VALENCIA), KELLYN ACOSTA (LOS ANGELES FC), LUCA DE LA TORRE (HERACLES ALMEO), CHRISTIAN ROLDAN (SEATTLE SOUNDERS), GIANLUCA BUSIO (VENEZIA)

Forwards (8): CHRISTIAN PULISIC (CHELSEA), GIO REYNA (BORUSSIA DORTMUND), BRENDEN AARONSON (RED BULL SALZBURG), RICARDO PEPI (FC AUGSBURG), TIM WEAH (LILLE), PAUL ARRIOLA (FC DALLAS), JESUS FERREIRA (FC DALLAS), JORDAN PEFOK (YOUNG BOYS)  

On the outside looking in

This is a fluid group. Anything from a transfer during the summer to a slight shift in playing time could vault them right into the picture for the World Cup squad. An interesting mix of players in MLS and abroad make up this group.

  • Ethan Horvath (Goalkeeper): It’s hard not to feel for Horvath. All that he has done is perform when called for club and country but he finds himself on the bench for Nottingham Forest and possibly not making it to the World Cup to make space for a talented 17-year-old. Things could change if Forest moves on from Brice Samba during the offseason or if a keeper goes down but currently, Slonina is narrowly ahead of him.
  • James Sands (Midfielder): In his first year with Rangers, Sands has struggled to break into the first team but the potential is there. What helps him in staying on the radar despite a lack of playing time is his versatility. Sands can play center back, right back, or defensive midfielder. He is someone who would have a stronger case for inclusion on a 23-man roster versus a 26-man, however.
  • Jordan Morris (Forward): It’s hard to leave Jordan Morris on the outside of the squad as he seems to be Berhalter’s forward choice to close out games. While he is a better goal scorer than we’ve seen for the national team as of late, Morris is a good locker room guy and also puts in a shift every time he’s on the pitch so don’t be surprised if he makes the trip.
  • Aaron Long (Defender): Long has returned from injury like he never left, pacing a good New York Red Bulls defense. While the days may be over where he’s linked with a move abroad to a European league, a steady performer at center back like Long will always be around the fringes of the squad.
  • Kevin Paredes (Defender): In a pool of talented teenagers, Paredes may be one of the most talented of the bunch. After recently making his debut for Wolfsburg, Paredes will hope to push for the starting left back role next season if they stay up. But he won’t need to win the job to have a shot at passing Bello. His ceiling is so high that there’s a world where Paredes could be the starter at left back in Qatar. 
  • Djordje Mihailovic (Midfielder): All Mihailovic does is produce. Scoring eight goals and getting the primary assists on 15 more since moving to Montreal will put him heavily on the radar. The issue is as a creative midfielder/ winger, he’s behind Aaronson, Reyna, Pulisic, Weah, and even Arriola before being able to get a call. If Berhalter played a back three, some of Mihialovic’s wing back experience could come into play, but not yet.   

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