Tuesday, July 5, 2022

2022 FIFA World Cup USMNT roster prediction 2.0: Striker search goes on; Options to replace Miles Robinson

Injuries have shaken up the most settled parts of the roster and now Gregg Berhalter needs to find a defender

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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 reaching the end of most European seasons in mid May? What’s changed since we did our first look at the potential squad almost a month ago? Let’s take a look:

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 at their clubs 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)
  • YUNUS MUSAH  (MIDFIELDER)
  • WALKER ZIMMERMAN (DEFENDER)
  • CHRIS RICHARDS (DEFENDER)

Miles Robinson tearing his Achillies was a brutal injury for club and country as center-back was one of the most settled positions for the national team. Robinson and Zimmerman have started nine matches together in central defense and were undefeated until the final day of qualifying when they lost to Costa Rica. In a position that depends on chemistry, Gregg Berhalter will need to ensure that he figures out who his starting defenders will be sooner than later so they can play as much as possible. The assumption is that Richards will be on the left side. While he is a natural right sided defender, he has deputized on the left and even at left back showing impressive versatility.

As one of the most talented defenders in the pool, it will be interesting to see if he can take this opportunity coming off an injury of his own. It’s also important to note two players who are no longer listed as locks are Tim Weah and Ricardo Pepi but we’ll talk about them more shortly.

On the bubble

  • Aaron Long (Defender): Looking at those moving up a spot in the roster order, Long’s recovery from his Achillies injury has positioned him well for heading to the World Cup after it hurt his chances at potential European moves. Anchoring the defense for the New York Red Bulls, there is a chance that Long could end up starting for the national team too considering that he’s an experienced defender who is also a natural left footer.
  • Paul Arriola (Forward): Comfortable playing on the wing or in an advanced midfield position, Arriola is another glue guy who can help 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): Unless Slonina declares for Poland, it makes more sense for Berthalter to bring him to Qatar than Horvath. While Slonina is going through growing pains with the Fire after a hot start to the season, the experience of going to the World Cup, even as the number three, is a big deal for a young player. He has officially been called for Poland’s Nations League matches in June but it’s in Slonina’s hands if he will accept.
  • Jesus Ferreira (Forward): The current Major League Soccer golden boot leader could easily be a lock for the World Cup continuing these performances. With ten goals so far, if I had to pick anyone to lead the line for the National Team in Qatar, it’s Ferreira currently. Even when he isn’t scoring, his passing and positioning should keep him on the pitch as other forward options either flit in and out of games or struggle at putting the ball in the back of the net.
  • Ricardo Pepi (Forward): Pepi’s in a tough spot after a disappointing move to FC Augsburg that saw him not score as he slipped into a reserve role. While Pepi’s someone who looked like they would be a lock for Qatar, a forward’s key job is to put the ball into the back of the net and he just isn’t doing that. I still see him making the trip but he’ll need a strong start to the season if he’d like to lead the line to open the World Cup.
  • Tim Weah (Forward): By now it’s clear that a large number of forwards are around the fringes of the squad due to lack of production in Europe. It took Weah until almost the final matchday to score his first goal of the season for Lille. While he has been dynamic on the wing for the national team, which will likely keep him in contention, he’ll need to keep a starting spot in France with so many talented attackers knocking on the door for this coveted spot.
  • George Bello (Defender): This is where we enter the tier of players who could fall out of contention at a moment’s notice. Bello climbed into the fringe of the picture due to being a talented left back with a shot at starting in a top European division. But Armina Bielefeld have been relegated, so his future could be murky. The only thing keeping Bello in this spot is that there are no left backs pushing for the starting role, but that could change quickly.
  • Cristian Roldan (Midfielder): Dinged a little for the fact that recently some of his best performances for the Seattle Sounders have come on the wing where the USMNT is overflowing with options 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.
  • 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’ve secured another season in the top flight in France. 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.
  • James Sands (Defender): In his first year with Rangers, Sands has struggled to break into the first team but the potential is there and he has shown brightly in his limited playing time. What helps him in staying on the radar despite a lack of minutes is, stop me if you’ve heard this before, his versatility. Sands can play center back, right back, or defensive midfielder. With the need for a backup for Tyler Adams, Sands feels like he needs to be included because Kellyn Acosta can’t be the primary backup for all three midfield slots at the World Cup.

Roster projection 2.0

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

Defenders (9): SERGINO DEST (BARCELONA), ANTONEE ROBINSON (FULHAM), DEANDRE YEDLIN (INTER MIAMI), WALKER ZIMMERMAN (NASHVILLE SC), AARON LONG (NEW YORK RED BULLS), CHRIS RICHARDS (HOFFENHEIM), GEORGE BELLO (ARMENIA BIELEFELD), ERIK PALMER-BROWN (TROYES), JAMES SANDS (RANGERS)

Midfielders (6): WESTON MCKENNIE (JUVENTUS), TYLER ADAMS (RED BULL LEIPZIG), YUNUS MUSAH (VALENCIA), KELLYN ACOSTA (LOS ANGELES FC), LUCA DE LA TORRE (HERACLES ALMEO), CRISTIAN ROLDAN (SEATTLE SOUNDERS)

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 18-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.
  • Haji Wright (Forward): Berhalter has already confirmed that Wright will be included in the summer camp to get a closer look as he looks to solve the United States forward problem. Wright hasn’t been involved in qualifiers but he brings something different than the other forwards in the pool while also having the second most goals of any attacker in Europe after Pefok with 14 goals and two assists with Antalyaspor in the Turkish top flight. Wright is a wildcard in the pool but when looking at the other options, the team could do worse at this stage.
  • Gianluca Busio (Midfielder): Venezia will officially be playing in Serie B next season, but will Busio be with them? Part of their nosedive happened when they weren’t playing the talented midfielder, but the uncertainty is concerning. If he can get a good move, even on loan, Busio can likely make the World Cup squad with ease but toiling away in the Italian second division won’t be good for his development. 
  • 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.
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (Defender): Another person who Berhalter has confirmed will get a call in the summer is Carter-Vickers. Anchoring the defense for a title winning Celtic team, CCV seems to have finally found a home. The defender has always displayed talent but struggled to show it while constantly being on loan from Tottenham to somewhere different. Eventually, Carter-Vickers could lock down a starting spot as Champions League experience will be valuable but at the moment he needs to impress now that he has a chance.
  • Keaton Parks (Midfielder): Parks has been in and out of the national team picture but has fallen off since getting surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg. Back to his best with New York City FC, Parks could bring a different style to midfield especially if Berhalter wants to try out different formations. He can operate as a defensive midfielder with passing range, drop to help the center backs or play in a midfield two. Who doesn’t like having more tools?
  • 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. 
  • Brandon Vazquez (Forward): Another forward who is scoring goals and putting themselves on the radar is Vazquez. He is able to pop up when you least expect it and make you pay with his finishing. Having a home in Cincinnati with a top tier creator in Luciano Acosta shows what that can be expected when Vazquez is given ample service. As chance creation hasn’t been an issue for the national team, there could be a fit here if he’s given a chance.
  • Djordje Mihailovic (Midfielder): All Mihailovic does is produce. Mihailovic is in the MLS MVP conversation with six goals and four assists from midfield for CF Montreal. He can take set pieces and play all across the midfield while still being effective. He’s been one of the top midfielders in MLS soif Mihailovic keeps up this pace, he’ll not only pass Roldan but also be in the conversation for getting serious minutes as a change of pace substitute at the World Cup.

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