Sunday, July 3, 2022

USMNT World Cup prep takeaways: A striker emerges; top midfield alternate pick; center back race gains clarity

The United States men’s national team’s summer is over following the 1-1 draw with El Salvador, ending it with a 2-2-0 record with wins over Morocco and Grenada, while also getting a draw against Uruguay. Many of the players that are expected to be at the 2022 World Cup were with the U.S. for these matches, and while there are still more questions than answers, we have gained a little bit a clarity on some fronts. 

After the four matches this summer, here are three takeaways:

1. Ferreira is the striker … for now

The striker position remains the biggest question in this team with no clear-cut choice. But, as things stand, it certainly feels like Jesus Ferreira’s job to lose. The hope and belief was that Josh Sargent would be the next big thing at the position after a prolific youth career, but he’s found his time in Europe to be less productive than expected, and he’s not even really on the radar at the moment. Then it was Ricardo Pepi’s job, who many considered the next top young striker, but he’s found it hard to make it at Bundesliga club Augsburg, failing to score or impress in his first season.

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Ferreira, while not all that consistent, is the one leaving the most positive, lasting impression. On top of having nine goals in 14 league games for FC Dallas, he is the leading scorer this summer with that four-goal showing against Grenada. While he’s had some shocking misses in front of goal and his output did come against a low quality side, he’s still done more than the likes of Haji Wright and others. 

If the World Cup were to be this summer, Ferreira would be starting. If he keeps it up with FC Dallas and continues to impress with the USMNT with his passing and quality runs, he’ll start in Qatar.

2. Top midfielder off the bench is probably de la Torre

You can make a case for him starting, but Luca de la Torre is playing himself into a big role off the bench. He proved his quality in these four matches, appearing in all of them and completing 100 percent of his passes in the final third in three of those games. He created four chances against Grenada and got an assist, and his fine ball in against El Salvador set up Jordan Morris for the equalizer. 

Personally, I’d start him over Yunus Musah to have a bit more of a sure thing in terms of creation, while letting McKennie be more of a distributor in the middle. But, for right now, he seems like the top midfield option off the bench. He needed just nine minutes against El Salvador to get his assist, and he’s a player whose stock is rising big time within the team.

3 Long has every chance to command center back role

This is another position where you just have to wonder what we will see from Chris Richards moving forward. The Bayern Munich man is the best center back talent this country has, but we may just see Aaron Long snag that second spot if he can’t stay healthy. Barring injury, it does feel like the consistent Walker Zimmerman will be starting at the World Cup, but who in the world will join him? Cameron Carter-Vickers is an option, some still want John Brooks back into the fold, but the on-again-off-again Long looks like the choice … for now.

He’s played three full halves for the U.S. in the last two games, winning nine of 10 duels and all of his aerials against El Salvador. He’s also recovered the ball 14 times in the last two games. An all-MLS center back pairing seemed unlikely six months ago, but they’ve managed to take advantage of the opportunities presented. Those behind them will need an impressive fall to jump them.

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