Injuries have shaken up the most settled parts of the roster, and now Gregg Berhalter needs to find a defender
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 tournament in Qatar this November. With the International Football Association agreeing to allow five substitutes per match, it paves the way for the World Cup rosters being at 26 men before long.
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 since the end of the team’s longest window together before heading to Qatar? What’s changed since we did our second look at things? 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)
- Aaron Long (defender)
- Tim Weah (forward)
- Jesus Ferreira (forward)
- Luca de la Torre (midfielder)
When Berhalter was asked about his roster heading into friendlies versus Morocco, Uruguay, and Nations League matches earlier this month he alluded that most of the roster is already set with around 10 spots being fluid. While the majority of these names are self-explanatory due to talent (Pulisic) or locker room presence (Yedlin), the 17 players above will all make the World Cup roster barring injury.
There are four new entries into this section (technically three new entries and one returner) as Aaron Long, Tim Weah, and Jesus Ferreira have done enough to book their trips to Qatar. Long could likely see himself as the starter at center back alongside Walker Zimmerman after logging minutes in all four matches that the USMNT played during their June window. While it wasn’t always pretty, Long was solid in the role and didn’t do anything to hurt the team. Keeping it simple is important in international play and Long plus Zimmerman can accomplish that.
Weah has put his club form behind him and is one of the most electric players on the pitch for the national team. While his starting role depends on the health of Gio Reyna, not many players on the roster are as direct and driven to make life hard for goalkeepers like Weah. On a similar note, Luca de la Torre has solidified his role as the first man off of the bench. Assists in two consecutive Nations League matches may not seem like much, but his decision making has improved. One of the knocks with de la Torre is that while he has the ability to get into good spaces, he didn’t have the decisiveness to turn those into attacking chances. With the USMNT lately, this may be changing as he gets more chemistry with the attackers and is able to make dangerous passes.
When it comes to the attack, while Ferreira does a lot well it also feels like he has fallen into the starting striker spot for the team. Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Pefok, Gyasi Zardes, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright have all gotten runs at the position, but it always circles back to Ferreira. While he has been the best goal scorer of a bad bunch with one goal and assist in World Cup qualifying before a four-goal explosion in Nations League against Grenada, it’s what Ferreira does when he isn’t scoring that makes the difference.
He can set up teammates with his passing while dragging defenders with his off-ball movement to create lanes to work in. These are things that Sargent and Pepi also do well, but their scoring has reached woeful levels where they’ll need a run of form to restore their confidence, while Ferreira at least offers the threat of scoring.
On the bubble
- Chris Richards (Defender): Richards could’ve been a lock if he was healthy enough to take part in this international window. Heck, he may have been a starter next to Zimmerman. While I don’t see a scenario where Richards doesn’t go to the World Cup, uncertainty over his future is enough to place him on the bubble. He could head back to Hoffenheim again which would be a good move, but if he tries to go to a bigger club, he could end up as a backup and hurt his case.
- 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.
- Ethan Horvath (Keeper): Horvath getting caught flat footed in the El Salvador game could hurt his case, but there’s a slim chance that he’s starting in the Premier League this year with Brice Samba wanting out of Nottingham Forest. And if he’s not the starter, Horvath may seek a loan because he knows that this is his best chance of starting at the World Cup.
- Jordan Morris (Forward): Sometimes all it takes is a goal to move from the outside looking in and to a spot where you’re probably heading to the World Cup. Morris is one of the best guys on the roster for closing out matches with both his defensive work rate and ability to get into dangerous positions. Also fitting in with the locker room, unless another forward catches fire, he in a great spot.
- 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. After getting a rest this summer to recharge after a long season, hopefully he’ll be in a better place in the fall both physically and mentally.
- Joe Scally (Defender): It took a while for Scally to get into the picture. While he didn’t do a great job in his shifts, his biggest competition, George Bello, only played 30 minutes across the four matches. Reggie Cannon also disappointed, and due to his versatility to backup both fullback spots, Scally allows Berhalter to take three right backs and two left backs, essentially getting an extra player in a way.
- 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 the player’s case as he can play almost anywhere on the pitch.
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (Defender): Carter-Vickers had a shaky start to the window but came on strong near the end. In line for Champions League soccer with Celtic and now being integrated with the group, there’s a clear path for heading to the World Cup barring an injury.
- James Sands (Defender): In his first year with Rangers, Sands has struggled to break into the first team, but the potential is there. He has shown brightly in his limited playing time what he can do. 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 3.0
Goalkeepers (3): Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution), Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest).
Defenders (9): Sergino Dest (Barcelona), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), 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 Almelo), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders).
Forwards (8): Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Ricardo Pepi (FC Augsburg), Tim Weah (Lille), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders).
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.
- Sean Johnson (Goalkeeper): One of the only keepers who is actually starting matches in the pool, Johnson has an outside shot of starting at the World Cup. While I feel that one of the European keepers will get a loan move, if things fall through, Johnson is there and ready. He looked sharp against Uruguay.
- Gabriel Slonina (Goalkeeper): It doesn’t seem like the right time for Slonina to head to the World Cup. Currently working on getting his future settled between Chelsea and Real Madrid, Slonina just needs to take things slow. If there is a settled starter, there’s a chance he could go along for the experience since the MLS season will be over, but his ceiling is as a third keeper to learn.
- George Bello (Defender): Bello was only being called in due to not having enough left backs, and with Arminia Bielefeld’s relegation to the 2 Bundesliga, it feels like an appropriate time for Scally to pass him on the roster.
- Haji Wright (Forward): Wright did score a goal from the penalty spot in the Morroco match, but then he disappeared for the remaining three matches. A forward who really needs service, Wright is hurt by the United States not utilizing creative attacking midfielder. He could certainly make the final roster, but it doesn’t seem like he does enough off the ball to impress Berhalter.
- 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.
- Erik Palmer-Brown (Defender): After a strong season with Troyes, Palmer-Brown is the biggest loser with Carter-Vickers being back on the scene. As both are fighting for one spot on the bench, whoever has the stronger start to the season will likely go to the World Cup. The advantage is to Carter-Vickers at the moment.
- 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 Sands and 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 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, but his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Berhalter has stated that Mihailovic is still in their plans, but with de la Torre coming on during the last international window, it feels like Mihailovic will be watching the World Cup from home.
- Malik Tillman (Midfielder): While I don’t see Tillman as being on the radar, I wanted to mention him. He’s raw and has potential, but the odds of him doing enough between now and the World Cup to earn a spot are slim. Tillman is someone who can provide more options for 2026, and that’s just fine.