Looking ahead to October qualifiers: what could the USMNT roster look like?
September 14, 2021
THE FIRST TRIO of World Cup qualifiers in September were decidedly mixed for the United States national team. Two lackluster draws but a resounding second half in a win over Honduras gave the U.S. team five points and a solid goal differential. Heading into October, head coach Gregg Berhalter will have difficult choices as he assembles his roster.
Like September, it should be a roster well over 23 players. In fact, it could be even larger than the 26-player roster we saw for the first three games in September. This is because a bunch of players are working their way back from injuries and are still settling into a new club. It's easy to see Berhalter wanting to keep a "big tent" with a lot of players in and around the team so that they're prepared not just for this window, but for future windows. In this format, the games come quickly and there isn't much time to train.
We are not too far off from a roster being named either. The U.S. team will open the games at home against Jamaica on October 7 in Austin, then at Panama on October 10, and then finally against Costa Rica in Columbus on October 13. With club games running through Sunday, Octoer 3, we are probably only a little more than two weeks from the roster being named. With only a few days training available for the first game, there should be a lot of continuity between the September and October rosters. There will also be some new players sprinkled in.
Here is a look at some big questions the remainder of the month.
There are also several big decisions on personnel matters, the big one being the Weston McKennie decision. The star Juventus midfielder did not play in the final two games and was sent home early after “breaking team rules.”
We know Mckennie loves the United States national team and is a charismatic person to have on the team. This comes down to a matter of trust between the team, the staff, the federation, and McKennie. Berhalter has said that McKennie is not permanently banned from the team and that he has spoken with the Texan at length before he left camp. The problem for McKennie is that the incidents are now repeated and rebuilding the trust is a process, not something that is automatic with an apology. The subsequent comments made by his father on twitter implicating other players didn’t help.
In the end, I think McKennie will be back with the U.S. team but that is just a guess. I don’t think any decision has been made yet. There is also concern about his recent dip in form. He struggled against El Salvador and hasn’t been strong at the start of the season with Juventus. It’s a tricky one.
Beyond the long-term injuries of Jordan Morris, Aaron Long, Richard Ledezma, and now Sam Vines, a bunch of players are still out injured for the U.S. that are questionable.
Sergino Dest hurt his ankle last week against Canada. He made the gameday roster for the Champions League so the situation seems to be positive for him.
Christian Pulisic also hurt his ankle and Tomas Tuchel said he’s out 10 days.
Tim Weah remains out for Lille.
Gio Reyna injured his hamstring against El Salvador and is out for a bit.
Zack Steffen tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining in the United States before returning to England.
Injuries are very tricky to predict because on top of the time-table to return, you also have the time-table to get fit.
For now, the guess I’ll make is that Reyna and Weah are out. Reyna is going to miss a bunch of consecutive games and Weah hasn’t played since 8/21/21. Weah might return before the next trio of games, but there are too many questions about his fitness.
The Predicted October Roster
1) Matt Turner
2) Zack Steffen
3) Ethan Horvath
In the Mix: Sean Johnson, Brad Guzan
The Breakdown: Few would argue that these three aren’t the top three American goalkeepers. They’ll likely all be called up but there are questions about Steffen right now regarding his quarantine and also with Horvath – who might be better served remaining with his club to attempt to take over the top spot at Nottingham Forest for the struggling Brice Samba.
4) Antonee Robinson
5) Sergino Dest
6) DeAndre Yedlin
7) Bryan Reynolds
In the Mix: Joe Scally, Julian Araujo, Justin Che, George Bello, Shaq Moore, Reggie Cannon, DeJuan Jones
The Breakdown: We know Antonee Robinson will go. It seems likely Sergino Dest will be healthy enough. The questions have always been about backups. George Bello is still promising and might return in October, but he faded against Honduras and Berhalter might explore other options.
Unfortunately, the news hasn’t been great with the club situations for a few players. Reggie Cannon is in a poor situation at Boavista and it’s hard to see that situation improving soon. Shaq Moore is also a bench player at Tenerife and that will probably keep him out.
DeAndre Yedlin might not be a clear starter yet at Galatasaray, but he plays. When you combine that with his experience and his recent strong game against Honduras, he seems like a good bet to be there in October.
The fourth fullback is interesting. It is very possible that Julian Araujo might make this roster but his international allegiance not known – at least publicly. If he goes, Dest would be the right back starter and the backup left back. Bryan Reynold and Joe Scally are both young players still getting adjusted to teams in the “Big Five” leagues in Europe and both can cover at left back. While Scally is playing regularly, Reynolds brings the speed and athleticism that could be useful in CONCACAF. Reynolds has also played with the team before in 2021.
8) Miles Robinson
9) John Brooks
10) Chris Richards
11) Mark McKenzie
12) Tim Ream
In the Mix: Walker Zimmerman, Matt Miazga, James Sands, Erik Palmer-Brown, Cameron Carter-Vickers
The Breakdown: Last window, Berhalter went with six central defenders. It’s hard to see six getting the call for October. Mile Robinson is a lock. John Brooks didn’t have a great window in September, but he’ll be back. Chris Richards is now back to playing in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim and his club situation is secure. His chances of being back are high.
If Berhalter goes with five central defenders, the remaining two spots are open for prediction. You can’t bet against Tim Ream as he is a regular under Beherhalter, he is playing well for his club, and he had a nice outing against El Salvador. Meanwhile, Mark Mckenzie started against Honduras and that reflects well for him on the depth chart. But he’s the type of player that needs to play for his club, if his minutes decline in the coming weeks, Walker Zimmerman will probably get the call instead.
13) Tyler Adams
14) Weston McKennie
15) Yunus Musah
16) Kellyn Acosta
17) Sebastian Lletget
18) Cristian Roldan
19) Gianluca Busio
In the mix: Luca De la Torre, Julian Green, Tanner Tessmann, Jackson Yueill, Caden Clark
The Breakdown: Obviously Adams is lock. As we mentioned, Weston McKennie is touch and go but we’ll tentatively predict he is back. Kellyn Acosta and Sebastian Lletget will also be back. Acosta is a needed backup at either the No. 8 or No. 6. Cristian Roldan also seems to be a good bench option at this point and he worked very well against Honduras.
Yunus Musah is back to playing with Valencia, although he will need to play more than just cameos. Still, he’s part of the plans and Berhalter will probably want him back with the team.
There is room for another midfielder and Luca de la Torre and Julian Green both have cases but the safer bet is Gianluca Busio, who has played with the team over the summer and has nailed down a starting spot with Venezia – and played well in a big win over the weekend against Empoli.
20) Christian Pulisic
21) Brenden Aaronson
22) Nicholas Gioacchini
23) Matthew Hoppe
24) Konrad De la Fuente
25) Paul Arriola
In the Mix: Jesus Ferreira, Kevin Paredes
The Breakdown: This group of players consists of the wingers and the hybrid attackers who play a bunch of different attacking roles. We know Christian Pulisic (if healthy) and Brenden Aaronson are locks. But who else? Tim Weah and Gio Reyna seem unlikely to be healthy/fit.
Berhalter said during the last window that Matthew Hoppe was a player who he would have liked to have had in September but the forward was in the process of moving to Mallorca. Hoppe has secured the move, but now he needs to play. Meanwhile, fellow Gold Cup winner Nicholas Gioacchini has also secured a move to a top league with Ligue 1’s Montpellier and has already made his debut. Konrad de la Fuente should also probably be back. Meanwhile, Paul Arriola has returned from injury with DC United and he brings some defense and scrappy play to the wing position.
26) Ricardo Pepi
27) Josh Sargent
28) Jordan Pefok
29) Gyasi Zardes
In the Mix: Daryl Dike
The Breakdown: We know Ricardo Pepi will be back because he actually played well last window and continues to have an exceptional season with FC Dallas. After him, it comes down to decisions that could go either way. Josh Sargent isn’t playing particularly well and Gyasi Zardes is only now returning from injury to a disappointing Columbus Crew team. Jordan Pefok gives a physical edge but does he offer anything Daryl Dike doesn’t? Dike is more mobile but also hasn’t looked the same since his Gold Cup injury along with the fatigue of non-stop soccer for over a year.
For now, the status quo along with the return of Zardes seems like the safe bet but this position seems very much up in the air.