Predicting the September roster and analyzing the USMNT player pool.
September 13, 2022
ON WEDNESDAY, United States national team head coach Gregg Berhalter is set to release his roster for the September friendlies which are extremely important given that it is the last time the team will be together and play before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
During this window, the United States will play Japan in Germany on September 23 and Saudi Arabia in Spain on September 27.
What do we know about both Gregg Berhalter’s depth chart for Qatar and how he is thinking about the September roster? Here are some notes based on his recent interviews.
- It will be hard, but not impossible, for someone to make the team who has never been with the team or who has been away from the team for a long time. This would affect players like Brandon Vazquez, Johnny Cardoso (who hasn’t been with the team in nearly two years), John Tolkin, and maybe Djordje Mihailovic who was scheduled to be on the June roster but who subsequently picked up an injury.
- Berhalter told Extratime that he feels confident about 22 of the 26 players he will take to Qatar.
- Berhalter told the media two weeks ago in New York that his depth chart is about 38 to 40 players.
- The U.S. manager also said that he is looking about 26-27 players for the September camp.
- He also added that there could be a situation where a player is left off the September roster but still has a good chance of going to Qatar. This could come down to a player who is at an important stage with his club and Berhalter believes he has fully evaluated the player.
While Berhalter did not say this specifically, it seems like a logical conclusion would be if a bubble player is not on this roster, the chances of going to the World Cup seem very slim outside a wave of injuries.
With that said, here is what I predict the September roster will look like and this is also what I believe the 38-40 player depth chart looks like right now.
Before we get to the roster, there are injuries to the player pool that should be identified to specify why I don’t think they’ll be on the September roster.
Injured (4): Antonee Robinson, Tim Weah, Zack Steffen, Cristian Roldan
Predicted September roster (27 players)
Goalkeepers (3): Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson
Fullbacks (5): Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon, Joe Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Sam Vines
Central Defenders (4): Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Aaron Long
Midfielders (7): Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta, Weston McKennie, Luca de la Torre, Yunus Musah, Djordje Mihailovic, Malik Tillman
Wingers/attacking midfielders (5): Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, Christian Pulisic, Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola
Forwards (3): Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Jesus Ferreira
The rest of the player pool
Berhalter said his depth chart is 38-40 players deep. Between the 27 player roster and the four injured players, that brings the total to 31. I am going to expand it to 41 since Berhalter stated that the pool was 40 players before the injury to Antonee Robinson and that might force him to at least consider another left back option (such as John Tolkin) given that George Bello faded.
This is my guess as to who the remaining 10 players are:
Remaining player pool: Haji Wright, Erik Palmer-Brown, James Sands, Ricardo Pepi, Brandon Vazquez, Tim Ream, Eryk Williamson, Mark McKenzie, Johnny Cardoso, John Tolkin
Analysis of the player pool
Backup midfield spots
In terms of surprise picks to the September roster, I don’t see many. Djordje Mihailovic is definitely the biggest surprise I have on my roster but there are two important notes regarding him: 1) he was scheduled to be on the summer roster, so Berhalter does have him somewhere on the depth chart, and 2) Luca de la Torre’s situation likely means Berhalter needs to look at another alternative in the midfield.
De la Torre is an important backup central midfielder. The problem is that de la Torre hasn’t been playing at Celta Vigo and his club form dating back to last season has been mixed. He was one of the better players on a team relegated out of the Eredivisie. If de la Torre comes into the September camp, does not show well, and then returns to Spain and doesn’t play for his club, what is the alternative?
None of the options Berhalter has tried for this backup role have worked out particularly well. Gianluca Busio hasn’t had a great 2022 in Italy. Eryk Williamson could be an option but the ACL injury last year came at the worst possible time. I would be very surprised if Johnny Cardoso is on the September roster but I wouldn’t be shocked. I think Berhalter has rated him and my guess is that he is on the depth chart, somewhere.
There is a good chance Mihailovic doesn’t get the call for September but the question will still remain what happens if de la Torre doesn’t show well? That leaves a big question mark in the backup midfield.
Malik Tillman is also a huge question mark. He impressed early when he joined Rangers and scored a big goal against Union SG and then set up a big goal against PSV. His form hasn’t been great since then. He struggled in the Old Firm and then against Ajax. That is certainly tough competition and that is why I still think he’ll be given a look in this camp. But it is also a reminder of how new to first-team minutes he really is.
With Antonee Robinson out, Berhalter will have to address who is the team’s backup left back. Throughout most of World Cup qualifying, we saw that it was either George Bello or Sergino Dest shifting from the right side to the left side.
But those two backup options have their flaws. Bello, of course, has struggled mightily at Arminia Bielefeld and it is hard to see him still in the picture. Moving Dest from the right side to the left side takes one of the team’s best players and moves him out of position and has implications on both fullback roles. Keeping Dest at right back only means that left back is affected by Robinson’s absence.
Joe Scally can play left back fairly well as a second position. But there is also Sam Vines who is a regular starter at a Royal Antwerp team that has a perfect 24 points from eight games to start the Belgian season. There are a lot of factors to consider. If the team is used to Robinson on the left, can the backup vary too different stylistically compared with Robinson in that it would force the team to adjust too much? Berhalter will want to look at both options to see who the best backup option for Robinson is. John Tolkin certainly is adversely affected by never having been called up but Berhalter has mentioned him various press conferences and Tolkin has had a great season with the New York Red Bulls (who will be lucky to keep him next year).
On the right side, Dest is obviously the starter while Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin have been the backups. Again, there are questions here on the backups. Cannon is playing as a central defender at Boavista and Yedlin’s form at Miami hasn’t been great. This helps Scally on the right side but if Scally is needed on the left, it opens the door again for Yedlin and Cannon.
It’s fair to say from World Cup qualifying and through the summer that Berhalter is comfortable with Walker Zimmerman. But the rest of the central defense player pool has shifted a lot over the past year.
From the summer of 2021, the player form in central defense has been significant – which isn’t necessarily great as it has hurt building stability in this area of the field. During this time period, Miles Robinson suffered a serious injury and is out of the World Cup.
John Brooks wasn’t always rated highly by Berhalter but Brooks hurt his own case dramatically by not resolving his club situation until September and is now at a situation where he won’t play. Matt Maizga was on the Nations League roster but had a brutal season in Spain in 2021/22. Mark McKenzie was once thought to be a key guy but his 2021/22 season wasn’t great and only in recent weeks did he lock down the starting job at Genk after the club sold Jhon Lucumi to Bologna. For McKenzie, it is probably a bit late.
Unlike McKenzie and Brooks, Tim Ream has done nothing but help his case over the past year. He led Fulham to promotion and has held up in the Premier League nicely to start this season. He was also on that Nations League team from 2021. I could see him getting back into the picture but for now, I think he is behind others due to his age and lack of speed. Fortunately for Ream, he is the type of player who could probably return to the team very quickly if needed.
James Sands was in a good position after the Gold Cup but he didn’t impress with the U.S. team in qualifying and while he has a starting job at Rangers, Berhalter was on hand to watch him struggle in the Old Firm loss – while Cameron Carter-Vickers impressed.
Cameron Carter-Vickers has done an excellent job the past year in finally raising his profile from being Championship “loan army” fodder and into being an effective central defender. The Scottish league isn’t great, but Carter-Vickers has responded well in big games for the team and in European competitions. On top of that, he logs a ton of minutes and is used to a heavy workload.
Chris Richards should make this roster and that is a testament to how highly Berhalter thinks of him. If we are talking about current form (which is a key factor for this mid-season World Cup), Richards doesn’t have a great case. He’s played around 584 minutes of club soccer in 2022. He hasn’t been with the U.S. team since January due to various injuries. He also was not part of the U.S. team for either of the successful 2021 summer tournaments. An older player might be able to excuse a scant recent body of work with a much overall larger profile. But Richards is still a young player at 22.
Berhalter thinks Richards is very talented, otherwise he would be behind guys like McKenzie, Sands, or even Erik Palmer-Brown. The question, however, becomes what happens if Richards doesn’t have a good camp?
There is also the issue of Aaron Long. Berhalter wants to have faster central defenders, but I also don’t believe he’s a lock if he doesn’t perform well.
The toughest cut would definitely be Erik Palmer-Brown who has solidified himself at Troyes in Ligue 1 playing in a five-man backline. But Palmer-Brown’s situation during the summer, even before he picked up a knock, didn’t suggest he was nearing a spot on the team.
But that sums up central defense and if Berhalter goes with my projected four (Zimmerman, Richards, Carter-Vickers, and Long), it would highlight a lack of consistency at this position compared with who were seen as the top options in the 2021 summer tournaments and the start of World Cup qualifying.
It’s also a case where I could see even more changes ahead of the World Cup as well because I still only see Zimmerman as a lock.
This has been the biggest source of debate, but I think it is coming to an anticlimactic conclusion. Yes, a lot of forwards have been scoring and that gives Berhalter range of players he can confidently select from. But he’s also qualified that in some recent comments saying he is looking for certain profiles, he wants someone who has ideally been with the team, and he rates form.
Brandon Vazquez’s form for Cincinnati has been very admirable. He’s scored some high-quality goals and been a big reason why that team has turned things around completely. But Berhalter has said it will be a lot tougher for him to make the U.S. team at this stage after having never played with them before – although he said it’s not impossible. But my take on this is that for the “not impossible” path to a call-up to happen, it means other forwards need to struggle. That just hasn't happened.
Like many other players who fail to make the cut, Vazquez is certainly in the mix to start the next cycle if he can continue to play well.
Ricardo Pepi is in the mix but he still hasn’t scored since last October for either FC Dallas, Augsburg, now Groningen, or the U.S. team. He now has a chance to reset his career in Holland, but until he does that, he’s likely on the outside.
Haji Wright is a tougher cut, but he is probably redundant behind the also in-form Jordan Pefok or Josh Sargent. I am not sure he offers anything different behind those two.
Josh Sargent always seemed likely to return to the team once he found a solid run of form. He was dropped last year when is confidence crumbled and nothing seemed to work out.
Berhalter has tried to integrate Pefok into the team four times (March 2021 friendlies, 2021 Nations League, Fall of 2021, and then in March 2022). Pefok had a very poor game against Mexico in Azteca this year and then wasn’t brought back in the summer. But he’s been great for a surging Union Berlin and is at the point where Berhalter probably has to give him another shot.
Jesus Ferreira, meanwhile, has had a great season and is a different type of “false nine” player who can give the team a different look without being redundant.
With a look at the form of the players, I think it is trending to having Ferreira, Pefok, and Sargent in this camp and as the front runners to go to Qatar.
This position has been talked about a lot and for good reasons – there are concerns over each of the four players vying for the three spots. Matt Turner doesn’t play much for Arsenal. Zack Steffen hasn’t played for most of the past three years and his form/health to start his Middlesbrough loan hasn’t been great. Ethan Horvath has rarely played over the past four years and only now at Luton Town has that opportunity. He had a great Nations League final in 2021 but was poor against El Salvador this past summer. Sean Johnson has been the steady No. 3 but he, along with everyone at NYCFC, hasn’t been great since the summer. Johnson did play well in a summer friendly vs. Uruguay.
Despite the Arsenal situation, Turner still has played for most of the past four years. He has a steady body of work to not just make the roster, but to probably start in Qatar given Steffen’s struggles.
If he’s healthy, I can’t see Steffen being cut altogether. Berhalter knows Steffen perhaps as well as anyone on the national team and while Steffen might not start, he’s still probably a solid backup for the U.S. team.
Goalkeeping isn’t just about what the goalkeeper can do, it’s about the confidence the team (in particularly the defenders) has in him. If a team does not have confidence in their goalkeeper, things can go poorly quickly as it affects decision making across all the players on the field. At this point with two games before the opener against Wales, it’s too late to make drastic changes to the goalkeeping position. If Steffen and Turner have been the top two options, they’ll likely be the top two in Qatar.
As for the third goalkeeper, it will likely be Sean Johnson. He has been the third keeper for most of this cycle and he left the summer camp ahead of Horvath.