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USMNT analysis

Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, and Dest highlight USMNT January WCQ roster

The USMNT roster for the January qualifiers is now out and the top players are all called in. As with every roster, there are tough decisions and this was no exception. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the roster and offers up his breakdown. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 20, 2022
4:05 PM

UNITED STATES national team manager Gregg Berhalter today announced his roster for the January World Cup qualifiers. The roster is mostly as expected with only a few surprises but overall should be strong enough to compete well in the coming games.

The United States will host El Salvador in Columbus on Thursday, January 27th. Then it will cross the border to visit Canada in Hamilton on Sunday, January 30th. Finally, it will return stateside to host Honduras on Wednesday, February 2nd.

The good news for this roster is that Christian Pulisic should be at his best level of fitness this entire World Cup qualifying cycle. He was out of form in September due to COVID. He missed October and due to injury, was only available for substitute minutes in November. But most of the Champions League core of Sergino Dest, Tim Weah, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson are back.

There is also a lot of continuity with 23 of the 28 players were part of the USMNT’s November World Cup Qualifying roster.

There is also the backdrop of COVID. Berhalter has said that there are players on standby and ready to to be added quickly. He also said that Gianluca Busio was set to be called in but had to be removed due to COVID. It is indeed a complicated situation that could force sudden changes for the U.S. team or its opponents.

Here is the roster along with some thoughts.


The Roster

(Club/Country; Caps/Goals)


GOALKEEPERS (4): Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 9/0), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 26/0), Matt Turner (New England Revolution; 13/0)

DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 22/1), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona/ESP; 15/2), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United; 1/0), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 8/0), Chris Richards (Hoffenheim/GER; 6/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 15/3), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 15/3), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray/TUR; 71/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 23/2)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 45/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 22/1), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED; 4/0), Sebastian Lletget (New England Revolution; 33/8), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 28/8), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 11/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 30/0)

FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg/AUT; 15/5), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 42/8), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 5/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 40/10), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg/GER; 7/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 42/17), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 18/2), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew; 66/14)


Pulisic, Morris, & the wings


The wing position is significantly different than at any period of World Cup qualifying. Christian Pulisic is at his best fitness at any point since August and will not be limited to substitute minutes in this window. That alone is a massive boost to the team.

Jordan Morris has historically been very effective for this team and he will make his first qualifying roster after spending most of 2021 returning from an ACL injury. His form and fitness are still debatable at this point. Still, it is good news for the team that he is back.

There are a lot of other form/fitness questions on the wing positions. Brenden Aaronson has been on the Austrian Bundesliga winter break for over a month and has only been playing friendlies. Tim Weah has only just returned from an injury he suffered on December 3.  Arriola rested during the December window and is also in the offseason. Jesus Ferreira isn’t really a winger but can play there out of position.

Berhalter said there will be a lot of rotation on the wings and you can see that reflected in the current roster.

“When I look at the winger position in particular, we have Christian, Brendan, Timmy, Paul, and Jordan Morris, who are who are more than capable of playing that position,” Berhalter said. “Between those five, we're pretty confident we can get performances that will last 90 minutes...But overall, we think that the value of a guy like Brendan and Tim is worth it, even though they're not 90 minute fit per se, although Brandon has played three friendly games for Salzburg in preseason.”


Brooks, Scally top notable absences


With any roster, there are always notable absences. Some are surprising, some are not.

John Brooks is the most notable omission given that he was once thought to be a key part of the team but will miss out on his second straight window. In November, Gregg Berhalter cited Brooks’ form as a reason he was left off. Since then, Brooks has had some good outings, but Wolfsburg has been in a slide without a win in nine games across all competitions.

“There's absolutely nothing beyond form with John,” Berhalter said of Brooks. “We think that he has the opportunity to play a role with us in the future for this window we decided based on how we're looking at these games, and what are the strengths of our opponent, that he wouldn't be the best fit for this particular window. We're hoping that he regains his form for Wolfsburg, and they start winning games and and move themselves up the table and he's a key part of that.”

Joe Scally is also a surprise given that he has started most of Borussia Monchengladbach’s games this season playing both left and right back. Few expected Scally to be a starter but his versatility made it seem like he would be a viable backup. Instead, Berhalter has named Yedlin, Cannon, and Lennon to go behind the presumed starters of Dest and Antonee Robinson.

Daryl Dike recently completed his move from Orlando to West Bromwich Albion, but Dike has struggled for call-ups under Berhalter whether at Barnsley or Orlando. To get back into the fold, Dike will need to go on a run at West Brom.

Jordan Pefok has been on a winter break in Switzerland and only playing friendlies. In that regard, it isn’t surprising he is left out, but it becomes notable given that Dike and Sargent were also left out. He is another player that Berhalter seems to be lukewarm on.

Josh Sargent ended his Premier League scoreless streak just after the roster came out. If he had a goal in the previous weeks, would it have helped him? Definitely. Unlike Pefok or Dike, Berhalter has been eager to have Sargent in the fold, but Sargent played his way off with a long scoreless streak. He seems more likely than other forwards to get back on the inside in future windows if he can play better ahead f a roster release.

Tim Ream is older but having a great season with Fulham. Has Berhalter moved beyond Ream to settle on younger options? He selected Mark McKenzie for this roster and Ream has been better recently – and all season – compared with McKenzie. McKenzie is younger and has the brighter future.

Sam Vines was not selected to the team after he served as the backup left back in November (where he didn’t play). His appearances with Royal Antwerp have been pretty good but Berhalter is going to use starting right back Sergino Dest to likely serve as the backup left back given that there are three other right backs.


Slonina & de la Torre surprising inclusions


Most of the roster was to be expected although there were some surprising inclusions.

Gabriel Slonina was chosen as a fourth goalkeeper despite there being a U-20 camp this window as well. But Berhatler is showing a lot of confidence in the Chicago Fire product in keeping him with the full team and having him surrounded by players like Zack Steffen and Matt Turner. With the national team needing to get younger at the goalkeeping position, Slonina is given a greenlight to be that player. A call up like this also helps to keep Poland away as Slonina has expressed openness should their federation call even at the youth national team level.

Luca de la Torre made the roster and is currently amid a solid season with Heracles. The central midfielder will beef up the No. 8 position with the absence of Gianluca Busio. De la Torre has wanted an opportunity to make his mark and he will have a good chance this camp to make an argument.

Brooks Lennon was a bit of a surprise to make the team, but he is part of an overloaded right back contingent (Dest, Cannon, Yedlin, and Lennon). Lennon is far more offensively oriented than Yedlin or Cannon probably won’t play much but if the team needs an offensive option, he could be the guy. Berhalter has cited Lennon’s positive performances in camp during media availabilities.


Potential lineups & questions


It seems likely a bunch of positions are known in a first-choice lineup. Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson are the likely starting fullbacks. The starting midfield trio should be Adams, McKennie, and Musah. Pulisic and Aaronson are favorites to start on the wings and Pepi is likely going to start up top.

But here are the questions that I have as camp opens:

1)      Who is the starting goalkeeper, and will there be turnover over the course of the three games in goal?

2)      Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, and Mark McKenzie are the four central defenders. How will that group rotate?

3)      How will Tyler Adams carrying a yellow card affect the lineup? Will he be saved for the most challenging game in Canada and miss the first game? What is the plan in the midfield if he is suspended?

4)      Brenden Aaronson has been one of the team’s best players but has played only in friendlies lately, how will his form and fitness be?

5)      If Antonee Robinson can’t go or is suspended, how is the fullback pairing altered? Dest goes to the left, but who goes into the right?

6)      What is Tim Weah capable of over these three games given his only recent return from injury in limited action.

7)      What is the form of Sergino Dest given his lack of extended minutes at Barcelona under Xavi?

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