USMNT January qualifying roster: questions and possible solutions
January 19, 2022
IN A FEW DAYS, United States national team manager Gregg Berhalter will announce his roster for the upcoming January World Cup qualifiers. Not too many surprises are expected and the roster should be based heavily on the October and November windows along with possible inclusions from the December and January camps.
There is also a contingent COVID plan that the team has to have in the event that a number of players test positive. Late inclusions into the squad will probably have to be domestically based given the geographic proximity.
With the format reverting to a three-game window, a roster size between 26-29 is what I am expecting.
Here is a look at the considerations with the roster fast approaching
Unless there are late injuries or COVID issues, this area of the field seems rather set as Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, and Sean Johnson should be the call-ups.
The standby list could include U.S. U-20 standout Gaga Slonina, Ethan Horvath, and even veteran Brad Guzan should be on the list if a late keeper is needed (although Horvath might be available to be added late given that he’s based abroad).
Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson are the likely starters. Robinson is in outstanding form for Fulham and is a lock. Dest is in a murky time with Barcelona but has played well for the U.S. national team and has a big role under Berhalter. It seems very unlikely he is dropped.
The backup positions seem less clear and there are concerns over a bunch of options. Also, Berhalter might call more than four fullbacks – opening the door for other options.
On the right side, DeAndre Yedlin has lost his starting spot at Galatasaray but still boasts a ton of experience. Meanwhile Reggie Cannon is playing for Boavista but as a right central defender in a 3-4-3 formation. The one other option that is in the mix on the right side is Brooks Lennon who started in December and is involved in the January camp.
On the left after Robinson is very much up in the air – as Berhalter recently said there is an opening. Sam Vines has been ahead of George Bello since the start of the Gold Cup and it’s hard to see that being changed. Vines has enough experience with the team and is playing regularly enough to predict he will go.
Uncapped Joe Scally seems like a safe bet given that he is playing and the experienced veterans are not. He should be added as cover on both the left and the right side.
With Dest, Robinson, Vines, and Scally that makes four I feel good about. There is a bit of a battle between Yedlin and Lennon, but Yedlin should probably make it due to his experience and that makes five.
The wild card here is DeJuan Jones. Berhalter singled out the athletic New England Revolution fullback as having a strong camp so far. That comes on the heels of a great season. Jones is right-footed but typically plays on the left side.
Could Jones replace Vines? It is entirely possible. Jones also seems like a guy who could be added if there is a positive COVID-19 test among the fullbacks. I don’t have him in right now (with the above mentioned five making it) but it will not surprise me at all if he sneaks into the roster – either initially, or if there is a need for an addition during camp.
There are a lot of questions in central defense – both in terms of the number of players Berhalter will take and the players Berhalter will take.
Chris Richards, Walker Zimmerman, and Miles Robinson have been starters in key games for this team since October. It’s hard to see that changing despite MLS being in offseason.
The big question is whether John Brooks will return to the team. Berhalter cited his tough run of form for being left off the November. While Wolfsburg’s is in a nosedive, Brooks has actually played decently – not great, but a slight improvement. I think given that Brooks is in-season, he will probably be called back.
In terms of other possibilities, Mark McKenzie and Tim Ream are probably the next two out. If Berhalter goes with five central defenders, Ream makes the most sense now since he’s playing regularly right now and playing regularly. McKenzie’s playing time has been too inconsistent lately.
This will probably chance in the months ahead. Erik Palmer-Brown is having a resurgence in France. Aarn Long is near his comeback. James Sands is in the mix too although it looks as if he is a midfielder for Rangers at the moment. Cameron Carter-Vickers continues to be steady in Scotland.
For now, we’re saying Brooks, Zimmerman, Robinson, and Richards get the call for January.
In terms of COVID contingency, I think Henry Kessler and Austin Trusty are on standby as both are domestically based and have been with the team recently.
First, how many midfielders will Berhalter take? The best guess is seven or eight. The first three are very easy to nail down.
Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah are locks if healthy. McKennie has been the best American player in the game since Pulisic lifted the Champions League trophy and he’s responded very well to adversity after being dismissed from the U.S. camp in September.
Acosta is a logical backup for the No. 6 or No. 8 and if he is playing well in camp, he will go. Gianluca Busio has also had his stock rise this year, even before joining Venezia from Sporting Kansas City. His minutes might be on the decline at Venezia lately but he’s in the mix.
That brings us to five. The remaining spots are tougher to predict. We also don’t think Gio Reyna will make this roster and be an option.
There is always a debate over Luca de la Torre, who is starting and playing well for a Heracles team that is hoping to avoid a relegation battle. For this camp, given the season, we think he’s in.
Even when the U.S. team was playing with many backups at the Gold Cup, Roldan was typically coming off the bench (he didn’t start vs. Canada, Jamaica, Qatar, or Mexico). In World Cup qualifying, he’s a bench option too. He has a defined role of being an energy sub off the bench – no matter the situation. It’s a well-defined role and one he’s embraced. I think he’s in.
If Berhalter wants to take one more midfielder, will he take Sebastian Lletget? Possibly although his role has been declining (he was an unused sub in November and wasn’t in the squad vs. Costa Rica in October) and we’ve seen with Berhalter that players slowly fade out.
If it isn’t Lletget and Berhalter wants to take one more midfielder, who are the other options? Maybe Cole Bassett who scored in December and just made the move from Colorado to Feyenoord. If he wants more of a deeper midfielder (which might be smart given that Adams is playing on a yellow) he could bring in Yueill, Sands, Tanner Tessmann, or even Johnny Cardoso.
For now, we think Lletget has the position albeit with a declining grip. In the months ahead, there will be increased competition from players based both domestically and abroad.
I’ll predict eight midfielders on this roster: Adams, McKennie, Musah, Acosta, Roldan, de la Torre, and Lletget.
In terms of a COVID contingency of domestic-based players who can be added last minute, I think Yueill and Djordje Mihailovic are on standby.
Right now, I think nine attackers rounds out the team. This is on the larger side given the uncertainty of some players.
The locks are Christian Pulisic and Brenden Aaronson on the wings and Ricardo Pepi at the No. 9.
Regarding the other wing options, I think it will be Paul Arriola, Tim Weah, and Jordan Morris – all are on the bubble. Weah only just returned from a six-week injury but could be a bench option. Jordan Morris is back in the mix and healthy, albeit rusty.
In terms of the No. 9 options after Pepi, the mostly likely call-ups seem to favor Gyasi Zardes and Jesus Ferreira (who can also help on the wing). Daryl Dike has only recently joined a new club and Jordan Pefok has been out of the team since September. Pefok was playing well in December but has been only playing friendlies since then. Matthew Hoppe was on the Gold Cup and October qualifying roster but has only just returned for Mallorca.