Heading into the fall, what does a first choice USMNT look like?
The USMNT player pool has evolved this year and is continuing to evolve with the ongoing development of young players who are making impressive professional strides. So what does a top U.S. roster look like right now? ASN's Brian Sciaretta has some thoughts.
August 13, 2019
The Gold Cup offered some clues as to where the team stands. For one, a few players who featured in the spring began to fade out. Players like Corey Baird and Christian Ramirez were not involved in the summer.
The Gold Cup introduced dual nationals Tyler Boyd and Duane Holmes into the team for the first time. Both players made the Gold Cup roster but Holmes was forced to withdraw due to an injury.
At the Gold Cup, some of the players who had been playing regularly began to see their minute decline. Jozy Altidore over took Gyazsi Zardes, Michael Bradley passed Wil Trapp, and Reggie Cannon passed Nick Lima. This was evident in the decisions for the starting lineup in the final against Mexico.
Things seem to be quite fluid at the moment under Berhalter and there isn’t any reason to think the roster won’t continue to change over time. As the current MLS season moves towards the playoffs and the new European season gets underway, new players will continue to push the established group. Most notably, it will be harder and harder to leave players like Sergino Dest and Paxton Pomykal off.
The open question, however, will be how the U-23 team unfolds. There will be players like Pomkyal, Reggie Cannon, and Jackson Yueill who could be good enough for both teams. Until the U-23 team has more camps and the details of its qualifying are released, we won’t know much about the priority as to where players play.
We also don’t know about which players will realistically be released for the tournament either. We know it is likely to take place in March but there are still questions. How many camps will the U-23s have between now and qualifying? Will the be roster augmentations which would increase the chances clubs releasing key European players? Will there be CONCACAF Champions League games during the tournament which might prevent some MLS teams from releasing players?
Either way, it is probably possible for U-23 players to play for both the full national team and the U-23 team between now and the Olympics. If Gregg Berhalter believes any of these players will be important during World Cup qualifying, he likely can’t afford not call them into the full team at least occasionally since the Hexagonal round of qualifying will start about a month after the Olympics next year.
So, what does the best U.S. U-23 team look like right now moving forward? There are a lot of factors to take into account such as potential upside and experience. Sure, things will change over the upcoming year as even more players raise their games and surpass those on the team.
This isn’t the best roster if the World Cup were starting tomorrow. This also isn’t what will probably be the roster for the 2022 World Cup if the U.S. qualifies. But right now at this point in the cycle, this is what I believe is the best roster to build from.
1) Zack Steffen
2) Sean Johnson
3) Ethan Horvath
In the mix: Bill Hamid, Tyler Miller, Brad Guzan
Analysis: There really isn’t any question that Zack Steffen is the number one. The backup positions, however are wide open. Ethan Horvath is most in question right now given that he is no longer the starter at Club Brugge. He might fall to number three on the national team right now and might fall off the roster if he doesn’t improve his situation.
4) DeAndre Yedlin
5) Reggie Cannon
6) Sergino Dest
7) Tim Ream
In the mix: Nick Lima, Antonee Robinson.
Analysis: Right back looks very solid at the moment. Yedlin is normally the number one but even though he is injured, Cannon looks up to the task. Nick Lima is also not out of the picture yet.
Sergino Dest is a player you simply have to promote now that he has played in two youth World Cups over the past two years. He’s not a finished product and his defense keeps him out of the starting lineup. But he is a player you want around the team so he can continue to grow (and if Ajax agrees, send him to the Olympics next year).
Ream is one of the oldest guys in the pool but his ability to lock down the left side defensively makes him a smart choice if Dest is going to be on the team.
CENTRAL DEFENDERS (4)
8) John Brooks
9) Aaron Long
10) Matt Miazga
11) Walker Zimmerman
In the mix: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Miles Robinson, Austin Trusty, Justen Glad, Erik Palmer-Brown
Analysis: There are a fair number of good American central defenders at the moment but Brooks, Long, Miazga, and Zimmerman seem like the best options at the moment (the latter three all played well at the Gold Cup). The return of a healthy Brooks should bump Omar Gonzalez further down the depth chart.
Carter-Vickers, Robinson, Palmer-Brown, and Glad are a solid contingent of U-23 options who should continue to put pressure on the top four. In particular, Robinson has earned rave reviews from Frank de Boer for his play in Atlanta.
12) Michael Bradley
13) Tyler Adams
14) Weston McKennie
15) Christian Pulisic
16) Paxton Pomykal
17) Duane Holmes
In the mix: Wil Trapp, Jackson Yueill, Sebastian Lletget, Cristian Roldan, Djordje Mihailovic, Darlington Nagbe
Analysis: The Gold Cup saw Wil Trapp fall behind Michael Bradley on the depth chart. But Trapp is in tough shape at the moment. He’s not playing well for Columbus and other fullbacks like Dest, Cannon, and Lima are impressing. This means it will be likely that Adams will move back to midfield. That makes Trapp more expendable.
McKennie and Pulisic are obvious locks. Yueill and Mihailovic are good Olympic options right now although Yueill is having such a strong season for a good club that he could sneak into the mix.
Pomykal also looks to be in a similar situation to Dest where you want to have him around the team because he could be an important player later in the cycle. What is particularly noteworthy about Pomykal is that his defense is so strong, it fits Behalter’s approach of the team trying to disrupt opponents as quickly as possible.
For the same reasons, Holmes is also a player that fits what Berhalter wants to do. Holmes needs to get back to full strength after missing all of the preseason with an injury. But he impressed during his initial rollout with the U.S. team and it is easy to see him getting back onto the team quickly.
Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan are players who could move further down the chart as the year progresses. For Lletget, the combination of missing the Gold Cup with an injury and his drop in form with the Galaxy can’t help his current standing.
18) Tyler Boyd
19) Tim Weah
20) Paul Arriola
21) Josh Sargent
22) Jozy Altidore
23) Jordan Morris
In the mix: Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Soto, Jonathan Lewis, Brian White
Analysis: This area of the team should continue to improve. Tyler Boyd was brought into the team just before the Gold Cup and is still finding his way. But the upside for the New Zealand-born winger is huge and if he locks down a starting role at Besiktas, he will be in good shape. Tim Weah was granted his wish and allowed to play at the U-20 World Cup as opposed to the Gold Cup. Now he should be back with the full team as he also is on the first team at a strong Lille squad.
Also, Josh Sargent is coming off a strong preseason with Werder and is in a better club situation than he was in the spring.
Meanwhile Jozy Altidore is continuing to play well this season for Toronto and is still the team’s starting forward because his hold-up play can also open the door for others to get involved in the attack.
Jordan Morris is coming off a very mixed Gold Cup but has versatility to provide cover either on the wings or in the middle. He could find himself out of the mix if he does not improve from the Gold Cup as he could be the first one replaced when someone else raises his game.
Aside from the Trinidad & Tobago game at the Gold Cup, Gyasi Zardes struggled and the fact that he was replaced by Altidore as the starting forward shows he is trending in the wrong direction.
A look to September
Most likely, many of the names above will be on the roster for the friendlies against Uruguay and Mexico in September.
DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, and Duane Holmes are probably unlikely due to injury. Then you have questions about the U-23 team and if there is a U-23 camp, that would likely affect Reggie Cannon, Paxton Pomykal, Jackson Yueill, and maybe some of the European-based players.
Between the injuries and U-23 conflicts, that will likely keep the door open for some of the veterans who have struggled in recent games.
But the player pool is expanding gradually as younger players become more established and ready for the international level. With it potentially being an Olympic year, it will also provide even more players with a stepping stone to the first team and allow for more competition. The lost generation of players born 1990-1994 is a slow burn to work through but with each passing season and with each passing cycle of a U-20 or U-23 team, the new core becomes more professionally experienced and ready.