USMNT roster projection for September's World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022 – Sporting News
All eyes are on U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter as he gets set to announce his squad for the country’s first World Cup qualifiers since the disastrous elimination in Trinidad nearly four years ago.
The first three matches in the 14-game qualifying schedule won’t be easy. There will be two road trips to historically difficult venues in El Salvador and Honduras, as well as a home game against an up-and-coming Canada side that has given the USA all it can handle in recent matches: at El Salvador (Sept. 2), vs. Canada (Sept. 5), at Honduras (Sept. 8).
Three matches in seven days is grueling enough, especially for many European-based players who are just starting their seasons. Tack on the travel involved, and the challenge to get off to a strong start will be significant. So the roster selections that Berhalter makes will need to allow for some degree of squad rotation. Outside of the goalkeeper position, it’s hard to see many players who start on Sept. 2 coming back for a high-intensity match against Canada on Sept. 5.
MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule
National teams can only field 23-man rosters on matchdays (11 starters and 12 bench players), but each nation can call up larger squads for training camp and change up the 23-man roster from game to game. Here’s a projected look at a list of 26 players that could make the most sense for the USMNT’s September qualifying slate:
This is the threesome of goalkeepers that projects to be the regular group throughout qualifying and into the 2022 World Cup, providing the USA advances to Qatar. It’s hard to see any other U.S. goalkeeper breaking into this group.
The only problem with this list is that two of the names — Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath — are both backups at their clubs and have not been getting regular games. Assuming Steffen is the starter, there could be a case to be made for Matt Turner (above) to get at least one of the qualifying starts. The home match against Canada sets up to be the ideal match for him to make his CONCACAF qualifying debut because he’s familiar with the Canadians from the Gold Cup.
DID NOT MAKE THE CUT: New York City FC’s Sean Johnson would be next in line if one of the top three is not available. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa, who was called up by the USA in May for the Nations League final, has since announced that he would be representing Mexico.
The four central defenders above (Walker Zimmerman, John Brooks, Miles Robinson and Mark McKenzie) provide ample cover for both center back spots. If Berhalter is entertaining a five-man back line against Canada, that could potentially see New York City FC’s James Sands receive a call-up.
The fullback positions would be handled by the other four players: Sergiño Dest (right or left), Antonee Robinson (left back), Sam Vines (left back) and Shaq Moore (right back, below).
The most competition will come at the right back spot, where Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin are also candidates. The problem is that Cannon’s club situation is still in flux and he’s not seen any action so far this season with Boavista in Portugal. The veteran Yedlin could be an option, but he has spent the least time in Berhalter’s camps. Given how well Moore took to the USMNT’s system, his inclusion would seem to make the most sense.
DID NOT MAKE THE CUT: Matt Miazga is still settling in with a new La Liga team after his recent transfer (Spain’s Deportivo Alaves), while veteran Tim Ream (injury update forthcoming from Fulham) and Chris Richards (Bayern Munich) are the odd ones out in the center back musical chairs. Right back Bryan Reynolds (AS Roma) has just started his season in Italy and outside of a handful of minutes off the bench this month, he hasn’t played much.
The midfield picks itself. Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta (below) are locks. Cristian Roldan and Eryk Williamson proved during the Gold Cup that they are solid, dependable options off the bench. Jackson Yueill has dropped on the depth chart in recent months, but he is still a player who Berhalter would not hesitate to play.
DID NOT MAKE THE CUT: Valencia’s Yunus Musah would normally be in the squad but an ankle ligament injury has had him out of action for Valencia since July. It’d be a surprise to see him thrown into a qualifier given that he’s still on his way back. Owen Otasowie was recently transferred to Club Brugge in Belgium and hasn’t seen competitive action this preseason. The same can be said for Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City to Venezia), who was not in his team’s matchday squad to open the Serie A season.
Eight is definitely a crowd, but given Berhalter’s preference for a three-forward line and regular subs at those spots, all eight would probably see minutes during the September qualifying matches.
Matthew Hoppe (above) has been working his way back to match fitness with his German club team after a post-Gold Cup break. But given his showing during that tournament, he’s a valuable option for Berhalter. The same goes for Nicholas Gioacchini, who’s back playing for his French second division team.
Christian Pulisic will be coming off a symptom-less bout with COVID, but should be available for selection by the time camp opens based on timing shared publicly thus far. And he looked sharp in his first English Premier League match for Chelsea more than a week ago.
DID NOT MAKE THE CUT: D.C.’s Paul Arriola and Columbus forward Gyasi Zardes are both victims of recent hamstring injuries. Colorado’s Jonathan Lewis is a potential option if any of the other players are unavailable. Daryl Dike hasn’t played a competitive match in August after his participation in the Gold Cup, and he is still the subject of transfer rumors with the European window set to close on Aug. 31.