The success of the USMNT under Gregg Berhalter has built a perfect platform going into World Cup qualifying. As someone from England, qualifying for major tournaments seems like a given and so it has been fascinating to see how so-called lesser nations approach the build-up. Progressing onwards is the ultimate goal for the US and other teams in the region such as Canada and the North American duo are enshrouded in positivity currently.
Beating Mexico in the Nations League final and then again at the final hurdle of the Gold Cup isn’t something to be overlooked. It is obviously a great achievement for this young group and MLS beating Liga MX in the All-Star game rubs further salt in the wounds of the latter. There is a power shift taking place between the two western rivals and with World Cup qualifying around the corner, could we see another epic chapter in this story?
Gregg Berhalter hasn’t been hesitant to emphasise that he always had three different squads in mind for these three different hurdles. Nations League saw the US near enough at their strongest whereas the Gold Cup was a chance for the youngsters, especially those who ply their trade in MLS. Now, for World Cup qualifying, we see a mixture of youth and the “old guard” although this term is made pretty redundant when you consider those in question are Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and co.
Where better to start than in goal and there are no real surprises here. Zack Steffen has long since been the number one for the USMNT but his lack of playing time with Premier League champions Manchester City is starting to become an issue. When Steffen got injured in that infamous Nations League final earlier this year, Ethan Horvath was the man to step up to the plate. He denied Andres Guardado from the penalty spot at the death and the rest is history as they say. He has joined Championship side Nottingham Forest on loan for this season and whilst on the surface it is a great move for all parties, the presence of Brice Samba may limit Horvath’s minutes.
Without wanting to get caught up already when we’re yet to reach the outfield, regular playing time may well be the deciding factor. Matt Turner has gone from strength-to-strength wearing the New England gloves and last season’s MLS goalkeeper of the year has a serious argument to be starting for his country. Turner was one of the standout USMNT performers on their mission to clinching Gold Cup glory and how European clubs aren’t fighting over his signature honestly baffles me. It would make sense for Turner to continue in goal for the US even if Gregg sees Steffen as his long-term number one, but we shall see.
In front of Turner at the Gold Cup we saw a variety of backlines, four of whom play in MLS and have been given a shot on this big stage. Atlanta United duo George Bello and Miles Robinson are on the roster and whilst it is a pleasant surprise for the former, Robinson could hardly be left out at this rate. The Syracuse grad plays well beyond his years for club and country, his stock really rose at the Gold Cup. Aaron Long of the Red Bulls was previously considered as a shoe-in alongside Jonathan Brooks at the heart of defence but his long-term injury means the search goes on. Robinson, James Sands and Walker Zimmermann are the MLS candidates and all three were involved in the Gold Cup glory.
Fulham, like Atlanta, are represented by two players in the form of Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson, Ream being an older statesman amongst a young bunch! One of such players in Sergino Dest of Barcelona, he is fighting for his place at right-back for the Blaugrana following the arrival of Emerson Royal whereas he can often be used on the left by Berhalter. Another of the fullbacks is DeAndre Yedlin, formerly of Newcastle. He brings unbelievable speed to the table as well as experience, it remains to be seen if he’ll start on the right but I wouldn’t imagine so. The final defender in the World Cup qualifying pool is Mark McKenzie who plays out in Greece. He left the Union with Brendan Aaronson for Europe but failed to have the same success and he has recently been out of the Genk side.
Moving up into midfield and the roster is slightly barer here. Tyler Adams is a key cog in Berhalter’s USMNT side and the Leipzig man of course features. Adams is probably the first name on the team-sheet at the moment but his midfield companions are more up for debate. Weston McKennie was one of few positives for Juventus last season as they failed to retain the Scudetto but returning manager Max Allegri is less keen on him seemingly. There are a lot of rumours linking him with a move away but as it stands, he’s a Juve man. McKennie is likely to be alongside Adams and then there are a few others in the mix for the third spot.
MLSers Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids) and Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy) are all in the pool for World Cup qualifying. Gio Reyna of Borussia Dortmund is seen by a forward as some but he also could line-up in the middle of the park. Back to the aforementioned trio though and I’m not sure there is a whole lot that separates them, as in none of the, are head and shoulders above the other two. Lletget is the more attacking of the three and Berhalter has made his love for the Galaxy man no secret, thus him starting wouldn’t be a surprise. Roldan is so, so energetic and is such a hard-worker plus Acosta is similarly lively and fierce.
Into the final third now and as previously mentioned, Reyna could well fit into this sub-section. Another of those players is Brendan Aaronson. He has gone from strength-to-strength since swapping Philadelphia for Salzburg, this season has begun very well indeed for him. Aaronson has seemingly played a big role as the Austrian side have qualified for the Champions League, meanwhile his brother Paxton has burst onto the scene at Subaru Park in similar fashion. Only one remaining name is that of an MLS player and the man in question has everyone talking, Ricardo Pepi! The Pepi train has certainly left the station with many passengers aboard, from scoring the winning penalty at the All-Star game to now choosing to join up with the USMNT as opposed to El Tri. The likes of David Ochoa and Julian Araujo look set to favour Mexico but Pepi, the lethal goalscorer, could be leading the US line for years to come.
Christian Pulisic is the face of this team and now that he has a Champions League title to his name, at the expense of Zack Steffen, his role as a leader has continued to grow. Konrad De La Fuente is another wide talent and he has began impressively in Marseille, where, as a whole, the side under Jorge Sampaoli is looking very exciting. Josh Sargent recently sealed a move from relegated Werder Bremen to Daniel Farke’s Norwich which as an intriguing proposition given their likelihood of facing the drop too. Sargent scored a brace in the Carabao Cup the other night but is yet to get a real look-in in the Premier League. The final two names both have Champions League football this season coming. Timothy Weah won Ligue 1 with Lille last season and their squad being picked off may be a chance for him to cement a spot alongside Canadian Jonathan David. The other is Jordan Pefok, whose stay at Swiss side Young Boys is now permanent, he has two goals in three already this term.
Due to the current state of the world, some leagues and clubs aren’t allowing their players to be released to their national sides. England is at the heart of this, countries on the red list being thwarted although this doesn’t really affect the USMNT. Berhalter will have high hopes going into World Cup qualifying given the superb summer they’ve had. There aren’t too many arguments to be had about the squad with the starting XIs being more of a bone of contention. Below is my dream XI for World Cup qualifying but obviously it will change depending on the opponents. My side is quite attacking and is coming from an idealistic point of view, Roldan maybe replacing De La Fuente with Reyna pushing on against the tougher teams.
Here us my ideal USMNT starting XI for World Cup qualifying. Christian Pulisic doesn’t feature because his injury is being treated as a day-by-day, plus Timothy Weah has pulled out of the squad with Sargent replacing him in my team.
All is going on in terms of football stateside, with Heineken Rivalry Week concluding why not read my MLS weekly review? Stay tuned at WD for content throughout World Cup qualifying regarding the USMNT as well as other nations!