Usually this close to a World Cup, there’s a general consensus about what a squad will look like, at least for the most part. Surprises happen, and sometimes there are shocks (U.S. camp in May 2014, anyone?) but the core of a group has typically long been established before the final roster cut, and any late runs of form have had time to manifest themselves.
Yet entering the 2022 World Cup, due to its timing and the increasing number of injuries happening at the club level (yes, injuries always happen before a World Cup, but club games are typically not being played up until six days before the tournament’s first kick), there’s perhaps a bit more uncertainty and unpredictability entering the equation.
As it relates to the U.S., that couldn’t be more true. A handful of players are either currently dealing with knocks of varying degrees or have just gotten over them. It’s important to remember that, officially, no core player aside from Miles Robinson has been ruled out for the World Cup, and he tore his Achilles back in April. But others are cutting it awfully close. Close enough to the point that it costs them a trip to the World Cup? That’ll be decided by U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter next Wednesday in Brooklyn, as he reveals the 26-player squad (which is subject to change should any injuries occur in the days that follow) that he will take to Qatar.
Considering everything—the injuries, form, Berhalter’s preferences and call-up tendencies—what might that group look like? Here’s our final projection of the USMNT’s World Cup roster:
(To track the previous iterations of our squad projection, see versions 1.0, immediately after qualification was sealed; 2.0, after the subsequent June international window and 3.0, after the last full gathering in September.)
Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)
For the longest time, this has been a race for third, with Steffen and Turner the 1A and 1B in the pool. Which one winds up starting vs. Wales remains up for debate, and Turner fending off a groin injury (and missing two of his rare playing opportunities as Arsenal’s cup-competition goalkeeper as a result) doesn’t bode well at this juncture. For the sake of this projection, Johnson edges Ethan Horvath, who has endured some mixed results while on loan at Luton Town. Johnson helped guide NYCFC to MLS’s Eastern Conference final, in which he sparked a goal-scoring sequence with a great ball out of the back (a plus considering how Berhalter likes to play), and he went on to join the camp for MLS-based players following defeat to the Philadelphia Union.
Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
There could well be a version of this group that includes Chris Richards, but with the Crystal Palace center back out of action since a September 6 match for his club’s U-21 side and not yet back training with the first team, it would be tough to expect much from him against World Cup competition—if he’s able to get on the field at all. As a result, that forces Berhalter to look deeper down the depth chart at a position that will be scrutinized heavily in Qatar.
Both McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes) were called in for the U.S.’s last camp in September, and both are starting regularly for their clubs, but McKenzie gets the nod behind MLS-based Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers. As for John Brooks, if he were going to be brought back into the fold, it would have happened by now, and with Tim Ream, who is starting regularly and captaining Fulham in the Premier League and generally respected by the U.S. staff and team, it’s a matter of fit into Berhalter’s preferred style.
The fullbacks are less of a concern, though Robinson’s admission recently that he was “getting used to playing on one ankle” won’t calm anyone’s nerves. Scally and Dest are versatile enough to back him up on the left, while Yedlin and Cannon more than provide enough depth out right.
Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Malik Tillman (Rangers)
McKennie’s hamstring strain has threatened his participation and will rule him out for Juventus’s games before the World Cup, but the reported timetable of roughly two weeks from the onset of the injury still puts him on the plane to Qatar and ready to train for the week leading up to the opener vs. Wales. Luca de la Torre may not be as fortunate. The Celta Vigo midfielder was given a three-week timetable on Oct. 28, and that coupled with his lack of minutes this season at his new club really makes it hard for him to join the group. That’s a shame, considering how much he had risen through the spring.
The McKennie-Adams-Musah core trio should be a strength of this squad, while the versatile and battle-tested Acosta is next in line in the event of injury or suspension. Should de la Torre miss out in the end, it would open room for others, allowing the veteran Roldan and aerial threat Tillman to join and round out the squad.
Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Norwich City), Tim Weah (Lille)
Pulisic, Aaronson, Weah and Reyna are locks to be the U.S.’s creators and danger men, while Ferreira has been become entrenched with this group (though he didn’t score in his last five FC Dallas games or in either U.S. friendly in September). Beyond Ferreira, form and familiarity have worked out for Pepi and Sargent, the latter of whom is recovering from a calf strain. Pepi’s loan to Groningen has paid off handsomely, while Sargent is part of the early hunt for the English Championship’s golden boot.
Jordan Pefok is right there—his goal total and performance this season with Bundesliga surprise package Union Berlin demands it—but he has gone on an eight-game scoreless streak at the wrong time and hasn’t appeared to be as highly rated by Berhalter as he is by the U.S. faithful. Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez openly said that Berhalter has ruled out his inclusion despite a stellar 18-goal season in MLS, and Haji Wright keeps scoring in Turkey (eight goals, trailing only Ecuador veteran Enner Valencia) but also seems buried too far on the depth chart at this time.
One of the final places likely comes down to longtime Berhalter favorites Arriola or Jordan Morris, and it’s the FC Dallas man that narrowly wins out. But truthfully, there are fine margins at many points of this selection process. And as Berhalter was quick to point out before revealing his September squad, “A lot can happen between [November 9] and the 14th. So just keep that in mind.”
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