What must the USMNT solve during the pre-World Cup window?
Some big questions still need answering as the United States enter their last window of World Cup preparation, starting with Friday’s meeting with Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany (8:25 am ET | ESPN, TUDN, UniMas, ESPN+).
One key area, Charlie Davies said on Extratime’s preview episode, is who will partner Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman in the heart of the defense. It’s been open-ended since Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in early May, breaking up a bedrock duo that fueled parts of a successful Concacaf qualifying campaign.
“The center-back pairing, people were always apt to want to see Chris Richards alongside Walker Zimmerman,” Davies said, with a Sept. 27 meeting against Saudi Arabia up next. “Now it [will be] Aaron Long, so figuring out what that backline looks like, in particular at center back.”
Berhalter has confirmed Long, who captains the New York Red Bulls, will get the start against Japan. That news comes after Richards (Crystal Palace) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic) withdrew due to injuries, leading to Mark McKenzie (Genk) and Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes) being called in as replacements from a deep Europe-based center back group.
Another pressing question, Davies said, is at the striker position. The USMNT have struggled to find a go-to option under Berhalter, and he’s called in three options for the 26-man roster.
“We all want to know who the No. 9 is,” Davies said. “Ricardo Pepi comes in, brought into camp. It seems like he’s now getting his confidence back in Holland. Josh Sargent is thriving in the Championship right now and Jesus Ferreira’s been doing it all season long with FC Dallas.
“I think Ferreira still holds the key to that position in terms of how he fits into Gregg Berhalter’s system.”
Those choices mean that Union Berlin striker Jordan Pefok is left at home, despite his strong form for the German Bundesliga’s first-place team. And Extratime’s Andrew Wiebe feels that gets at the core of difficult roster decisions Berhalter and his staff will face in the weeks ahead.
The USMNT are expected to name their roster for Qatar 2022 on Nov. 9, with Group B play getting underway Nov. 21 against Wales.
“The names that are getting people riled up now are the names that are not here, and that’s the way it works with World Cup rosters,” Wiebe said. “It’s often who doesn’t get called up, who’s not on that final roster that gets the emotions flowing.”
For more from Extratime, check out the latest episode here.