Who will Berhalter pick? Projecting the US Soccer September camp roster
The final prep camp for the FIFA 2022 World Cup is nearly upon us. Just over two weeks from now the US men’s national team will take the field in Europe against Japan (Sept. 23), followed four days later by a tune-up against Saudi Arabia (Sept. 27), which means that sometime around a week from now we’ll probably get an official roster release from U.S. Soccer.
Before we dive in, I think it’s imperative that we all listen to (or watch) Andrew Wiebe’s 1-on-1 with Gregg Berhalter, in which the head coach doesn’t come right out and tell us everything he’s thinking, but at the very least drops some pretty obvious hints:
The two big takeaways in my mind:
- This is a tune-up camp, which means he’s not going to be trying to reinvent the team here. What we’ve seen for the last three years is what, to a good degree, we’ll be getting.
- There are a couple of spots at the tail end of the roster up for grabs, but don’t expect many new faces.
This is all pretty common sense stuff from Berhalter. But if the past decade has shown us anything, it’s that common sense is not a common attribute for USMNT managers.
Ok, let’s dive in and sort this thing out:
Tom Bogert (TB): Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough) would be a lock… but he’s hurt. So then that probably pushes Ethan Horvath as a lock for this roster. Sean Johnson is definitely a lock for this camp too.
But on Horvath: He’s on loan at Luton Town and, while they sit in 18th, they haven’t been bad defensively and he’s conceded only eight goals in eight games. Could be worse!
So, do the USMNT bring in a fourth GK? If so, who?
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Matt Doyle (MD): The only possibility is Slonina for youth + upside reasons, but I’m not expecting it. To be clear, I wouldn’t care either way. But I can’t think of anyone else to call right now.
TB: Continued Josh Cohen erasure!!!!!!!!!!!
- John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls)
MD: There are two big issues here: Who’s the top RB back-up, and is Berhalter going to reach for a like-for-like Jedi back-up? I think the second question is much more interesting than the first, so let’s start there.
We’re going to have to see Sam Vines in this camp, right? He’s earning it at his club – Bello, by the way, isn’t – and I think both DeJuan Jones and John Tolkin have arguments, too.
TB: I’d very much assume Vines gets the first look, given he’s got more history with this coaching staff/group. And, as you said, he’s in form in Belgium.
Berhalter did name-check Jones and Tolkin. But I’d be surprised to see a brand new left back integrated at this stage.
MD: My stance is: I don’t care which of the three is there, as long as one of them is. There absolutely has to be a like-for-like back-up for Jedi on this roster – and in Qatar – given how reliant the US’s attack is on Jedi’s ability to create width and go endline-to-endline. If he sprains an ankle five minutes into game one and all we’ve got are inverted right backs to toss into the XI for him, the whole game model goes out the window.
Ugh. I’m frustrated just thinking about that.
TB: It’s definitely a worrying spot, which isn’t something that’s going under the radar because we keep talking about it, but I’m not sure we (media & fans) are truly conceptualizing how much an Antonee Robinson injury would alter things. There is no trusted like-for-like switch.
What about on the right? Simple for you with Dest-Yedlin-Cannon or is Shaq Moore pushing up the depth chart?
MD: I’m partial to Reggie, but the truth is that I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between him/Yedlin/Moore/Scally (though the only two I’d actually wager on being at this camp are Cannon and Yedlin).
Yedlin has the experience advantage, while Cannon’s got the flexibility to play CB in a back 3 or 5, while Moore’s the best crosser, while Scally theoretically can play at LB – though it was a disaster when he played there for this US this summer.
Anyway, I simply refuse to get too stressed about any of these. All these guys are good players, and at least two of them will be left out. It’s a rich kid problem.
TB: Sounds like growth to me!
Who’s got the inside track for the 4th and 5th CBs? Who gets the chance to win those spots this month?
MD: I think CCV’s going to be there, and that we’ll definitely see him in this camp. I also wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he beat out both Long and Richards to be Zimmerman’s primary partner come Qatar. That door’s still open.
I also expect to see Sands at this camp. I’ve made the point before that his versatility – he’s starting at CB for Rangers, started at d-mid for NYCFC, and played RB in the Europa League last year – makes him an ideal end-of-roster depth piece, and I just rate him higher than EPB.
Do you think we see Ream, who’s been in great form with Fulham so far, at this camp? He’s a hard guy to cut right now.
TB: I understand the idea of moving on and trying to bring in youth or players who have a chance to grow with the group. But Ream is playing so well for Fulham; you’ve got to reward that kind of form and performance.
Ream last played for the USMNT in the opening World Cup qualifying match, a 0-0 draw at El Salvador. He hasn’t been named to a squad since.
MD: Yeah. But if he doesn’t fit the game model – and given his lack of pace, he really doesn’t run anymore – then it is what it is, right?
TB: This is straightforward and boring to talk about. Tyler Adams is the starter, Kellyn Acosta is the preferred back-up. Both are playing regularly, which is particularly encouraging for Adams at Leeds after a few seasons of being a squad player at Leipzig.
MD: Yeah, the only thing to add is that I want to make sure one of Sands or Eryk Williamson is on the roster as a third-string d-mid, since a scenario in which Adams picks up a knock and Acosta picks up a suspension – or vice versa – is always on the table.
TB: The national team has not seen Djordje Mihailovic nor Eryk Williamson in a high-leverage position like this for a long time. I’d lean that we see both of them get a chance this month, though the midfield is really tough to break into.
Not only are there two locked-in starters (McKennie, Musah) and a roster-lock “backup” (LDLT)… you have the potential for Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson to play either spot.
So, if you’re building a World Cup roster and looking for flexibility and further options, that works against the likes of Williamson/Djordje/Cristian Roldan/whoever else is fighting behind McKennie/Musah/LDLT.
MD: See, I actually think that Williamson’s got a real advantage when it comes to versatility because of his ability to play as a high-level No. 8 and as a high-level, ball-progressing No. 6. His ability to toggle from pure orchestration to just beating dudes off the dribble and compromising a defense… it’s a unique skillset, and Adams’ inability to do that is why Berhalter tinkered with the formation this past summer (he went from his typical single pivot to a double pivot, with mixed results).
And Williamson has been “best midfielder in MLS”-level this year when healthy, which he finally is for real now. I’ll be disappointed if he’s not there.
I suspect Djordje will get the call as well, though I wouldn’t stake my life on it given that he’s not in such incredible form anymore, and that the guys he’s competing with are the likes of Pulisic, Aaronson, Reyna… it’s tough to see a meaningful path to real playing time for him.
TB: Quick housekeeping: Tim Weah (Lille) is hurt, so is Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders). I’m also not sure exactly what position the USMNT see Tillman as, considering he can play as a winger, center forward or second forward for Rangers but was listed on the last USMNT roster as a midfielder.
MD: To me, that versatility is part of what makes him a lock for this camp, even if his performances have been up-and-down.
Arriola and Morris are bubble guys for Qatar but locks for this camp, right?
TB: Yeah, I don’t see why both wouldn’t be there for that reason. But then again, Berhalter did tell Wiebe that it wasn’t exactly going to be a squad of 40 players so you have to be discerning somewhere, right?
TB: Let’s get the easy one out of the way: Jesus Ferreira will be there.
After that, man, I don’t even know where to begin. How many forwards will be taken after Ferreira?
Well, maybe I do know where to begin. It’s fun seeing Josh Sargent get to actually play center forward in a team that actually tries to attack for the first time in, what, three years? He’s got five goals and an assist in eight Championship appearances this year. Once upon a time, he was supposed to be part of that elite core of Pulisic/Adams/McKennie/Weah leading this team to the 2022 and 2026 World Cups.
I think he’s back in.
MD: He’s got to be. For my money he’s still the most gifted-all-around forward in the pool, because he can do like 95% of the Ferreira false 9 things, and 90% of the Vazquez target man things, and 100% of the pressing things. Nobody else brings that diversity of skills.
What he didn’t do at any point until this season was the “please don’t just stand there, go ahead and actually make a dangerous run” things. And while I’m not about to compare him to Robert Lewandowski, the mark of a young forward who’s made the jump is a propensity for one-touch finishes in the box. Sargent’s getting those now.
So of all the bubble guys, he’s the one I am absolutely most convinced will be at this camp. Who’s next on the list?
Why Djordje Mihailovic and Brandon Vazquez deserve USMNT call ups
TB: I certainly hope it’s Brandon Vazquez, even though Jordan Pefok might have the inside track with a few goals in the Bundesliga since joining Union Berlin. He’s been out for a week with a minor knock but is hopeful to be back for the weekend, I guess we’ll see.
Vazquez isn’t at the same club level as Pefok, nor does he have quite the extended track record for scoring goals, but over the last 11 months, he’s had the same penchant for scoring No. 9-type goals (like Pefok) but also does so many things well in the buildup/off the ball (which is what has limited Pefok’s opportunities with the USMNT).
MD: I agree with you. I also think that we’ll see both guys in this camp, but again… I wouldn’t be shocked if it was just one or the other, and though I am a massive Vazquez fan, I won’t be too upset if Berhalter decides Pefok’s the better choice for the “target forward off the bench” role.
I’m not sure there’s any room for either Haji – who Berhalter didn’t seem best pleased with this summer – or Pepi, who hasn’t scored a goal in 11 months. Gregg literally laughed in Wiebe’s face when Andrew sort of intimated we could see all six guys at this camp…
TB: These roster spots fill up quickly, huh?
I don’t envy the decision of trying to split Vazquez/Pefok/Wright, nor balance the long-term talent of Pepi with his desert-level goal-scoring drought.
MD: Better than having no forwards to pick from though, isn’t it?
Ok, here’s our prediction for this camp:
GK: Turner, Johnson, Horvath
FB: Robinson, Dest, Yedlin, Cannon, Vines
CB: Zimmerman, Long, Richards, Carter-Vickers, Sands
DM: Adams, Acosta
CM: McKennie, Musah, de la Torre, Williamson
W: Pulisic, Aaronson, Reyna, Tillman, Morris, Arriola
FW: Ferreira, Sargent, Pefok, Vazquez