Who should Berhalter start in Qatar?

On roster release day, an unofficial holiday leading up to the World Cup, it’s tempting to dissect a coach’s decisions. It’s an inevitable part of the process leading up to the tournament.

Above all, it is a PR exercise. An opportunity to build excitement – and create awareness across the United States – as the tournament draws nearer. That was the case when the World Cup squads contained 23 players, and even more so now that the squads have grown to 26.

The reality is that anyone on the fringes of a roster of that size would not make a meaningful contribution to the tournament. If someone wants to argue adding a fourth forward or changing a seventh midfielder, that’s their prerogative, but any claim that these kinds of tweaks would have a major impact on a team’s performance is intellectually dishonest.

Still, it’s worth reviewing the decisions and understanding why the decisions were made. The final lineup gives the clearest picture of how a coach views their player pool.

That’s especially true of USA men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter, who rarely publicly criticizes his players or speaks outright about choosing one player over another. Line-ups for friendlies and competitions such as the Gold Cup or Nation’s League are often experimental and are created with development and evaluation for the World Cup in mind. That’s less true in qualifying, where the stakes are real, but there’s still some shuffling and matching going on.

The World Cup squad is different. The squad is a zero-sum game.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from Wednesday’s US roster release (projected launchers in bold):

Goalkeeper (3)

In the: Matt Turner (Arsenal), Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Sean Johnson (NYCFC)

Out of: Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough)

For a long time one had the feeling that Steffen was Berhalter’s type. He played for him at Columbus and seemed like the preferred option for most of the cycle when healthy. It’s hard to say how many injuries – and resulting uneven play – could have played a part in his omission, but either way it was surprising.

Berhalter’s comments on Wednesday made it pretty clear that Turner is the preferred No. 1. He appreciates Horvath’s track record of being ready when called up unexpectedly (kudos for the likely No. 2) and Johnson’s longevity with the team (the No. 3 goaltender). is mainly for good vibes).

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1:59

USMNT Coach Gregg Berhalter explains why he dropped Zack Steffen and Ricardo Pepi from the USMNT World Cup roster.

defender (9)

In: Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Tim Riem (Fulham), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC) Sergino goal (AC Milan), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Shaq Moore (Nashville SC), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF)

Out of: Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes), Sam Vines (Antwerp), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United FC), John Brooks (Benfica)

The only question at this point is who will start Berhalter alongside Zimmerman as a central defender: Ream or Long? Long has played more minutes than any other US player since the team qualified (374 in six appearances), while Ream has not been capped since the first World Cup qualifier game against El Salvador in September 2021.

That discrepancy left the impression that Long was the preferred option, but the way Berhalter spoke of Ream on Wednesday suggested otherwise: “He’s in the Premier League and he’s a top performer for his Team. It’s really hard to ignore things like that. And until then, by the way, he’s a guy who’s been with us since day 1. … I think Tim, based on what we’re seeing, at the level he’s playing at, I’m sure he’s ready to play at a World Cup.

Cannon’s exclusion is not shocking, but it is noteworthy. Since Berhalter took over in December 2018, Cannon has been the most capped full-back in the pool and has been consistently selected over Moore. But again, it’s difficult to pretend to have strong opinions on one or the other when no one expected to see the field. Injuries prevented Richards or Miles Robinson from being considered, and Brooks’ continued exile was expected.

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2:25

Sam Borden chats with USMNT midfielder Gio Reyna about dealing with his mental health and injury woes.

Midfielder (7)

In: Weston McKennie (Juve), Tyler Adams (Leeds United) Yunus Musah (Valencia), Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC)
Out of: Malik Tillman (Rangers)

Tillman is superior to Roldan in terms of talent and upside potential, but – keeping the size of the 26-man squad in mind – with the overall good health of the pool, neither is in a real position to contribute on the field . Roldan goes as a dressing room presence and that’s fine.

It’s worth noting that US Soccer has listed Aaronson in midfield when he’s been assigned with forwards in the past, but that might mean nothing in the end. He has played both on the wing and central for the USA as required. His positional flexibility is a huge advantage and there is one case, based on his form at Leeds, that he could push into the starting XI. If not, he will be one of the first two players off the bench.

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1:42

USMNT captain Christian Pulisic believes his team “can beat anyone” with the 2022 FIFA World Cup fast approaching.

Winger (4)

In the: Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) Giovanni Reina (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Timothy Weah (Lille)
Out of: Paul Arriola (Dallas FC)

Nobody has played more for the USA under Berhalter than Arriola (31 caps), so it would have made sense for him to have made the final cut. But Berhalter also explained a good point about why Arriola was used so often: “For one reason or another we didn’t always have our wingers fit and available. And now that we’re gearing up for the World Cup, every one of those players is fit and available and it just made Paul the man out.

It would be either him or Morris for that fourth winger spot – and it really should be considered the No. 5 winger spot because Aaronson is on the list. It’s a miracle for the US that Pulisic, Reyna and Weah are healthy for a mid-season World Cup. Being able to turn to any of these guys in a bank role is unusually deep and after months of pessimism about the team’s attack, it’s reason to be optimistic.

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1:57

Sam Borden and Jesus Ferreira take a detour from football to talk about the USMNT forward’s love of animals.

In the: Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Joshua Sargent (Norwich City), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor)

Out of: Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin)

As Berhalter explained, the coaching staff had two player profiles to choose from: Ferreira/Sargent/Pepi and Wright/Pefok.

His full explanation of Wright’s inclusion is worth reading, especially as he’s probably the most surprising name on the entire squad: “I think when we looked at that as a coach, we rated Haji against Jordan Pefok and that’s what it came down to and.” in this particular case we felt Haji was in great goalscoring form.

“They are both physical strikers. Jordan maybe a bit more but Haji has pace, he has the ability to go one on one, he can shoot with his head and both feet and he’s playing really well in the Turkish league. Let’s not forget that the starting striker for Belgium (Michy Batshuayi) also plays in the Turkish league and has five goals and Haji has nine goals and the Belgian is probably playing for a better team.”

It’s an interesting explanation. In calendar year 2022, Wright has scored 20 goals in the Turkish league, arguably the most impressive goal tally by an American player in that span. He has scored nine goals in 12 games this year.

Pepi’s five goals in eight games in the Dutch league gave the impression he had redeemed his form and had a good chance of being included, but Berhalter said he chose Sargent mainly because he had shown he could be in a can be effective in the more physical league (Championship) and Ferreira because of his understanding of the team’s play model.

It is still unclear who will be the starter. Ferreira is in the worst form of the three. He has not scored in his past seven appearances – including the two US friendlies in September – nor has he found himself in dangerous positions.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usa/story/4798114/usmnts-world-cup-squad-in-qatar-what-to-make-of-the-picks-and-who-should-start Who should Berhalter start in Qatar?

Emma Bowman

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