Who we’d take to Qatar

With two final friendlies before the start of the World Cup in November, the United States men’s national team has learned a lesson in instilling pessimism. A disjointed 2-0 defeat by Japan was preceded by a poor 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia, leaving the side stunned 55 days before kick-off against Wales in Qatar.

The team went into the international break hoping to strengthen their squad and build cohesion, but the combination of injuries and poor performances stood in the way of those goals, leaving Gregg Berhalter with some difficult decisions ahead of November 9 when the final squad is in place to be announced at an event in New York City.

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In this edition of The Big Board, which examines the current state of the roster and the process for selecting a final 26-man roster, an unrealistic assumption is made: that all players without a serious long-term injury will be available for selection. With up to five potential starters missing this camp through injury, and at least four others sustaining injuries of varying severity during the practice or game window, it’s best to approach this drill with that consistent backdrop.

Here’s a look at where things stand:

Jump to: How it works | Goalie Levels | Full Back Levels | Central defenders ranks | Midfield ranks | Winger Levels | Striker Levels | Our squad


How we do this

We go position by position, from goalkeeper to attacker, sorting the player pool into four tiers based on Berhalter’s current form and perceived preferences since the start of World Cup qualifiers.

These stages:

  • Tier 1: Expected starter. Roster suspensions and players who are clear starters in their positions.

  • Level 2: Contributor to the World Championship. Players expected to be on the roster and contributing on the field, either as a starter or as a sub.

  • Stage 3: Roster Bubble. Claiming to be in the 26-man roster and providing depth to the roster.

  • Level 4: Not this time. Players who were on the team but probably didn’t get much attention for the shot.

Then comes the good: the projected 26-man World Cup squad that will be in Qatar.


goalie levels

One of the only positives from the last two games was Turner’s performance, which allayed concerns that his limited playing time since joining Arsenal would undermine his sharpness. At this point, two questions arise: 1) Who will start? (Steffen or Turner) and 2) Who will be No. 3? (Horvath or Johnson)

Since early 2021, Turner has played twice as often for USA as Steffen (20 to 10), conceded as many goals (8) and performed better on almost every statistical measure. The biggest discrepancy is in Goals Prevented (GP), which measures the difference between the opposing team’s expected goals (xGOT) and the goalkeeper’s allowed goals. Teams generated 18.23 xGOT against Turner, but he accumulated 10.23 GP, indicating he reduced opposing teams’ total goals by more than half. During the same time (about 1,000 minutes down), Steffen’s xGOT is 7.22, with a GP score of -0.78, suggesting he conceded more goals than should have been prevented.

Of course, how much weight is given to such statistical evaluation varies and it is impossible to create the exact same circumstances to measure two goalkeepers perfectly. However, Berhalter has cited expected goals (xG) to back up some of his opinions in the past, so it’s safe to assume he appreciates that in some way. Distribution and the ability to play from behind are important, but with such a wide disparity between performing in the most fundamental and important part of the job, the choice seems clear.

And for the #3…flip a coin, it doesn’t matter.

Expected selection: Steffen, Turner, Horvath


Full Back Levels

Assuming full fitness, Dest and Robinson start on the right and left respectively. Robinson played more minutes and created more chances (18) than any other player on the side during World Cup qualifying, while Dest’s ability on the ball is special for a full-back. Depending on how consistently they’ve been called up, both Yedlin and Cannon are likely to make the final list, although Yedlin – the only predicted squad player with prior World Cup experience – appears to play more of a significant role.

Scally only played 31 minutes during the time slot and did not contribute during qualifying, but he looked positive coming on for Yedlin against Saudi Arabia. His ability to play on the left or right would be a definite advantage and despite being just 19, Scally has made more appearances in the top five games in the European league than anyone in the last two seasons player pool. Vines started against Japan and played well in Belgium, but he probably didn’t do enough to finish in the last 26.

Expected selection: Dest, Robinson, Yedlin, Scally, Cannon


Central defender’s ranks

The past couple of weeks have provided a pretty clear glimpse into Berhalter’s pecking order, starting with the first lineup (Zimmerman, Long, Richards, Carter-Vickers) and then who was called up after Richards and Carter-Vickers were dropped through injury ( McKenzie and Palmer Brown). Zimmerman has established himself as a clear starter and it’s hard to argue that Berhalter, who has started in the last six USMNT games, doesn’t see Long as the other. Either way, both will be on the list. The question is how many other central defenders will be there and whether any of them can detach Long.

It does not bode well for Ream’s chances that he was not among the six central defenders called up in this window. Here’s the case for him though: he’s in fine form captaining Fulham, who sit sixth in the Premier League. He is an excellent passer and a natural left-hand player. Beyond those attributes is probably the more important thing: he plays alongside Robinson for Fulham. If this side plays Wales they have played two games together in the last 159 days and have about a week together before the tournament. That is not enough to enable continuity. Why not use the built in chemistry that Ream and Robinson have? Even without that aspect, Ream deserves more than Long to play at this level.

Expected selection: Zimmerman, Long, Carter-Vickers, McKenzie, Richards


Classes in the middle

The inability to get the ball through midfield has been one of the bigger disappointments of the last two games. It was sloppy and hard to watch. Musah’s return with his ability to maintain possession will make a significant difference but the loss of quality on Acosta and De la Torre did not bode well should both be needed in Qatar. Much more is needed from McKennie as well. He seemed disinterested in both friendlies, which can’t be the case if USA are to progress through the group stage.

Those four plus Adams are all safe bets for the squad, while Brenden Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna can also contribute in midfield. The Joker is Tillman, whose inclusion will likely be determined by a combination of squad makeup and injuries. There could be six slots here depending on how many wingers or central defenders are selected.

Expected selection: Adams, McKennie, Musah, Acosta, De la Torre


Winger Levels

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Christian Pulisic speaks after the United States drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia in their last game before the World Cup.

This is the lowest position group in the squad. Pulisic, Reyna, Weah and Aaronson are all obvious inclusions who will play important roles, either as starters or impact subs – if they are healthy. All four have had to deal with injuries over the past year and they have never all appeared in the same game.

Depending on how Berhalter sets up the roster, Morris and/or Arriola will also be among the final picks. Neither seems to be in line for meaningful playing time unless injuries force the issue.

Selection: Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, Weah, Morris, Arriola


Forward Tiers

Two games, 56 touches, one shot on target, 0.51 xG, zero goals. The forward combination of Ferreira, Sargent and Pepi has been almost invisible this international break. Some of that depends on the service, but at some point the strikers have to find a way to make a difference and that just didn’t happen. There is no reason to be optimistic about the situation in Qatar. It was a black hole during qualifying (Pepi led the strikers with three goals, two of which came at home to Jamaica in October) and it’s hard to imagine how anything other than a system change before November would result in meaningful improvement.

Calls for Pefok’s admission were loud outside that window and should be louder now. After winning the Swiss League Golden Boot last year, he has scored four goals in eight games across all competitions for Union Berlin, who sit at the top of the Bundesliga table. He may not be the system fit Berhalter is looking for, but that logic is hard to defend when the players who supposedly fit the system are consistently ineffective.

Expected selection: Ferriera, Sargent, Pefok


Expected 26-man roster in full

  • Goalkeeper (3): Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath

  • Defender (9): Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Mark McKenzie, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson, Sergino Dest, DeAndre Yedlin, Joe Scally

  • Midfielder (5): Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta

  • Winger (6): Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Paul Arriola, and Jordan Morris

  • Forward (3): Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok

https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usa/story/4755864/projecting-the-usmnt-world-cup-squad-who-wed-take-to-qatar Who we’d take to Qatar

Emma Bowman

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