With decent enough performances, and an emphatic 5-1 win vs Panama on matchday 13, the United States is back in the World Cup for the 2022 edition in Qatar.
Picking a World Cup squad, though not completed until the fall, will be very difficult for manager Gregg Berhalter. He’s used a ton of different players throughout the 14 game qualification process, and with many of these being younger players, he has to figure out how to balance experience with talent, and he has just 23 spots to hand out.
Here’s who I’d pick, and who I expect Berhalter to pick to represent the USMNT in Group B, barring any injuries or a major change in a player’s form.
This was easily the most straightforward of the position groups to pick, probably because of the obvious number of goalkeepers that are taken to tournaments. Three is the magic number here, and the top two guys are no doubt.
Whether Turner or Steffen win the job outright to be the number one between the sticks, both of the pair will be in Qatar.
The third goalkeeper spot has a few candidates. Sean Johnson of NYFC and Ethan Horvath of Nottingham Forest are the only others to have real caps for the U.S. other than 37-year old Brad Guzan.
Unless Berhalter picks Guzan for plain experience, it’ll be between the other two. Johnson likely has the edge because he plays for his club while Horvath struggles for time. Johnson has been the pick in qualifying so I expect him to be the pick come the real deal.
Only a couple of defenders are real locks for the World Cup Squad. Dest and A. Robinson will be there as the two wing-backs.
They are the two best defenders that the U.S. has available and will likely start every game of the tournament if they can. 41 caps between the two youngsters are more than most of their counterparts at their position have.
When it comes to the center-back spot, it was very difficult. It’s the most wide-open position spot in the squad and it’s possible Berhalter waits until the last second and just chooses the guys in the best form.
Seven defenders tend to be the number taken, and I chose to go with four fullbacks and three central defenders because of the depth at those positions. Picking the best players is important and although obvious, not always done.
Richards wins the backup spot in the middle of the defense because he’s the most skilled. He has young legs and can help if the team sustains injuries. He’s more versatile than some of the more experienced defenders and that’s what’s needed from a backup.
For the backup fullbacks, I picked Yedlin and Cannon. Though both prefer the right side, the U.S. hasn’t even tried playing anyone else at left-back other than Robinson, so there’s no depth there.
The one time it happened really is when Yedlin slotted in there for a bit, so that’s why I chose him. He has experience also and could help out the younger guys with the stress of the big stage.
Cannon for me was the last pick of this team. His spot could really go to anyone, but I think he’s shown he’s capable and has over 20 caps to his name. I picked him over Shaq Moore because of the trust Berhalter has shown in him.
Luca de la Torre
Taking seven defenders and three goalkeepers means 13 spots remaining between the remaining positions. I went with six midfielders to give the U.S. more dynamic forward options to mess around with.
It’s totally possible that there are only five traditional midfielders taken to Qatar to fill the three in midfield that Berhalter likes to run. The extra position may be for an eighth attacker, or maybe a fourth center back, the latter of which is probably more likely.
But I think every player in this section deserves a spot and all bring their own skills to the table.
McKennie, Adams, and Musah are locks and will be the starters in midfield most likely barring any uncontrollable circumstances.
There hasn’t been a ton of different players selected recently in the midfield, so picking Busio and de la Torre were easy selections based on their current form and talent.
The final spot came down to Lletget and Kellyn Acosta. Both are MLS-based players and bring a bit more maturity to a very young midfield.
Lletget is the older of the two, and the more experienced with the U.S. Despite not understanding how he ever made the U.S. squad in the first place, he seems to always deliver. His age and consistency with the USMNT earned him the final midfield selection.
Konrad de la Fuente
First, Pulisic is the captain of this side, so he of course will be in the squad. Without him, the USMNT might not achieve a point in the group stage.
Reyna is also a lock on the other side opposite Pulisic and will for sure be in the team.
Weah has shown great form for club and country and has finally been achieving his potential. Aaronson, though not in terrific form, has plenty of caps and brings important big-game experience from Salzburg.
The squad needed at least two traditional center forwards, and for me, Pepi is the best of the bunch. Though he’s young, he’s shown the most promise and his recent transfer to Augsburg should teach him some important lessons before hopping into his first World Cup at just nineteen years old.
The backup spot is really up for grabs, and any of these guys could make it, including two of them: Ferreira, Pefok, Sargent, Morris, Zardes, Dike, Hoppe, and Altidore.
Altidore didn’t appear in WCQ, so he won’t be favored by Berhalter. Morris and Zardes aren’t good enough anymore, and picking these guys for experience alone would be a waste of a spot. They can’t contribute at the highest level in the sport.
Sargent is perhaps more versatile and can play a wing, but his inability to perform and even play at all for bottom English side Norwich means there’s no chance he competes in a World Cup. The once consistently cap’d future in attack has no chance of being on this roster in my opinion. Dike has sort of fallen off a cliff, and no one’s heard of him in too long, meaning he’s not in position right now. Hoppe is similar in that though he played well in his little time with the U.S., he’s gone quiet in form.
This left me deciding between Pefok and Ferreira. Though it may be the unpopular choice, I went with the FC Dallas man Jesus Ferreira.
Pefok is bigger and more imposing, but his inability to finish has cost the U.S. too much over his playing time to be rewarded. Ferreira, though not as big as you’d like, provides something different to Pepi. He’s better in possession and with the ball on the ground and he’s more versatile.
The whole point of picking a limited squad is to pick the most versatile players who can adapt to help the team by any means necessary. Ferreira is that guy.
The last spot went to either Pefok or a winger, and I think the ability to have more wingers, as two start each game, is more important than having three traditional center forwards on a team who only plays one at a time.
I gave the last spot to Konrad de la Fuente, even though he’s only appeared for the U.S. on three occasions. He’s been called up quite a bit but just hasn’t had the chance to really show all he has.
de la Fuente plays for Marseille so he knows what it’s like to play with, and against, top talent. He adds to an already elite group of young flankers.