The US men’s national team finally has its marching orders for the first of two World Cup prep camps between now and the first kickoff against an opponent to be determined in Qatar on Nov. 21. Now, it’s about filtering who will be given the chance to make their case for unclaimed World Cup tickets.
With qualification sealed after an unhistoric loss in Costa Rica on March 30, the US pool of players can be classified into different categories. Narrowing it down to 23 (or 26, should reports of a possible roster expansion materialize) will be difficult for coach Gregg Berhalter after using so many players (38) during qualifying.
For whoever is called up for friendlies against Morocco (June 1) and Uruguay (June 5) along with Concacaf Nations League group stage matches against Granada (June 10) and El Salvador (June 14), June), the categories can be narrowed down to just two: those who need to try it, and those who are there to fine-tune it.
For those whose seats are safe, think about core guys like Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams, they should look for more reps between them before Group B game in Qatar. For those whose seats are less obvious, there isn’t much time to prove they belong. Just one more camp, in September, widely reported to be taking place in Europe (US Soccer even made it clear that The June matches are the last pre-World Cup matches to be played in the US), it remains for players to prove their worth to Berhalter, and it’s not like there have been a plethora of outstanding club exhibits to review lately. The next month may be the last best opportunity to make a good impression.
Much will be spent figuring out who is participating in this two-week camp and how long each player will be there. There is certainly a world where, due to club commitments or recovery after long spells at the club, it doesn’t make practical sense for some players to join from the start. Conversely, it would also not be surprising if some players leave before camp is over, with a trip to El Salvador in June particularly unattractive and exhausting for those whose long club stints have just ended.
There’s a lot to weigh (a spate of injuries hasn’t helped either) and the limited ability to come together as a unit for the World Cup puts more emphasis than there would be in a couple of friendlies and a couple of games. first matches of the League of Nations.
“The cycle has just begun, it has not ended. This is just the first step,” Berhalter said on the US Soccer podcast. “We talk about what we want to do as a team, and qualifying was just the first step. From here, when I look at this track that this team will have, in particular, this group will have, I think they are poised to do something special.”
Here’s what the next iteration of that group could look like in a month, with a larger-than-normal gathering projected given the potential for a revolving door for a couple of weeks:
Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
With Matt Turner finally returning to action this weekend, and shutting out Inter Miami in the process, after suffering a foot injury in the winter, the goalkeeping pool is as packed as it has been in three months. Steffen could be late if Manchester City advance to the Champions League final, which takes place on May 28, just days before the friendly with Morocco. Horvath, whose last minutes at the club came in an FA Cup defeat to Liverpool on March 20, could find himself in a similar position if Nottingham Forest participate in England’s promotion playoff scheduled for May 29, with the possibility of joining the Premier League at stake. . Forest are currently three points away from automatic promotion, with a heads-up game against Bournemouth on Tuesday likely to decide which team joins Fulham in moving up without needing the playoff route.
All of this opens the door for 17-year-old Slonina, who has officially been courted by Poland. Her manager came to visit the Chicago Fire goalkeeper in the US and she reportedly could extend a call for UEFA Nations League matches in June. That recruiting tug-of-war puts the ball in the US court if Slonina is really considering her options.
Jorge Bello (Arminia Bielefeld), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (Boavista) Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Bryan Reynolds (Kortrick), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach) Sam Vines (Antwerp), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville South Carolina)
Sergiño Dest and Chris Richards are limping and probably won’t be available to participate. That could open up a few extra minutes for a group that’s heavy, if not deep, with some intriguing options.
For Brooks, if he doesn’t get called up this summer, he may almost close the book on his World Cup hopes. Berhalter has maintained that Brooks’ national team exile from a poor September 2021 qualifying window is temporary and that reinstating him during high-intensity qualifying was not the right time to assess his progress. However, a low pressure camp like this would be. He’s an absolute wild card at center back given his experience, potential and what his inclusion would mean for those on the depth chart.
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Beyond that, there’s the question of depth at fullback. If healthy, Dest and Antonee Robinson should start in Qatar, but what then? The question is particularly pressing at left back, where the relatively green Bello and Vines are next, while Scally’s ability to play either side works to his advantage. But for anyone to stand out from the rest, a June call-up and a strong performance there is required.
Depending on how big a group Berhalter wants to call, center back Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes) and right back Shaq Moore (Tenerife) would be next in line, although the latter could be involved in the promotion playoffs from Spain. Tenerife’s regular season ends on May 28 and they are currently in a position to participate in the four-team group that would follow.
Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Gianluca Busio (Venice), Sebastian Lletget (New England Revolution), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Djordje Mihailović (CF Montreal), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Luca de la Torre (Heracles), Cristian Roldán (Seattle Sounders), James Sands (Ranger)
McKennie’s fitness deserves attention in the coming weeks, with Juventus claiming he could return from his broken foot before the end of the Serie A season this month. If that were to happen, this unit would have the potential to be fully operational, which, given the US track record, is no small feat.
The roster intrigue would lie below the top tier, where it comes down to which veterans (Lletget, Roldan) still have a role going forward, which younger players (de la Torre, Sands, Busio) can strengthen their spots, and which relative outsiders (Mihailović did not participate in qualifying, but has been one of the most productive creators in MLS for more than a season) can break through.
Brenden Aaronson (Salzburg), Jordan Pefok (Young Boys), Jeremy Ebobisse (San Jose Earthquakes), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tim Weah (Lille), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
First, let’s start with injuries. Gio Reyna’s hamstring is set to keep him out of this camp, while Josh Sargent’s re-aggravation of an ankle injury after just 14 minutes of his return this weekend could prevent the Norwich striker from getting the much-needed opportunity to get back in good hands with Berhalter. The prognosis, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem too bad.
“It was a bit risky to play him, but we knew there were consequences depending on our result and other results elsewhere. it only got worse [his ankle] a bit, it won’t be too bad, but that was the reason he came out,” Norwich manager Dean Smith said following the weekend’s result that saw the Canaries secure relegation.
A fringe player can already be ruled out, as Daryl Dike will not be part of the camp. The striker, who has been battling injuries for most of his time abroad since leaving Orlando for West Brom, will remain at his English club with the aim of strengthening his place and getting back to top form.
“I spoke to Gregg,” West Brom manager Steve Bruce, who once coached Berhalter, said last week. “They have been very, very sensible and understand the situation.
“Daryl will not be involved in the international matches. There’s another one in September, so that’s what he’s focusing on. It’s also good for Daryl, so it’s good to clear that up. He can focus on what we’ve put in place to make sure he has a great summer before he comes back for preseason. We have waited so long, so we have to make sure that he is right.”
That leaves the former group, with Jordan Pefok, in the midst of a four-game scoring streak, in the best club form of the group. The question is how costly was his terrible failure against Mexico at the Azteca in March in relation to his position in the national team. Had he converted (and thus likely given the USA a historic qualifying victory in Mexico City), he would likely be the favorite to take the position. Now, despite a 22-goal season in Switzerland (27 including goals from the group stage and Champions League qualifying), he is still in the “prove it” category. A golden boot in Switzerland will only get you so far.
Ebobisse’s five goals in MLS is second only to Jesus Ferreira (six) among American players in the league, and he could be a wild card among the more established figures in the American attack. One of them, Pepi, could really benefit from a series of productive performances for the US considering he hasn’t scored a goal since he left FC Dallas for Augsburg in the winter.
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