The Gold Cup is near and the USMNT is in search of addressing its needs. Last week we looked at backups for Tyler Adams and learned that it’ll be hard to back up Tyler Adams, he’s pretty special. Next we’ll look at a few spots on the field the senior squad might be a little thin: striker, center back, left back and right back. Let’s also consider the case for Matt Turner at the no. 1 also.
With two tournaments this summer, Gregg Berhalter has a unique opportunity to really see what he has in the talent pool in a competitive environment. The Nations League saw the first team get its shot and while it’s not as if all of the players on this list will push to be first choice picks, depth will be crucial going through World Cup qualification. Much of the talent behind the first XI is truly difficult to compare so it may come down to who fits Berhalter’s system the best, and giving some players the senior squad experience to draw from during qualification and the World Cup.
Daryl Dike: The real question during the Gold Cup and going forward might just be if Daryl Dike is actually the top choice at striker. He’s not as refined as far as movement, passing or creativity compared to Josh Sargent, but the guy scores goals, midfielders can do the passing and creativity, the national team needs a reliable goal scorer and Dike can do that.
Ricardo Pepi: Someone had a big weekend right at the best possible moment. He scored twice against the New England Gil Bous, first he gets on the end of a glorious flick from Jesus Ferreria.
Calm, cool, collected...18-year-old Ricardo Pepi. pic.twitter.com/OKvA7Hx8fr— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) June 28, 2021
Second, he pretty much did everything by himself.
THE RICARDO PEPI HYPE TRAIN HAS LEFT THE STATION!— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) June 28, 2021
Ricardo Pepi's brace puts us on top! pic.twitter.com/qQZARkfrbA
He has four goals in 383 minutes so far this season, Dallas should at least put his name in sharpie for the starting XI from now on.
Cade Cowell: What if Chris Wondolowski developed his brilliant movement before he turned 18 years old? We might see the answer to that question with Cowell. The teenager has more or less broken through with San Jose, though he has played wide this season too. He scored three goals on the year including this weekend in the California Classico.
The pride of Ceres.— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) June 27, 2021
Cade Cowell with a beautiful finish. pic.twitter.com/bXXdcJe78f
Miles Robinson: That’s it that’s the list. Robinson is the best one v. one defender in MLS and his long ball passing has been excellent in 2021. Atlanta United plays pretty YOLO going forward and he’s on an island quite a bit. He will not be in MLS for long and the Gold Cup could be a good place for him to showcase his skills. At a fairly young stage in his career, Robinson also has a few trips to Central America and Mexico to draw from when Atlanta United appeared in the Concacaf Champions League, this is obviously good experience looking at a World Cup qualification cycle.
Sam Vines: During the Olympic qualifying debacle Vines was a bright spot on the roster. At 22, he’s an asset going forward and this season is in the top 70th percentile of players receiving progressive passes. In other words, he gets forward and is a reliable outlet for teammates during attacking sequences.
George Bello: The Atlanta United left back provides an attack minded option that Gabriel Heinze has playing in the inverted style that Gregg Berhalter seems to toy around with a good bit. His defense is a little shaky at times, but he generally is up to the task in MLS. It might be a season or two before he really takes a jump in his career, but at 19 he should get a look at left back depth for the senior squad.
Kyle Duncan: After claiming the starting job for NYRB for much of last season, Duncan is establishing himself as one of the best right backs in MLS. He balances his attacking and defensive responsibilities well, but it is his defending that is a strong suit despite doing things like this:
FBref notes that compared to other right backs in the league, he is in the 89th percentile for pressures, 82nd for tackles, 95th for interceptions, 92nd for blocks, 90th for clearances, and 97th for aerials won.
Brooks Lennon: The former Liverpool academy product came to MLS and seemed promising with Real Salt Lake. He bounced between the wing and right back before ultimately settling in the backline. Now with Atlanta United in his second season, he’s become a potent attacking option for Gabriel Heinze on a team that is really struggling for potent attacking options.
Julian Araujo: At just 19 Araujo is emerging as a talented, if not aggressive, right back for the LA Galaxy. He likes to get forward and contribute in the attack, but his defensive work is right up there with Kyle Duncan’s and should not be overlooked. Sitting at 93rd percentile for pressures, 89th for tackles, 87th for interceptions, 94th for blocks, 56th, but whatever, for clearances, and 81st for aerials won.
Matt Turner: Are we ready to have this discussion: why is Zack Steffen the default no. 1 when he kinda routinely flubs some fairly easy stuff during games? Steffen is a bit better at distributing, but the keeper’s job is to stop the ball from going in the net. His weaker areas are routinely either taking poor positions sitting a bit too far outside of goal, and being indecisive about coming out or staying home in the ever tricky “zone of uncertainty” right around the top of the keeper’s box. He’s good for something like this at least once a game:
Turner is the best shot stopper in the USMNT pool and in MLS in general. It’s MLS, but the league is known for having good keepers and only letting teams spend money on attackers so that’s not nothing. He’s doing it on a team that is not very good defensively and deserves to start during the Gold Cup.