The penultimate Concacaf World Cup qualifying window draws ever nearer. The USMNT has three games coming up:
- El Salvador at home, in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, Jan 27
- Canada away, in Hamilton, Ontario on Sunday, Jan 30
- Honduras at home, in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday, Feb 2
Gregg Berhalter has already called 20 MLS players into a training camp to build fitness, since there is a two-month gap between the close of MLS’s regular season and the USMNT’s game vs El Salvador. That group is listed below.
The plan is to add players from outside MLS (most likely all from Europe) to fill out the rest of the roster, and for some of the MLS players in training camp to be sent home. It will be essential to call up a large roster this window, as the squad could face severe challenges with COVID, as well as potential injuries and suspensions along the way. Depth has never been more important.
Gregg Berhalter: “COVID has hit us. There have been cases of guys entering camp with COVID. Fortunately most are asymptomatic but that’s our reality.”— Jack De Larrinaga Revuelta (@JackDeLarrinaga) January 12, 2022
“Not sure how many extra players we will take [to qualifiers] but we will make sure we have a roster that can compete.”#USMNT pic.twitter.com/CbWHIn48Gd
Zack Steffen has started the last 3 qualifiers, going back to October. Steffen and Turner are near-locks for the roster. Sean Johnson has been Gregg’s preferred third ‘keeper recently, despite Ethan Horvath’s Nations League heroics.
John Brooks was left off the November WCQ roster, but could return here. Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman have taken the lion’s share of WCQ minutes. Chris Richards seems like a sure call-up, in good form with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga. The trio of Miazga, McKenzie, and Carter-Vickers seem more questionable at this point.
Gregg Berhalter spoke about Aaron Long, who is in training camp after being out injured more than 6 months:
“He looks great. His progression from Cincinnati to December to now has been right in line. For us it’s about having fit players, having guys in rhythm available. I’m not sure he’s going to get there, but hopefully he’ll be close. Then he goes back to preseason with his team and he plays games there at the start of the season and hopefully in March we’re having different conversations.”
Sergiño Dest is the star at RB, despite his tenuous situation at Barcelona. Joe Scally has returned to training for Gladbach, after missing time due to covid. While there are other solid options in Europe as well (Yedlin, Cannon, Reynolds, Moore), Berhalter has been talking up Atlanta United’s Brooks Lennon, taking part in training camp:
“Brooks has done a good job. It was nice seeing him in camp and nice working with him. We thought he played reasonably well against Bosnia and now it’s a chance to validate that in this camp. We’re going to play three scrimmages; it’ll be nice to see how he progresses and see if he can make this qualifying roster.”
Antonee Robinson has been the number one LB in qualifying, and figures to return. Does Gregg see Scally primarily at RB or LB? He hasn’t played either side yet for the USMNT. Jonathan Gómez only boosted his hype train when his shot created the only goal in a pretty stale friendly vs Bosnia, before JoGo made the move to Real Sociedad. George Bello has been Berhalter’s backup LB so far in qualifying.
Tyler Adams is the team’s captain and obvious starting 6. Gianluca Busio could be considered as a 6, but has featured more as an 8 so far in qualifying. Kellyn Acosta has been the nominal backup 6, but has spent considerably more time playing as an 8. James Sands could be an option, after just making the move to Rangers, and Tanner Tessmann has been getting more and more minutes for Venezia, who are safe in the Serie A table for now.
We’ll talk more about Reyna in a minute, but he seems unlikely to be available for this camp. Thankfully, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah are both ready to go, to complete the MMA midfield with Tyler Adams. The backup 8s are one of the biggest question marks for this roster. Berhalter went with Kellyn Acosta and Cristian Roldan in the MLS-based Bosnia friendly, with Sebastian Lletget taking a break, not in camp. Will Berhalter entertain other options? Gianluca Busio got the start in Jamaica last time out, Luca de la Torre has had an excellent season with Heracles, Duane Holmes progresses the ball for Huddersfield in a style similar to MMA. Richy Ledezma is back from injury, and Alex Méndez has been starting regularly in Portugal. There are a number of options for Gregg to introduce, if he’s interested in doing so.
The wide positions could be a real headache with both Gio Reyna and Tim Weah unlikely to join. Christian Pulisic is a lock, and Brenden Aaronson has played well in qualifying. Berhalter favorites Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola are likely, as well as Cristian Roldan. Konrad de la Fuente continues to create off the dribble for Marseille, who are third in Ligue 1. Niko Gioacchini has also earned more playing time, in the same league, while Matthew Hoppe has just returned from injury for Mallorca.
“With Gio and Tim it’s too early to tell – we just don’t know yet,” Berhalter said about their status for the qualifying roster. “We have 14 days until they can come into camp and those 14 days will be important.”
After Ricardo Pepi, there are a lot of question marks. Daryl Dike’s move to West Brom brought a lot of excitement, but he hasn’t gotten a chance to get fit enough to play there yet. Jordan Pefok has been scoring goals for fun in Switzerland, but hasn’t had a competitive game in a few weeks. Josh Sargent continues to work hard and provide clean link-up play, but isn’t goal-dangerous for Norwich. This could be where we see Gregg stick with his preferences, players like Gyasi Zardes and Jesús Ferreira.
So, who would you choose? Here’s an idea of what the actual roster could look like (as well as my own ideas).
How would you build your January WCQ roster? What are the most difficult decisions?