Before the USMNT roster is released for the March friendlies with Jamaica and Northern Ireland, I wanted to take a look to preview Gregg Berhalter’s options, and to provide a backdrop to frame his roster choices once they are out.
After writing this article, I was able to poll 5 other SSFC writers on who they would call up, as well as who they expect Berhalter to call. I include the results of the poll in each position group, and in the summary. Maybe next time we can have some type of community forum to see everyone’s ideal callups!
Zack Steffen is Gregg’s clear #1 when healthy, and Ethan Horvath was the #2 goalkeeper in the travel-limited November camp. If Gregg opts to bring a 3rd GK from MLS, his recent call-ups include Bill Hamid (started December friendly), Matt Turner (started January friendly), and Sean Johnson (was injured in January camp).
Brad Guzan was a favorite of Berhalter’s in 2019, but was not called up in December or January. Historically, one would assume Atlanta United rejected the call-up, but his ATL teammates Miles Robinson and George Bello were in January camp without him. Maybe he’s fallen off Gregg’s radar, or maybe Gregg wanted to focus on U23 players in January, since he already had Turner and Johnson at senior level.
If Gregg stays in Europe for his 3rd ‘keeper, options include Josh Cohen, who starts for Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli Premier League. Cohen’s career has risen rapidly, as he left the USL Championship for Israel, and was playing in the Europa League this season. Berhalter also called up Chituru Odunze in November (Leicester City youth), and CJ dos Santos in December (Benfica B).
John Brooks looks like the clear choice for #1 CB, having a strong season with Wolfsburg. Elsewhere in Europe, young options are emerging in Chris Richards, who is enjoying his loan at Hoffenheim, and Mark McKenzie, still acclimating to the Belgian league. Elsewhere in Europe, seasoned pros Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Erik Palmer-Brown ply their trade. Miazga made the November roster, along with Brooks, Richards, and Tim Ream, who has struggled for minutes with Fulham this year.
McKenzie seems likely to have displaced Ream as the backup LCB, tasked with spraying passes around and keying the attack. McKenzie is naturally right-footed, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him. That leaves Richards and Miazga as likely choices at RCB, although Cameron Carter-Vickers is also in the mix.
Another Europe-based player is Dutch dual-national Kik Pierie, who is on loan from Ajax at FC Twente. Pierie expressed openness to playing with the USMNT in a recent interview, and is also capable of playing LB. If Gregg decides to bring a CB from MLS, his likely options are Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, and Miles Robinson.
The USMNT is suddenly awash in RBs. Sergiño Dest is the obvious #1 choice, although Gregg may opt to use him on the left. Reggie Cannon has been next in Berhalter’s pecking order, but Cannon’s poor form at Boavista may lead to an opening for DeAndre Yedlin or even newcomer Bryan Reynolds. Gregg played Julian Araujo and Aaron Herrera in November and December, and they would be options coming from MLS. Depth European options include Shaq Moore at Tenerife and Matt Olosunde at Rotherham in the Championship.
Antonee Robinson is playing well enough for Fulham in the Premier League. After him, it gets a bit dicey. Sam Vines is with the U-23s for Olympic qualifying. George Bello was called up to that same camp, but Atlanta refused to release him. Would Gregg fly Bello across the Atlantic and spite the Five Stripes? Chris Gloster was on the preliminary U-23 roster, but not invited to camp. He’s at least a nominal European option, on the books at Jong PSV, but rumored to be joining Haji Wright at SønderjyskE in Denmark.
Ahh, the 6. Always harmonious, never conflicting. Tyler Adams is the obvious first choice here, but it gets messy after that. Johnny Cardoso was the #2 in November, but he’s in U-23 camp, along with Andrés Perea and Jackson Yueill. That leaves a few remaining European options: Owen Otasowie, who played as an 8 in a short November cameo, Alfredo Morales, who hasn’t featured for Berhalter since 2019, and Chris Durkin, who’s never been with the full national team.
This is where things get really difficult to project. It all depends on how Gregg intends to line the team up. If he chooses to go with a pressing midfield, with no creative, attacking “10”, then Gio Reyna will likely slot in as a winger, as he did in November. I think he’ll likely go that route, to create room in the midfield, and because we aren’t as deep on the wing.
Weston McKennie is the obvious first CM, no matter how you slice it. With Reyna on the wing, that means Yunus Musah is likely to slot alongside him, unless rumors of Musah swinging back to England are indeed true. Brenden Aaronson and Julian Green seem like obvious choices to fill in the roster spots, although there are plenty of others in contention. From Europe, you have Duane Holmes, who looks revitalized after moving to Huddersfield from Derby, Christian Cappis, who just earned a move to Brøndby, one of the top clubs in Denmark, and Luca de la Torre, who has found playing time at Heracles in the Netherlands.
MLS options in the midfield include Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, and Djordje Mihailovic, but Djordje will be unavailable as he’s with the U-23s. There’s also the brothers Alan Soñora and Joel Soñora, both playing in Argentina, but it seems unlikely they make the transatlantic flight.
Christian Pulisic isn’t playing much for Chelsea, but he’s still the most dynamic attacking player for the USMNT. Gio Reyna will likely slot in opposite him, unless Gregg does decide to deploy him more centrally. Tim Weah has been playing regularly for Lille, and looking like one of our most in-form players. Weah could be an intriguing option at striker, but we have a lot of new faces to experiment with there for the time being. Jordan Morris is out with a long-term injury, and Uly Llanez is with the U-23s.
Emmanuel Sabbi is another option, playing for Odense in the Danish top flight. Elsewhere in Europe, we have Konrad de la Fuente, who was in November camp, Tyler Boyd, who has been out of the fold since 2019, and Paul Arriola, a perennial Berhalter favorite. 18-year-old English dual-national Alex Mighten could be a dark-horse candidate, although I am not aware of him expressing interest in playing for the US at this point.
Domestic options are thin, with Jonathan Lewis and Sebastian Saucedo in U-23 camp, that leaves only Chris Mueller as a likely stateside option.
Josh Sargent is in good form for Werder Bremen, scoring occasional goals and pressing well, despite his club’s poor attacking play. Matthew Hoppe has also emerged as a striker at the Bundesliga level, and Jordan Siebatcheu has done exceptionally well on his loan in Switzerland, banging in goals both in the league and Europa League.
My initial comment about Daryl Dike was that he has been impressive during his loan to Barnsley, but that I don’t see his style of play fitting what Berhalter wants from his striker - at least not right now. After his goal and performance this past weekend, though, I don’t see any way for him to be left off the squad. Other European options include Aron Jóhannsson, November callup Niko Gioacchini, and deeper options Andrija Novakovich and Haji Wright. Sebastian Soto is with the U-23s.
If Gregg chooses to bring a striker from MLS, that will most likely be Gyasi Zardes, since Jesús Ferreira is in U-23 camp, and Ayo Akinola seems to be in a tug-of-war with Canada. No mention of US striker options would be complete without a Jozy Altidore mention, but he seems unlikely for March, after Berhalter preferred Ferreira in the January friendly.
It turns out there was only a slight variance between the rosters: The writers were between Julian Green and Luca de la Torre as the 4th CM, but we predicted Berhalter would bring Lletget. We also were between Sabbi, Holmes, and Arriola as the 4th winger, but projected Berhalter will bring Arriola. Otherwise, our picks and our predictions both end up with this group:
GK: Steffen, Horvath, Turner
CB: Brooks, Richards, McKenzie, Miazga
RB: Cannon, Yedlin, Reynolds
LB: Dest, A. Robinson
DM: Adams, Otasowie
CM: McKennie, Musah, Aaronson
Wing: Pulisic, Reyna, Weah
ST: Sargent, Dike, Hoppe
Starting XIs and Depth
One of the great things about new talent emerging is that we can have one or two players miss out without completely destroying the team. Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna have both looked tired recently, and McKennie has been dealing with a minor injury. Those two are just about automatic starters, but if they needed to rest, our options aren’t too bad, still.
A full strength midfield and attack would likely include Adams, McKennie, Pulisic, and Reyna, along with two of Musah, Sargent and Weah. Reyna and Weah’s positional flexibility gives multiple options. If McKennie and Reyna were rested, that front 6 would likely shift to Adams, Musah, Aaronson, Pulisic, Weah, Sargent. Not bad, not bad at all.
It will be very interesting to see who is called into camp in the next week or two, and there will be lots to learn from it. Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah could be huge wrinkles to the roster - if Gregg decides to play Reyna in midfield, and whether Musah accepts the call-up. There’s also the potential of Gregg shifting to more of a traditional midfield, with a creative attacking 10, which might be a good role for Reyna and Aaronson. Musah could even play on the wing.
In the year 2021, the USMNT is blessed with more difficult decisions than it ever has been in terms of who to include in camp. Hopefully this preview helped set the table for understanding what takes place this time around.