Evaluating the USMNT’s October World Cup qualifying roster

Written By Harrison Hamm on September 30, 2021 - Last Updated on October 4, 2021

A week from Thursday, the USMNT is back in action for another busy 2022 World Cup qualifying window. They will play two home games and one road game; they’ll host Jamaica and Costa Rica and travel to Panama. That means it’s a relatively lower-difficulty window, a chance to compile some much-needed points after a rocky September window.

Gregg Berhalter’s 27-man squad is balanced and includes the return of some big names, as well as a couple of big misses in Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, both of whom are injured and are considered possible but unlikely late call-ups.

Let’s run through the squad and take a look at what we’ve learned.

Goalkeepers: Matt Turner (New England Revolution), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Sean Johnson (NYCFC)

Turner should be the starter. He was pretty much flawless in September and has been outstanding in a US shirt. He is the master of saving penalties (he saved another on Nani this past weekend) and he’s playing consistently at the club level, which is more than can be said for Steffen or Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest).

Steffen played a League Cup game for City but is stuck on the bench behind Ederson. Horvath has been unable to win the job for Forest in the English Championship, so that means the veteran Johnson is here as an experienced third-stringer.

Fullbacks: George Bello (Atlanta United), Sergino Dest (FC Barcelona), Shaq Moore (CD Tenerife), Antonee Robinson (Fulham FC), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray)

This is a pretty interesting group. Berhalter prioritized depth and made sure to give himself options at both left and right back. Dest, who has put in some good performances for Barcelona recently, is one guaranteed starter, likely at his usual right back, though Barca has played him inverted on the left as well. Given Dest’s struggles in September, Berhalter should keep it simple and play him on the right.

Playing Dest on the right will allow Robinson to play on the left, and that’s a must. Robinson has been outstanding for Fulham in the Championship. Yedlin, who is playing consistently for Galatasaray in Turkey, will certainly start at least once as Dest’s backup, and Bello can fill in for Robinson.

I’d have liked to see Joe Scally here, given that Scally can play on either side and has won himself a job as an every-game starter for Borussia Monchengladbach, which is no easy feat. Berhalter chose Shaq Moore, who has more experience with the national team but has mostly been used as a substitute this season in Spain’s Segunda Division.

Center backs: Mark McKenzie (Genk), John Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Chris Richards (1899 Hoffenheim), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)

All of these players could plausibly see big minutes. Robinson should be number one on the depth chart after he was one of steadiest USMNTers in September. Brooks, who struggled in September, remains one of the more talented players in the pool, and plays every week for Wolfsburg.

Richards, who is playing minutes again on loan from Bayern Munich at Hoffenheim, will be one of the most notable players to watch. He missed the September window as he hadn’t played first-team minutes in months. It’s possible that Richards will partner with Robinson in a current first-choice XI.

Center midfield: Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Gianluca Busio (Venezia), Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

It’s great to see Adams healthy, as he has missed a couple of recent RB Leipzig games due to a muscle injury. Berhalter should manage his minutes this window, and Acosta, a very capable backup defensive midfielder, is here to help with that.

There are three new faces here: Busio, who is playing good minutes as a No. 8 for Venezie in Serie A; de la Torre, who is playing quite well of late for Heracles in the Dutch Eredivisie; and Musah, who plays for Valencia in La Liga and has been great for the US in the past. This is a great chance to get these players experience in qualifying, and in Musah’s case, integrate him as a possible member of the first choice XI.

McKennie is back from his suspension, hopefully ready to regain the trust of his teammates. Lletget and Roldan remain useful rotational pieces.

Attackers: Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Tim Weah (Lille), Matthew Hoppe (Mallorca), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)

No Pulisic or Reyna will obviously hurt. But there is plenty of talent here. Aaronson is one of the team’s best players and has continued to excel for Salzburg as they dominate the Austrian Bundesliga and compete in the Champions League. Weah, who was injured in September, is coming off a great performance on the weekend for Lille and should start opposite Aaronson on the wing.

Pepi, fresh off his September breakout, will start up top. Berhalter prioritized players who will run the channels, stretch the field, and get their foot on the ball in the 18. Hoppe is dogged and proved as much this summer; he is also getting minutes for Mallorca and picked up an assist against Real Madrid a couple weeks ago. Zardes knows how to score and continues to play well for the struggling Columbus Crew.

That leaves out the two players who would’ve been considered the top two starting strikers in September, Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok. Sargent is languishing for a putrid Norwich City squad in the Premier League, and while Pefok is scoring weekly for Young Boys in Switzerland, he isn’t a field-stretcher and didn’t impress in September.

Berhalter has given himself a lot of options. Now, he has to find a way to carry over the US’s dominant second-half performance against Honduras and win these three qualifiers.

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