The Stars and Stripes are officially back, and they’re ready to make some noise.
When the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in just a few days, twenty-six of this country’s best soccer players will begin their quest for redemption and glory. Following the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Yanks have seen a complete overhaul in the player pool, bringing one of the youngest teams in the world to this tournament.
As this new generation of stars take their first steps onto the world’s stage, many fans will need some informal introductions to these young guys. Let’s get to know the USMNT's roster before they take on Wales in just a few days, starting from back to front.
Between the sticks, Coach Gregg Berhalter has already made some surprising calls. The omission of Middlesbrough keeper Zack Steffen came as quite a shock, considering his heavy involvement throughout World Cup Qualifying stages. Instead, it appears that Berhalter has chosen to go with Matt Turner as his number one. Turner was a huge part of the New England Revolution’s Supporters’ Shield campaign in 2021, ultimately earning his move to the Premier League with Arsenal. While his role as a backup has limited his playing time, Turner has proven his skill whenever he has been called upon.
Should Turner need to be replaced, the USMNT have two solid options. NYCFC’s Sean Johnson has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in MLS for quite a while, bringing valuable experience and energy as a backup. Ethan Horvath, the hero of the USMNT’s Nations League Final triumph over Mexico, has been a regular starter at a good Luton Town side in the English second division this season. Traditionally, this has been one of the US’s strongest positions. While there are more questions surrounding the goalkeeper choice than normal, the talent certainly remains.
Once again, center back selection has been a point of contention amongst fans for a while. Despite good seasons, Mark McKenzie, James Sands, and Erik Palmer-Brown all failed to make the final 26-man roster. Instead, New York Red Bulls’ Aaron Long was chosen alongside Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman, as many fans expected. These two played together frequently in qualifying, developing a bit of a partnership, for better or worse.
Rounding out the four center backs selected are Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tim Ream. The 35-year-old Ream has been enjoying a renaissance in the Premier League with Fulham this season, impressing enough to force his way back into the national team after a year-long absence. Likewise, CCV’s impressive performances with Celtic in the UEFA Champions League made his presence in Qatar a must. While Long and Zimmerman are more familiar with the setup, fans will hope to see CCV and Ream get a sizable chunk of minutes.
On the flanks, the US have a mixture of experience and youth that really encapsulates the spirit of the squad. DeAndre Yedlin is only 29, but has the distinction as the only veteran player to have played in a World Cup match. Meanwhile, 19-year old Joe Scally has only earned 3 caps for the national team. 26-year old Shaq Moore was fortunate to make the squad, a surprise inclusion that adds a unique profile to the group.
The ideal starting pair for the US would see Sergino Dest on the right and Antonee Robinson on the left. Dest plies his trade in Serie A with AC Milan, while Robinson plays his club soccer at Fulham with Tim Ream. The two of them bring valuable top-level experience to the squad, an attribute that will be needed in their tough group.
The options in the USMNT midfield are numerous, but an established trio has risen above the rest throughout qualifying. Tyler Adams is expected to anchor the team at defensive mid, with Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah connecting the field around him. All three play for huge European clubs and have proven themselves as talents worth taking notice of.
When rotation is necessary, the style of play will likely shift, but the level of play will not. Luca De La Torre has shown an elite ability to move the ball forward, breaking into space and dribbling with a careful touch. Leeds United’s Brendan Aaronson is a spitfire, covering more distance per game than any other player in European soccer last season. Kellyn Acosta is the only like-for-like replacement for Tyler Adams at defensive mid, boasting wicked free-kick accuracy as well. While Cristian Roldan isn’t the most talented player on the roster, his passion and leadership will help to motivate this team and spur them on. The core of this team appears to be in good hands.
The days of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are long gone. The forward situation for the US has changed a lot since the 2014 World Cup, with no strikers really locking down the starting spot. Jesus Ferreira scored 18 goals in MLS this year and was featured frequently in qualifying, making him the most likely starter. However, the top form of both Josh Sargent and Haji Wright for their respective club teams will make it hard for Berhalter to pick his main man.
Nowadays, the real strength of the team is on the wings. Chelsea star Christian Pulisic has become this generation’s talisman, scoring big goals and leading by example. Dortmund starlet Gio Reyna has all the tools to become the most talented American player of all-time: impressive athleticism, filthy touch, and next-level vision. Timothy Weah comes from soccer royalty, as his father is none other than George Weah, the only African player to ever win the Ballon d’Or. Tim is no slouch himself, bringing speed and quality on the right-wing. Jordan Morris will likely serve as an emergency backup to these three.
Sure, these guys are young and inexperienced compared to the mighty England. While the USMNT don’t have a player of Gareth Bale’s reputation on their side, so what? Being the underdog is way more motivating than being the favorite. Odds-makers expect the USA to lose to England, beat Iran, and tie Wales. Advancing from the group stage may very well come down to a goal difference, fine margins and finding that extra bit of motivation when legs get tired.
There are plenty of doubters, plenty of reasons to think these boys will fail. But, the soccer pitch is one of the world’s greatest equalizers and Americans are some of the most resilient people on this planet. They may stumble, maybe even struggle along the way but this USMNT squad will not stand down. It’s in their DNA to fight until the end and overcome the odds; they’ve done it before, and they’re about to do it again.