Well, it’s official. Here’s the merry band of men that will head to the deserts of Qatar…unless they get hurt this weekend and have to be replaced. But let’s be positive. After eight years, we now have an actual World Cup squad to debate! Get to know them and love them before you curse their name when they can’t break down Wales for 70 minutes!
Likely Role: Would have been backing up Steffen, even though he’s proven to be better in every way. However, Steffen was left off the roster, making Turner the likely starter. What positives came out of the last round of friendlies before Qatar other than Turner’s play in net? Let’s forget about those and go with a decent goalkeeper instead of the one who has proven he can make big stop after big stop!
Best Case: Stepping in and showing out. Even with fluctuating playing time in his first year at a Premier League giant, Turner has proven to adjust nicely and does not need to be playing every game to be effective. When 270 minutes will set the trajectory for the next four years, that’s one great quality to leave on the bench,
Worst Case: He doesn’t play at all. He’s purely a sideline cheerleader. The Americans haven’t used multiple goalkeepers at a World Cup since 1998, when Kasey Keller played two games and Brad Friedel played in one (and the USMNT lost all three group games). Turner deserves to start but it’s debatable whether he even plays.
Club: Luton Town (on loan from Nottingham Forest)
Likely Role: Back-up goalkeeper
Best Case: Horvath is a central figure in the defining moment of Berhalter’s tenure, coming on as an injury substitute in the CONCACAF Nations League Final last year and saving an extra-time penalty to help defeat Mexico. He likely won’t see the field in Qatar, but gaining experience and keeping the pressure on traditionally the American’s strongest position is a huge plus.
Worst Case: He did give up a goal to Mexico before saving Andres Guardado’s penalty and has looked shaky at other times in net for the USMNT, like the weird goal he gave up in June’s mud bowl against El Salvador. He’s not a starter at the top levels of England. He’s likely not faced the quality he’d seen in Qatar. Horvath could be a letdown if played in goal.
Club: New York City FC
Likely Role: Back-up goalkeeper
Best Case: What an example of how to grind and stay at your craft and be rewarded for it. At 33, Johnson will be one of, if not the eldest, American in Qatar, going to his first World Cup. Even if the USMNT had made it in 2018, he’s likely not on Bruce Arena’s roster. With how he kept a clean sheet in June against Uruguay, his plane ticket became more understandable. He’s a dynamic shot-stopper not past his prime despite his age and doesn’t mind contact and doing the gritty work to keep balls out of the net.
Worst Case: Much like Horvath, Johnson is inexperienced playing against the best in the world. He has more overall soccer experience to rely on than the 27-year-old Horvath, but this stage being completely new to him could bring out the jitters. He’s been a background player with the Yanks for a decade. Stepping into the forefront doesn’t equal playing like a world-class goalkeeper.
Position: Central defender
Club: Nashville SC
Likely Role: Starting center back, a role he’s locked down in every qualifier since his re-insertion to the national team last Summer.
Best Case: With Chris Richards and Miles Robinson out of the World Cup due to injury, and Berhalter’s vendetta, Zimmerman will have to be the consistent rock at the back for the USMNT. That means taking away the best attackers at all stages. Staying consistent and strong will be key for the Americans to have any shot at advancing out of the group stage.
Worst Case: He folds under the pressure of the world stage. Zimmerman hasn’t had too many chances against the quality he’ll see in Qatar and it’s not inconceivable that he folds without someone used to that pace next to him. Zimmerman has rarely been a liability at the back. But if there’s one event that exposes him, it’s the World Cup.
Position: Central defender
Likely role: Back-up to the starting center-back pair
Best Case: Carter-Vickers has been one of those “future stars” in the American system for a while and he’s suddenly now 24. He’s been capped with the USMNT about a dozen times but likely wouldn’t get selected as a starter in Qatar. If (likely when) the two center backs start leaking goals, Carter-Vickers coming in to tighten things up would be his star-making moment.
Worst Case: In the above scenario where the USMNT starts leaking goals, Carter-Vickers being the savior is a stretch. While the likely starting pair of Long-Zimmerman isn’t great, they do have more experience and synergy together. Carter-Vickers isn’t on that level in terms of international experience.
Position: Central defender
Club: New York Red Bulls
Likely Role: In the conversation to start next to Zimmerman, a conversation that is bad and will make you sick.
Best Case: As a joke, Long’s teammates stuff him in baggage overhead on the plane ride over and forget about him, a la The Hangover.
Worst Case: Much like his keeper, Berhalter becomes too infatuated with the idea that Long is a decent passer out of defense and ignores all his other “qualities.” His cruiseship-like turning speed is exposed by a litany of quick forwards the US will see on the counter, and that passing skill crumbles under pressure. US surrender six or seven goals in the group stage and go home, all of them either with Long in the “trail technique” or penalties conceded by Long in the “trail technique.”
Likely Role: Could be anything from starter to Twitter commentator
Best Case: This is just about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, because I led the “Tim Ream kills the baby Jesus” crowd not so long ago. But he’s been in great form for Fulham so far this season, and against Wales and Iran his speed might not be a problem and his eye for a pass could be a great boon. Already has an understanding with Robinson at the club level. Comes in, and looks just like he does at Fulham so far.
Worst Case: He comes in and looks like Tim Ream on the national team. His lack of pace is greatly exposed by Wales and Iran on the counter thanks to the high line that Berhalter insists on. In combination with the not-exactly-swift Walker Zimmerman, the U.S. gets torn apart in open space.
Position: Right or Left Back
Club: AC Milan (on loan from Barcelona)
Likely Role: Nailed on starter, just not sure which side
Best Case: Antonee Robinson stays healthy and keeps Dest at right back, where he becomes an attacking dervish against both Wales and Iran that allows him to charge up the field to anywhere he wants thanks to their deep, deep defensive line. Bangs in a thunderbastard like this at some point. Cures some of the US’s creativity and creation problems by popping everywhere a right back really shouldn’t be. Does not get completely scorched defensively when caught upfield or isolated in one-on-ones.
Worst Case: No thunderbastards, aimless dribbling into defensive traps, the acres of space behind him as he marauds up the field allows someone like Raheem Sterling or Daniel James or Mehdi Taremi to gleefully romp at a slowish US defense unchecked, and any one-on-one against a talent attacker ends with Dest being screwed into the ground like the Tasmanian Devil.
Note: All of the best case and worst case happening in a single game is eminently possible.
Position: Left or Right Back
Club: Inter Miami
Likely Role: Substitute
Best Case: Yedlin **should be** the only USMNTer to have played in a World Cup before to be on the plane to Qatar. He hasn’t set the world on fire for club or country, but his experience alone makes him a valuable member of the squad. He’s still a solid option with his speed off the bench to be an attacking option on the wing.
Worst Case: He only cares about going forward and leaves the USMNT exposed at defense too often against teams that don’t need many chances to score. Yedlin is still oddly only 29, although he appears to be much older. Relying on what brought him to his second World Cup as opposed to being the right fit for the Yanks now is a possibility.
Position: Left back
Likely Role: Starting outside back, Jedi
Best Case: Jedi Robinson has been the perfect balance with Sergino Dest as a starting outside back for the United States. He’s had no problem entering the attack and making the most of it. If he can add that dimension in Qatar, the USMNT will be tough to stop in the group stage while playing three teams with shaky defenses.
Worst Case: The biggest weakness for Jedi has shown to be his ability to join the attack when other teams are leading and truly sit back and block his crosses and runs down the wing. There are a few players that are better stay-at-home defenders from the outside back position, especially with Jedi coming off an ankle injury. If Robinson isn’t at full strength, he might not play for long in Qatar.
Position: Right or Left Back
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach
Likely Role: Backup to both Dest and Robinson
Best Case: He’s only seen late in any match after the US is up 3-0.
Worst Case: Dest or Robinson get hurt and he’s needed to start. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just woefully inexperienced at this level and his season so far at Monchengladbach hasn’t built upon the breakthrough of last year.
Club: Nashville SC
Likely Role: Water carrier
Best Case: He’s seen in some great goal celebration replays.
Worst Case: Injuries to two or three fullbacks gets him on the field. Duck.
Position: Defensive midfield
Club: Leeds United
Likely Role: Starter, will play every minute the USMNT is in Qatar
Best Case: Adams’ role on the team isn’t flashy, yet he’s the most important player for the national team tactically. There’s not another quality defensive midfielder in the USMNT pool right now. Adams’ shining in Qatar will likely not be at the forefront of this team’s story, but you’d know about it if he stinks. He rarely makes mental errors and staying strong in front of the Americans’ defense will be paramount to their success.
Worst Case: It’s weird to think of Adams completely folding right now on the international stage. Him not playing up to the standards he set wouldn’t likely mean he’s subbed out. He would just stink. Based on who plays at center back, Adams would likely be involved in the attack very little. Leaving them exposed is a big no-no.
Likely Role: Absolute starter
Best Case: Musah is the answer to every problem the US have in midfield, i.e. a link between Adams and whoever is in attack. His seductive dribbling gets the team out of every jam an opposing press can cause, and opens the gates for their impressive attacking corps to galavant in space and at speed. His defensive responsibilities aren’t too much for a teenager, especially against England and whoever might be waiting in the Round of 16 should the US progress, and he becomes Liverpool’s cheaper alternative to Jude Bellingham next summer when the latter arrives at The Etihad or Stamford Bridge or Bernabeu for $230 million or whatever it ends up being (slightly self-interested, this last part).
Worst Case: The entire weight of being the US’s main release valve is too much, and Musah consistently gets him and the team into trouble in bad areas. Can not provide a link to McKennie or Reyna or whoever is the most advanced midfielder, the US becomes disjointed, and their attack consists of Zimmerman booting it 50 yards upfield to an undersized attacker. Gets pushed deep defensively alongside Adams and can’t hold up, thus erasing even more protection for the backline. The sight of Aaron Long causes him to wonder what the purpose of life is.
Position: Midfielder (sorta)
Likely Role: Was basically a guaranteed starter though recent leg injury casts some doubt. Will start unless that leg falls off, given Berhalter’s affection.
Best Case: McKennie recovers, and his give-a-shit meter is in the red thanks to this being the World Cup and not some qualifier on the road he deems beneath him. His knack for finding space in the attacking penalty area leads to a couple of goals against the bunkered-in sides of Wales and Iran. His energy is deployed everywhere, making him a disruptor as well against England which will allow him to find space to score and create on the counter. Links with the midfielders behind him as well as the front three, and is an utter terror on set pieces.
Worst Case: The Give-a-Shit Meter still isn’t full, and McKennie lollygags through portions of matches. His lack of passing acumen causes US attacks to break down as he either is dispossessed, intercepted, or his insistence on joining the front line leaves the team too separated between midfield and attack. His lack of attention without the ball causes a runway to be formed to the US’s backline, especially on the counter.
Likely Role: Substitute, but first midfield substitute
Best Case: Acosta’s set-piece delivery is worth having around, especially in matches when the U.S. is trailing late and need a goal. One corner or freekick can mean the difference between getting out of the group or not or advancing to the quarters or not. If Acosta is restricted to that, it’s his best use on the national team and also means the rest of the midfield is healthy and playing well.
Worst Case: Berhalter gets cute, and thinks Acosta can start a match as part of a double pivot. His lack of positional sense costs them. His inability to make a pass without five minutes of time and space gets him dispossessed in a dangerous area. And his presence means one of Adams or Musah has gotten hurt or suspended. Has a use, needs to be restricted to that.
Likely role: On the cusp of starter or first off the bench
Best Case: As the US’s only real winger (sit down, Arriola), he stretches opponents’ defense both vertically with his speed getting behind and horizontally with his sticking out wide and opening up the half space for McKennie or Musah or Dest to attack between the fullback and centerback. Even gets tried as a false-nine striker to get more of the US’s best players on the field, and his speed through the middle frightens some slower defenders. Scorches a couple of fullbacks with his dribbling and speed, opening up easy crosses or cut-backs for a goal or two.
Worst Case: Doesn’t start a game due to starting his season pretty late thanks to injury. Looks rusty, and his speed doesn’t prove as effective against defenses that are really deep late into a match. Can’t create much in the shortened space.
Luca de la Torre
Club: Celta Vigo
Likely Role: Musah backup
Best Case: Overcomes injury and barely playing in Spain this season to be the assured ball presence he showed in qualifying. Can spell Musah as the connection between defense and attack if Musah’s young legs aren’t up for all these matches in such a short amount of time. His dribbling skills wow some people, especially his coaches at Celta so he can get on the fucking field from now on.
Worst Case: The rust from injury and inactivity is simply too much, and if he can even get off the bench looks a turnover machine when pressed and not only doesn’t get the US up the field but leaves them vulnerable to a press.
Position: Attacking midfielder, forward from the wing, Captain America (love you Chris and Anthony, but CP10 has the shield in Qatar)
Club: Chelsea (for now)
Likely Role: Starting wherever Greggy spots him in the attack
Best Case: When Pulisic is in form, he’s the best American ever. He’s the first Yank to be a game-changer on an international level by himself. The former wonder kid can lead the USMNT into the uncharted territory of a World Cup semifinal in the right system if he’s at his best. He can score, pass, defend and lead like no other USMNTer ever.
Worst Case: His playing time has been limited at Chelsea over the last year under Thomas Tuchel and now Graham Potter. He’s just shown abbreviated versions of himself, even if he’s training with and against some of the best players in the world on a daily basis. Anything less than him being spectacular is the worst-case scenario.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Club: Leeds United
Likely Role: Starting beside the team’s striker, if not must-play super-sub
Best Case: The USMNT have a huge No. 9 problem and whoever Berhaler starts up top can’t be counted on to score bags of goals, as no one has consistently for the Yanks under his tenure. Helping provide the offense that could propel the USMNT into the knockout stages would be his best, possibly combining with Gio Reyna to form one complete role.
Worst Case: He starts in place of Reyna and can’t produce like we know Gio can. Aaronson’s untapped potential appears to be as great as anyone on the team. That’s the scary part, it could just be smoke with no fire. While Aaronson has plenty of time to prove it, a first bad sign isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Likely Role: Health concerns keep him from being an automatic starter…but he should be an automatic starter.
Best Case: The training wheels come off, and Reyna is no longer protected by Berhalter as he has been and starts all three games. And he starts all three games as the third midfielder ahead of McKennie, leaving the US to get more of Aaronson, Pulisic, and Weah on the field at the same time. His greater passing and dribbling skill when compared to McKennie makes the US more dynamic and unpredictable and opens up more chances than they normally would get. One mazy run like this one results in a goal, sets Twitter alight, becomes the talk of the tournament for a couple of days, forces a nine-figure move away from Dortmund to save Barcelona, who are forced to pull every lever they have left, and probably bankrupts the club. Ends up at Newcastle as they make their assault on the summit thanks to their blood money.
Worst Case: His health only allows him to start one group game and to be a supersub in the rest. Deployed out wide, and gets isolated from the midfield. Breaks down again. Or tries too hard, tries too much, and loses possession a lot trying to make things happen, in what looks like a pretty solid Pulisic-on-the-national-team impression.
Club: FC Dallas
Likely Role: Starting striker or backing-up Ricardo Pepi
Best Case: For a striker, this is easy. Ferreira needs to score and pretend Wales, England and Iran are the same thing as Grenada. He has one USMNT goal in 2022 (against Panama) that wasn’t his four-spot in June against the No. 170 team in the world in the FIFA rankings. He’s been given plenty of opportunities and done alright. Winning the Golden Boot would be great, but does any USMNT think anyone on this roster can do that?
Worst Case: With the standards for the No. 9 position within the Yanks in the toilet, stinking up the joint is a little expected. So not getting a red card would be a little acceptable. Getting sent off and putting the USA shorthanded would be the worst thing he could do.
Club: Seattle Sounders
Likely Role: Possibly an attacking midfielder off the bench. More so an experienced guy to help non-game days go smoothly.
Best Case: Roldan feels like he’s been in MLS forever, but he’s only 27. He’s that “glue guy” that does a lot of the non-flashy work that helps teams win. He hasn’t done it consistently at the international level, but could in theory make it work for a World Cup.
Worst Case: He won’t start and plays the deepest American position. If he sees the field, the worst-case scenario is he looks like a fish out of water. It absolutely could happen. I’m not sure many Yanks fans think he’ll be the breakout star of the tournament.
Likely Role: Substitute
Best Case: Stands still long enough when coming on that either Pulisic or Reyna can ping a ball off of him and into the net. Otherwise known as the “Nuno Gomes Style.” Does seem to have a nose for the net in Turkey and maybe he can line up a chance off the bench to finish. No one else on this roster is, after all.
Worst Case: Anything else.
Club: Norwich City
Likely Role: He should be an attacker coming off the bench
Best Case: Sargent got the first post-pandemic chance at the No. 9 role and didn’t do anything with it. He’s been alright for his club, but worked his way back into getting on the plane to Qatar. Getting two or three goals would be superb.
Worst Case: It’d be showing the assessment made last June that he couldn’t impact games at the international level was the correct one and he doesn’t score within the time provided.
Likely Role: Sub that gets called on way too often
Best Case: Somehow his bull-in-a-china shop-like touch fools defenders, who can’t believe an ox like this made a World Cup squad, and he finds himself in more space than he possibly deserves and creates a few chances late in games.
Worst Case: Same touch, no laughter, blows a big scoring chance in the round of 16, and is the new Wondolowski for the rest of his career.