Picking a USMNT squad if the World Cup was this summer

Picking a USMNT squad if the World Cup was this summer

If the World Cup was being hosted anywhere else in the world besides Qatar, we’d all be buckling in for our first few days of the tournament.

With that in mind (and with our UK colleagues doing the same for England), we thought it’d be an interesting exercise to discuss what the U.S. men’s national team would look like if there was a traditional summer World Cup this time around. Considering the injuries that occurred at the end of this past European season, maybe it’s a good thing the tournament isn’t coming until November.

Our staff took a crack at their 23-man rosters for the World Cup, imagining a June 14 kickoff instead of a Nov. 21 start.


Sam Stejskal’s U.S. team

My 23-man U.S. squad:

Goalkeepers (3): Sean Johnson, Zack Steffen, Matt Turner

Defenders (8): John Brooks, Reggie Cannon, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Aaron Long, Antonee Robinson, Joe Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman

Midfielders (6): Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Malik Tillman

Forwards (6): Brenden Aaronson, Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Haji Wright

My ideal starting XI (4-3-3): Matt Turner; Antonee Robinson, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m assuming that all current injuries remain in effect. That means no Sergiño Dest, Daryl Dike, Djordje Mihailovic, Jordan Pefok, Gio Reyna or Chris Richards, all of whom we assume will be healthy and available for the actual World Cup come November.

Those absences eliminated a lot of big decisions, but I still had a few to make, particularly in defense. The most notable is the return of John Brooks. He’s been exiled from the USMNT since October, but I’ll bring him back to add a significant dose of talent and an unparalleled level of experience among American center backs. Joe Scally is included as a backup left back. He struggled against Uruguay and is a natural right-sided player, but I still trust him a bit more than the other options at the position.

In midfield, Malik Tillman squeezes in just ahead of Cristian Roldan. Even with his inexperience, Tillman is probably a more dangerous option as a late-game attacking sub.

Paul Arriola gets the nod over Jordan Morris for the last winger spot, while Haji Wright slots in ahead of the still-slumping Ricardo Pepi at striker.


(Katie Stratman / USA TODAY Sports)

What could change between now and the actual winter tournament?

Obviously, that group would receive a significant boost from the return of the currently injured Dest, Reyna, Richards and perhaps bolstered by a new option at striker, where Pepi, Dike, Pefok or one of the two players on my proposed 23 could emerge with a little bit more consistency. Other spots that could easily change: Backup left back, where Scally could fall off and Kevin Paredes could emerge; the final choice at No. 8, where Mihailovic could rise; and basically every center back besides Zimmerman, with Erik Palmer-Brown certainly in contention.

Paul Tenorio’s U.S. team

My 23-man U.S. squad:

Goalkeepers (3): Sean Johnson, Zack Steffen, Matt Turner

Defenders (8): Reggie Cannon, Aaron Long,  Erik Palmer-Brown, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson, Joe Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman

Midfielders (6): Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Malik Tillman

Forwards (6): Brenden Aaronson, Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Haji Wright

My ideal starting XI (4-3-3): Matt Turner; Antonee Robinson, Chris Richards, Walker Zimmerman, DeAndre Yedlin; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, Tim Weah

With the 23-man limit and even despite the injury, there was one incredibly difficult omission in the team: Ricardo Pepi. Realistically, I think there is more trust in Pepi to do the job than Wright at this time. After all, Pepi scored some big goals in qualifying. But if you are going into a World Cup this week, it’s hard to look past the club form of Wright (15 goals in 35 appearances for Antalyaspor) versus the club form of Pepi (No goals in 11 appearances with Augsburg), and it would be incredibly difficult to justify bringing Pepi. In a traditional summer World Cup we would have had a few weeks of camp and a couple friendlies and maybe that would have changed things, but based purely on club form it has to be Wright.

I also think there will be a legit battle for Aaronson to break into the lineup as a starter, either over Weah or over McKennie. But someone is going to have to play the super-sub role, and maybe it’s Aaronson.


(Trevor Ruszkowski / USA TODAY Sports)

What could change between now and the actual winter tournament?

A lot could change. Like Sam, I also assumed that all current injuries remain in effect. That means no Sergiño Dest, Daryl Dike, Djordje Mihailovic, Jordan Pefok or Gio Reyna. Dest and Reyna are locks if healthy. Dike will have a chance to get back into the picture in September if he starts the season well in the Championship. Chris Richards had an injury that put him on the fringe of inclusion in this June camp and I think he probably would have pushed into a World Cup spot, whereas there was no reason to do so for friendlies and Nations League. Obviously those players would certainly change the roster a bit if they were healthy.

As mentioned above, I think the form of striker is the biggest area to watch at the start of the European season. Pepi, Josh Sargent, Pefok, Dike and Wright will all be battling for a spot, as will MLS-based Ferreira.

One other spot to watch: back-up left back. I’ll be closely monitoring two players, Kevin Paredes and John Tolkin, who could break into the picture.

Jeff Rueter’s U.S. team

My 23-man roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Sean Johnson, Zack Steffen, Matt Turner

Defenders (8): George Bello, John Brooks, Aaron Long, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jedi Robinson, Joe Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman

Midfielders (6): Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Cristian Roldan

Attackers (6): Brenden Aaronson, Paul Arriola, Jesús Ferreira, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Haji Wright

My ideal starting XI (4-3-3): Matt Turner; Jedi Robinson, John Brooks, Walker Zimmerman, DeAndre Yedlin; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Christian Pulisic, Haji Wright, Tim Weah

This exercise gave me three headaches of increasing intensity. In general, four players missed my roster due to injury: Dest, Mihailovic, Reyna and Richards. The second selection issue, as ever, is at striker. Third, and possibly even more pivotally, is at center back. Miles Robinson’s injury has opened the door for some defenders who played little to no role in qualifying. While there are several international caliber players available, few have been tested at the international level. Richards’ injury only makes this more difficult — and if I’m making the call, it would result in a olive branch being extended to a 2014 World Cup veteran.

Who could factor? As Ian Darke put it best, it’s John Brooks! Mihailovic has been the best domestic midfielder in MLS thus far, but his ankle knock brings Cristian Roldan into the fold just ahead of Malik Tillman. Dest is a big absence, but it allows Bello to work back as a dedicated backup option on the left. Arriola’s blistering form lands him in the attack, but it’s Brooks’ recall which would raise the most eye brows. He’s come up big in tournaments before (think fondly of the Copa América Centenario), and may be needed now more than he was last September. There are a lot of players on the bubble hoping to earn their place, but Brooks’ profile towers above the rest like he’s going up for a header against Ghana.


(Trevor Ruszkowski / USA TODAY Sports)

What could change between now and the actual winter tournament?

No position is more volatile than striker. Will Ricardo Pepi come out of a full offseason firing for Augsburg? Can options from qualifying like Jordan Pefok or Josh Sargent round into form? Will Daryl Dike make up for lost time with West Brom after a pair of hamstring injuries to vault up the depth chart? Maybe Berhalter will be forced to modify his assessment of Malik Tillman as a midfielder or inverted winger to fill a void up top. Everything is in play at this stage; while the coming months should allow some key players to recover from injury, the striker situation alone should make the U.S. thankful that there’s still time before the World Cup roster is finalized.

(Top photo: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA TODAY Sports)

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