5 USMNT questions ahead of 2021 opener vs. Trinidad & Tobago in Orlando
January 28, 2021
ON SUNDAY NIGHT, the United States national team will host Trinidad & Tobago in Orlando and it will mark the second straight time U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter has been able to call-up mostly domestic-based players. This game will indeed be another interesting learning opportunity ahead of what promises to be a very busy year in American soccer.
While, most of the talk of the U.S. national team player pool centers around the five young Champions League players in Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Giovani Reyna, and Sergino Dest along with John Brooks and Zack Steffen, there are loads of questions in how the remaining 16 players will surface to fill out a roster of 23. On top of that, there are always going to be injuries and, going by historical standards, the likelihood of having even all of those top players healthy at one time isn’t particularly high.
Outside of those seven players, there questions surrounding every other player in the pool and no one else is really a lock.
Friendlies, such as the one on Sunday, won’t come close to resolving anything, but it will help the set the pieces up for March (either the full national team, or the U-23 team) or for the summer when the U.S. team has the Nation’s League and the Gold Cup while the U-23 team has the Olympics. That will then set the stage for World Cup qualifying.
There are 25 players on the current U.S. roster for Trinidad & Tobago, and theoretically anyone could get on the field and perform very well. But there are some questions going into this game that are more important than others in terms of how things could shape and form the current depth chart.
Here is what I am looking for:
Can Mueller have another big game?
El Salvador wasn’t great competition last month in the December friendly (and to be fair, neither was Panama in November). Regardless, Chris Mueller was the deserved man of the match in that game with two goals and generally a very good first half.
On the heels of a 2020 season with Orlando where he had a very legitimate argument to be named to the league’s Best XI and then had a strong first cap, a strong second cap on Sunday will make it hard to leave off important games – either in March or for the Nations League in June.
The wing positions are far from settled on the U.S. team. Christian Pulisic is obviously a starter and Gio Reyna can play as a wing but likes to cut into the middle when he does. He might end up as a central attacking mid with the U.S. team. Jordan Morris is a lock as well.
After that? There is a lot of uncertainty. Uly Llanez’s loan at Heerenveen has hurt his case and Tyler Boyd hasn’t played in months in Turkey. Konrad de la Fuente is in a challenging environment at Barcelona, but isn’t playing.
Mueller can really give himself a strong resume with another solid performance that it would well be worth seeing him with a first-choice selection of players.
Where do Dike and Altidore stand?
The forward player pool had changed so much in 2020. It no longer is Jozy Altidore, Josh Sargent, and Gyasi Zardes. Those three players are still in the mix, but you now in 2021 you have strong cases being made by Matthew Hoppe, Nicholas Gioacchini, Sebastian Soto, Daryl Dike, Jeremy Ebobisse, Ayo Akinola, Haji Wright, possibly Tim Weah depending on how you play him, Andrija Novakovich, and even Aron Johannsson as veteran player has resurfaced.
Altidore has had a rough season in 2020. He’s continued to deal with injuries and struggled when he was on the field. This past week, however, Berhalter said that Altidore has had a really strong camp while adding they had to dial it back last week (later adding they were going to push him the week before Trinidad & Tobago).
While Atlidore, whenever he is healthy, has been a top U.S. forward since at least the 2009 Confederations Cup, it is obvious things are changing both in that Altidore is getting older, and the next generation now has an impressive number of young forwards emerging. The obvious question for Altidore is how much gas does he have left in the tank for this team? How are his legs? What is his level?
For Dike, 20, it is more or less how he compares with Altidore these days? He doesn’t have the experience but he has two things Altidore doesn’t have: youth and a strong 2020. Like Altidore, he is a big and strong forward but is he ready to assume that role for the U.S. team?
Is Perea ready to make a statement?
Andres Perea, 20, made headlines when he filed his one-time switch play for the U.S. team after representing Colombia at two youth World Cups. The young defensive midfielder made a lot of progress in 2020 with Orlando under Oscar Pareja. While he still has a ways to go, he is unique in that he can cover a ton of ground defensively and perhaps emerge as a backup to Tyler Adams given his similar style. Other backup options at the No. 6 position are different in style to Adams meanwhile, if Perea shows himself well, he could be a backup option that allows the U.S. team a chance to play the same way should Adams not be available.
Perea still has to be more forward thinking with his passes and also be more of an offensive threat, but he’s comfortable enough with the ball and has the defensive range to be a useful player for the U.S. team.
Will Turner impress?
This might not be a question for the Trinidad & Tobago game because it remains to be seen how dangerous they will be on Sunday, but in this camp, will Matt Turner make a case to be a backup on the U.S. team? He is one of the best American goalkeepers domestically and that is actually quite important this year because Zack Steffen is a backup and dealt with injury issues earlier this year at Fortuna Dusseldorf. Ethan Horvath continues to not play.
Turner could very well be the best American goalkeeper right now who plays regularly. Now it will be important to see how he reacts to the opportunity of getting his first taste of international soccer.
How will Vines and Bello react?
Left back is always thin on the U.S. team and in 2021, that is still the case. Antonee Robinson deserves more looks, but what are the options behind him? One school of thought is to move Sergino Dest to the left but the gap between Dest and the second choice right back (Yedlin or Cannon) is steep and Dest is not nearly as strong on the left. So instead of putting one of the team’s best players in Dest in a situation where he isn’t going to shine, other left backs are should be explored.
There is room for another left back with Robinson on the team and Sam Vines and George Bello have a chance in this camp. Both are U-23 eligible with Bello being newer but also with a big upside.
Vines has played a few times for the U.S. team and has done well, albeit against lower competition. With Colorado, he has been above average and generally competent. If he plays well against Trinidad and Tobago, he could be in a good situation to be a backup on the first-choice team.
Bello has a lot of upside and checks a lot of boxes for a move to Europe. He’s exciting to watch and also seems to be one for a bright future. Like with Vines, there is a path in front of him and the pool is not crowded at the position.