Analysis: A deep dive into Berhalter's 27-man USMNT roster for June
May 20, 2022
UNITED STATES NATIONAL team head coach Gregg Berhalter today announced his 27-player roster for the upcoming friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay along with the start of the CONCACACF Nations League. The roster is most important, obviously, because it is one of the final opportunities Berhalter will have with his players prior to the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Many of the top stories on the roster have already been leaked over the past few weeks.
- Haji Wright and Cameron Carter-Vickers were going to get a chance.
- Sergino Dest, Gio Reyna, Jordan Pefok, Chris Richards, and Josh Sargent have all been carrying injuries.
- As announced by the German U-21 head coach, Malik Tilman will switch to play for the United States.
Regardless of most of the surprises being known ahead of time, here are my thoughts on it all.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 7/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 29/0), Matt Turner (New England Revolution; 16/0)
DEFENDERS (9): George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld/GER; 6/0), Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 24/1), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 8/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 23/3), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes/FRA; 3/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 25/2), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 0/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 73/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 28/3)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 51/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 27/1), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED; 7/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 31/9), Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal/CAN; 6/1), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 16/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 31/0), Malik Tillman (Bayern Munich/GER; 0/0)
FORWARDS (7): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg/AUT; 18/5), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 44/9), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 9/3), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 46/10), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 48/21), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 22/2), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor/TUR; 0/0)
Weston McKennie was named to the roster and at a time when many key American players are injured, McKennie looks ready to go. He’s an important part of the team and it was obvious in the loss to Costa Rica in March that the team needs grit in the midfield in the form of a two-way midfielder who can do the dirty work, win balls, disrupt the opposition, and get the ball forward into the attack.
McKennie has been out since suffering a broken metatarsal in his foot while playing for Juventus in March. For that, Berhalter tempered enthusiasm as to what he can accomplish in this camp.
"I wouldn't be expecting him to play major minutes in these in the first couple of games," Berhalter said of McKennie. "Hopefully, and this is hopefully, we can get to a point where he can start one of the Nations League games, but that's not guaranteed. He's been doing a great job and getting back and for us it's just great to have him back in camp and hopefully get him some playing time throughout the camp."
Malik Tillman’s addition
On Thursday, German U-21 national team head coach Antonio Di Salvo announced that Bayern Munich attacker Malik Tillman would no longer represent Germany and would instead represent the United States moving forward. Di Salvo admitted to being surprised by the decision.
"We regret Malik's decision and it surprised us very much," said Di Salvo. "We encouraged him as a younger player with the U-21s, placed a lot of trust in him, and gave him playing time. In addition, we were in intensive exchange regarding his prospects on a path to the senior national team."
German U-21 coach Antonio Di Salvo confirms Bayern Munich's German-American attacker Mallik Tillman will no longer represent Germany and will instead represent the United States.— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 19, 2022
"We regret Malik's decision and it surprised us very much," said Di Salvo
After that, Tillman’s addition to the U.S. roster was expected although his change of association has not been completed. He will not be eligible to play until it is completed.
The United States needs more attackers across the board and more goal scoring threats. Right now, there are still a lot of players who haven’t been scoring enough goals for their club teams – whether it be on the wings or in midfield. Players such as Luca de la Torre, Yunus Musah, and Tim Weah, have all has seasons that haven’t produced goals. Those players all have something to offer, but the question is where are the goals going to come from? Tillman is certainly a useful player to add to the mix.
"He's an attacking midfielder in a 3-4-2-1," Berhalter said. "He could be a pocket winger in a 4-3-3. He could be a center mid in a 4-3-3 depending on if we can get his defensive work up to where it needs to be. But he's really talented between the lines, he really has a knack for scoring goals, good and calm around the penalty box, good technique scoring both feet - both footed. So, he's an interesting player."
Expectations should be tempered. It’s not wise to start posting him into key roles for Qatar until it is seen how he can do with the team. He is young, at age 19, and has shown glimpses of great promise and potentially a high ceiling. But until first team minutes establish a benchmark, it is tough to tell. Even with German youth national teams or dominating at the reserve level, it can be hit and miss. Shawn Parker, Gedion Zelalem, Julian Green, Terrence Boyd never materialized into full national team quality for any length of time. On the other hand, John Brooks and Fabian Johnson did.
We won’t really know until he settles into a first team level. Next season, it appears as if he will head out on loan and that will be a good thing.
Since his last start against Gladbach in January, Malik Tillman has not managed to recommend himself for more minutes. Bayern are planning to send the 19-year old out on loan this summer in order to get match practice elsewhere [@kerry_hau, @SPORT1] pic.twitter.com/lUXyv6SfIA— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) April 15, 2022
Berhalter also opened up about Tillman's recruting.
"It started maybe about a year ago," Berhalter said. "He was he was a player that was actually in a U15 camp with Gio Reyna and George Bello. And so he's been in our youth program before. We saw him progressing and getting feedback from from his performance. It was something that became interesting to us, although he was only 18 years old. And so when we started speaking to him and his representative, it was just about painting the vision of our program and where we potentially see him fitting in...We had some good conversations a couple of weeks ago in Munich and was happy to see him commit to us and looking forward to working with him in camp."
Still, adding a promising prospect to the mix is always a good thing. It continues to be a numbers game and a program can have all its hopes in a limited number of players. When you see the U.S. U-20 team struggle to find a number of forwards for a second straight cycle (2023 and 2021) and the once promising forwards of 2019 in Sebastian Soto struggling, finding more players helps and is good forward thinking.
Left back competition
We know Antonee Robinson is the starting left back for the United States national team when healthy. Gregg Berhalter has been praiseworthy over the Fulham left back.
The backup left back position, however, is wide open and that is mainly because no one has stepped up to take the chance. George Bello has been the most used left-back but his positioning has been up and down for both the U.S. and with his club team Arminia Bielefeld, which was relegated from the Bundesliga.
The other left-back on this roster is Joe Scally, who is a right-footed option but will get the opportunity to make a case for him as the team’s back-up left back. Scally enjoyed a terrific start to the season in the Bundesliga but the second half the season has mostly seen him play off the bench.
This will be an interesting competition and development to watch because neither option has been convincing and if they don’t convince here, perhaps Berhalter decides to change again late in the game and go with Sam Vines – who was ahead of Bello at the Gold Cup last year, or a player like DeJuan Jones who has the athleticism in droves that would not require the team to change the way it plays.
CB pairings & formation
Berhalter named four central defenders to the mix. It was noted that Richards was not named because of injury.
Walker Zimmerman, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Aaron Long will make up the foursome this camp. What is striking about this is that none of these four players were on the team at the start of World Cup qualifying in September.
Zimmerman only played his way onto the team in October. Palmer-Brown was riding the bench at the time in France. Carter-Vickers wasn’t completely rated at the time. Aaron Long was injured.
It's actually stunning to think about how much central defense can change. Miles Robinson is, of course, out until 2023 Tim Ream has probably aged out, James Sands’ position isn’t set, John Brooks has a situation where he just off the team, Chris Richards is hurt, and Mark McKenzie also hasn’t had a great season.
Now Berhalter will be looking to hope what is a late-emerging core can develop chemistry. Yes, Zimmerman has been with Berhalter for a while, Long also has familiarity before his injury, and Chris Richards will be back after he heals ( although he has missed a lot of time dating to last season).
It will be interesting to see how the pairings go. He has two physical defenders in Zimmerman and Carter-Vickers (who isn’t tall but is strong), and two more mobile defenders in Long and Palmer-Brown. In Palmer-Brown’s one appearance in qualifying, he was a more of a wing-back.
One other factor to consider is that Berhalter said he wants to look at a three central defender formation, Reggie Cannon has been playing that role. Regardless of who plays there, the idea of the formation is to get the fullbacks forward. If that doesn't happen, the benefits of the formation are neutralized.
There are a number of different players who are on this roster who come in either red hot form or who are struggling. It will be interesting to see how they perform and it could be a sign that they are either peaking heading into the World Cup or could be in spot playing their way off the team. Here’s just a list.
Djordje Mihailovic: The former Chicago midfielder played with the U.S team early in Berhalter’s cycle but faded out. He took his game to another level in Montreal. This season he has seven goals and four assists between MLS and CCL games. Over the last 50 games between both competitions, he has 11 goals and 18 assists. Bottom line is that he played his way onto the roster.
Haji Wright: The Antalyaspor forward, 24, has been in the form of his life. Entering into Friday’s game, he has 13 goals on the season and nine goals in his last nine games (goals in each of his last seven games. Like Mihailovic, he played his way onto the team.
Jesus Ferreira: Ferreira has essentially played his way onto the team. He’s not a traditional No. 9 but he is skillful and can pass to help elevate his teammates. He’s is more of a “false nine” but his goalscoring has been impressive as he leads MLS in goals with nine.
Cristian Roldan: Roldan has taken on more of a late-game sub role for the national team and he rarely starts. Even last summer in the Gold Cup when it wasn’t the full selection of players, he rarely started. He can bring life into the game. But for Seattle, he’s been in terrific form and was one of the best players in the entire CONCACAF Champions League. In that winning effort, he won a huge majority of his duels, drew key penalties, and assisted. It truly is a unique form for him.
Luca De la Torre: Until recently, de la Torre had been having a nice season. But the end of the season has been a nosedive. Everyone on Heracles has been playing poorly and de la Torre hasn’t helped. The team finished the season with three straight losses against bottom-third Eredivisie teams. Having fallen into the relegation playoff position, Heracles was thoroughly outplayed in the first leg 3-0 by Excelsior of the second tier. De la Torre was defensively partially responsible for the first goal and his turnover directly resulted in the third goal. Barring a miracle in the second leg, he will be entering into camp in a very tough spot.
"I've been in the exact situation he's in right now," Berhalter said. "Your team is going into the relegation area. You have to play playoffs. You're ending the season on a down note, you're exhausted because you've been playing all these games and the team collectively is in a funk."
"My team ended up getting relegated in Holland in the same conditions that he's under," Berhalter added. "The warning to him is don't take any of these teams lightly and you've got to get recovered. You got to get your group up with that same energy because these teams are coming up from the second division and they're motivated and if you're not up for it, you're going to get beat. So that's a concern."
George Bello: Similar to de la Torre, it has been a tough five months for George Bello since moving to Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga. In the second-to-last game of the season, Bello lost his man and converted a own-goal to essentially seal his club’s relegation. Bello hasn’t made a compelling case yet to be Antonee Robinson’s back-up at left back and if he doesn’t play well this camp, it might cost him a chance to go to Qatar.
The No. 9
The number of No. 9 options Berhalter has tried over the past year makes for a long list: Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, Matthew Hoppe, Jesus Ferreira, Gyasi Zardes, and now Haji Wright. What is particularly impressive about the length of this list is that all of this came not during experimental friendlies but rather World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup. A list that long shows that not much has been working.
Now it will be up to Jesus Ferreira and Haji Wright this camp. That is fair and the correct choice to call both of them. They are the two hottest American forwards who are healthy. It is an enormous camp for both of them. If they both can play well, it could give the U.S. team stability heading into the World Cup.
On Monday, Berhalter spoke at length about Wright's rapid rise in recent months.
"He'll get the opportunity to play in this camp," Berhalter said. "We only have two true strikers on the roster, so he will get an opportunity. In terms of his path. It's been really interesting to follow. He's been bouncing around at clubs and hasn't really stuck at any club and hasn't really outperformed anywhere yet. But this year, I think it's an exception. And speaking to their coaching staff, they've been really pleased with his progress. They've been really pleased with how he started slow but then picked up momentum, really changed his mindset, changed his mentality and was able to start dominating in games. And I've watched a lot of his games and he's doing an excellent job. So I think now is the perfect time. We always talk about form and trying to capitalize on guys form. I think now is the perfect time to get him back into the group.
As with any roster, there are notable absences. So, let’s discuss them.
The injuries need no further explanation: Gio Reyna, Sergino Dest, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, and Chris Richards were all listed as injured.
U.S. Soccer also announced that Dayl Dike was given the chance to continue his rehab progress after missing the second half of the season for West Brom Albion.
"There are a number of players that started their first season in Europe and had very little rest coming off and MLS season and we're really thrown into it, notably Ricardo Pepi, Gianluca Busio, James Sands," Berhalter said. "It doesn't mean that any of these players that I mentioned don't have a chance to participate in the World Cup.
Ricardo Pepi: his absence was known in advance. It has been a struggle for him since moving to Germany with Augsburg and U.S. Soccer felt it was in his interest to regroup. That is a smart decision and it also allows the more in-form forwards to make a case.
John Brooks: will certainly get a lot of talk when supporters digest the roster. But Berhalter is has been consistent with not calling Brooks up. Is it a personality difference, is it a lack of chemistry, is it due to his performance with the team prior to the start of his exclusion last year? Possibly a combination of everything. Berhalter said the fact that Brooks is switching clubs could help him.
"Trust me, he's not out permanently," Berhalter said of Brooks. "That's not our idea. The idea is we want players that can fit our game model, that can that can play in our game or can make us better."
"We're going to be able to see him now in his new environment, hopefully doing things that are similar to what we need him to do," he added of Brooks. "And that could help him, you know, make a case to be on the roster."
Gianluca Busio: the former Sporting Kansas City midfielder was regularly in the plans, when healthy, dating back to last fall after he moved to Venezia in Serie A. Initially his time in Serie A was promising but the last few months have been a tough time. He’s struggled with the physical side of the game in Italy and didn’t play much down the stretch as Venezia were relegated to Serie B. Berhalter said his absence was due to giving him a break after his first full European season and not having an off-season since early 2021.
Mark McKenzie: has been in and out of Genk’s starting rotation all season and Genk has had a subpar season overall. It was building this way although he could easily be an injury alternate – which isn’t out of the range of possibilities.
DeJuan Jones: even without any caps, this was a bit of a surprise to me as he is a right-footed left back but also brings a lot of athleticism to the position and more closely matches the style of Robinson.
Duane Holmes: Seemed a possibility as he has played quite a bit for a Huddersfield team that is off to Wembley for the promotional final. He seemed worthy to be in consideration and in the mix.
Sebastian Lletget: has fallen out of favor since last October when his minutes dried up and eventually stopped getting called up. At one point he deserved to be in the mix and was playing well. But Berhalter seems to have moved on.
Alan Sonora: the Independiente midfielder has been a consistent starter in Argentina and was in contact with Berhalter as recently as January (as he told ASN). He’s done well in Argentina and there are questions about his ability to handle the physical side of the game despite his crafty playmaking ability.
James Sands: The Rangers midfielder/central defender potentially gives Berhalter cover in several positions. His minutes for Rangers has been inconsistent since January but he did play in the Premiership season finale as well as the Europa Cup final.
Richard Ledezma: Ledezma came back at the end of the season to score a goal for PSV in the season finale. But he had just 33 minutes of first team action this year, most of which was fighting his way back from ACL surgery.
"He feels and I agree with him that based on the entire season being extremely taxing for him mentally and physically taxing, getting back from injury, getting injured again," Berhalter said of Ledezma. "He feels like he needs this time to recover and prepare for the next preseason."
Just before the roster was announced, Chicago Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina announced that he wanted to represent the United States moving forward as opposed to Poland.
Slonina, 17, was announced to be on Poland’s roster for its upcoming Nation’s League games.
Like many prospects, it’s tough to gauge just how good he will be. He has done well up until recently but the last two games have seen him really struggle. He’s admits that and owns it – which is a good approach for a player his age.
The U.S. program needs young goalkeepers who are playing minutes, so adding him to the pool is good.
Berhalter opened up about his discussions with Slonina.
"I've been really impressed with Gaga and just his mindset," Berhalter said. "If you could imagine a 17-year-old being that determined. I think the danger was and this is just an honest conversation I had with him, I said: listen, I can't bring you into this camp because of your form - I just can't do it. We have guys at a really high levels and experienced guys that played for us before, and your form hasn't been good enough. And I can understand if you're going to go take a look at Poland because you're disappointed with this."
"His response was great," Berhalter continued. "He understands where he's at. He's going to work to get out of where he's at. But he said he's still committed to us. You make relationships with players. You welcome players as a group. Guys make them feel welcome. And you hope that's enough that in the end of the day, they decide. But in Gaga's case, also, his heart was telling him where to go. That's a really an important part of the equation."