Breaking down the USMNT roster - who is in/out? After winning, what can the team accomplish?
March 14, 2023
ON WEDNESDAY, United States interim head coach Anthony Hudson announced his roster for the upcoming Nations League games against Greneda away on March 24 and then El Salvador at home in Orlando on March 27.
The big story of the roster is the return of Gio Reyna who has seen his parents investigated by U.S. Soccer and the report released yesterday. Overall, it did not paint the family in a favorable light but U.S. Soccer and Hudson wants to continue on with business as usual.
Aside from Reyna, this camp will also see the return of 13 other World Cup veterans from Qatar including regular starters Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, and Tim Ream.
Overall, the roster has players from 10 countries and 11 leagues England (10 total, 6 Premier League and 4 Championship), Belgium (2), Germany (2), Mexico (2), Netherlands (2), Spain (2), Brazil (1), France (1), Italy (1) and USA (1).
Upon the release, it was announced that captain Tyler Adams had picked up a hamstring injury and would be left off the roster.
Here is the roster and some thoughts on it.
USMNT ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough/ENG; 29/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 24/0)
DEFENDERS (8): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 23/2), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 10/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 50/1), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo/BEL; 2/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham; 33/2), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 20/3), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 3/0), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City/ENG; 0/0)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 28/6), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA; 4/0), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 12/0), Weston McKennie (Leeds United/ENG; 41/9), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 23/0), Alan Soñora (Juárez/MEX; 2/0)
FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Utrecht/NED; 0/0), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion/ENG; 8/3), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED; 12/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 56/22), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 16/4), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 29/4), Alex Zendejas (Club América/MEX; 1/0)
The big story on the roster was Gio Reyna’s return to the U.S. team. The approach Hudson is taking is to just get back to business as soon as possible. Whether this means Claudio and Danielle are going to be hanging around the program remains to be seen. But that is highly unlikely.
My gut feeling is that Gio Reyna’s return would have waited until a head coach and Sporting Director were in place, but Hudson was going to direct in taking this on.
“The situation during the World Cup was handled as a group, there was a positive response from the player, and we all moved forward,” Hudson said in a statement. “Clearly it became a bit more complex in the months since the World Cup, but as far as we’re concerned Gio is a part of our program. He’s a good guy and a top talent and he is evaluated like any other player. We made the roster decisions based on what gives the team the best opportunity to win these games, and we brought him in because we think he can help us do that.”
“I went over to see him a little while ago,” he added in the media conference. “We had a good meeting. And then we've spoken a few times since. I spoke to him this week. And he's in a good place. He's determined to come back in and do well and help the team.”
Limited domestic players
The roster consists of only one domestic-based player and there are a few reasons for this. For one, the MLS schedule is playing through this window and players would have to miss league games. But next month the U.S. team hosts Mexico on a non-FIFA date. But with that game coming midweek, MLS players would not have to miss any games.
Miles Robinson in the exception here because using him in April could see him asked to play three games in seven days for club and country. Still in his recovery, that is not what U.S. wants to do.
But this works out well for MLS players too. An opportunity against a Mexican team (even with just Liga MX players) is still better competition than El Salvador and Grenada this month. A very good outing against Mexico would help their cases more to be part of the team this summer. Plus they wouldn’t have to miss league games.
“In the short term, we feel like we have a strong group coming into Orlando and will have another strong group that will have a valuable opportunity against Mexico,” Hudson said. “As we look at the next several months, we have to balance out a number of factors. We have the Nations League in March, the Allstate Continental Clásico against Mexico in April, and then hopefully the Nations League Final Four in June followed by the Gold Cup immediately after. So that’s a lot of matches with players at different stages of their seasons. Players based outside the United States will need to have a break at some point this summer, and the domestic-based players could wind up missing a number of league games if they played in all the competitions.”
The U.S. will need a lot of different players this summer. It worked out well for them in 2021 and now in 2023, it will be a chance to continue to build up more depth with both tournaments plus the U-20 World Cup. While there is no World Cup qualifying, there is the Copa America and the Olympics just next year.
Forward depth chart
Even among the foreign-based players, Hudson elected to leave off Josh Sargent and Haji Wright who both on the World Cup team. While both have recently returned to playing the past week for their clubs, both players have also missed significant time the past two months.
In their place, Daryl Dike and Ricardo Pepi will get a shot and both those players have been starting and scoring for West Brom and Groningen, respectively. Pepi, 20, is well known and narrowly missed making the U.S. World Cup team. Dike, 22, was injured for long stretches in 2022 and it cost him a chance to compete for a World Cup spot. But Dike has been helping West Brom climb the table recently and push towards the promotional playoffs.
The other area this team will see competition is in central defense. Tim Ream is the lone centerback on this roster who was at the World Cup. Ream’s inclusion is particularly noteworthy because at 35, it raises the question of how much longer U.S. Soccer sees Ream part of the team? Do they see him in the mix for the Copa America next year?
Mark McKenzie rejoins the team, and he is part of a Genk team leading Belgium’s First Division. While he struggled last September in friendlies before the World Cup, he is still showing enough to Hudson at the club level to warrant more looks.
Miles Robinson has a long enough history with the team last cycle that the team wants to see where he is at in his recovery. Auston Trusty continues to do well in Birmingham City on loan and Hudson said his visit to watch him in England was very positive and it reflected things you don’t see on television.
This competition will only continue to get tighter. Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers were left off this team. Richards is still looking for more consistent minutes but has been held in high regard by the U.S. staff for months.
In terms of surprising inclusions, there weren’t many. Most of the players who are either looking for their first cap or who have been away from the team for awhile – Dike, Reynolds, Booth, Trusty – it was announced by U.S. Soccer that they have been scouted.
Hudson addressed many of the players including Taylor Booth, who is looking for his first cap. The 21 year old attacking midfielder is currently playing well for Utrecht in the Eredivisie – his first season as a regular starter.
“With Taylor, he's done he's really done well this season,” Hudson said. “I like how his game is developing and he is playing at a decent level and doing a really good job with his team. So we feel that he has some really good attributes that he can come in and help this team. And one thing I do love about him is he's got a great mentality again. He's got a tough mentality. He's aggressive, he plays with intensity and I really, really like that.”
Also, Auston Trusty is looking for his first cap and he got called up ahead of others. The U.S. staff has scouted him several times and what they took away is how well he is liked around the club, among the fans, and the staff.
“We've seen him several times live now. I went to see him. My assistant, B.J. Callaghan, went to see him. I went to see him in a big derby match in in England. The West Brom - Birmingham games are intense games, an aggressive game. And for someone like Auston to go overseas and play in a league like the Championship, which is it's relentless. It's just game after game and the games are a fight. They are tough intense. It's like the survival of the fittest. You have to deal with aggressive center forwards and direct play. You're being asked to defend a lot. And what he's done really well and he's gone on to become one of the most important players in their team.”
“Everyone from the sporting director to the tea lady - everyone in the club came up to me and absolutely loved Auston,” Hudson said.
In terms of surprising exclusions, Hudson acknowledged that there are some injuries and that the national team was working with clubs so that players could be available this summer.
“There are a number of guys who are dealing with varying degrees of injury issues. We’ve spoken with the clubs, and in each case we have worked together to make a decision in the best interest of the player and to do our best to ensure they are available for us this summer.”
That covers a lot of ground and it’s fair to work with players and clubs because the U.S. team has a demanding run of games both this summer and the summer of 2024.
For example, there are players who are playing now but have only recently returned from injuries which kept them out several weeks or even month – Josh Sargent, Djordje Mihailovic, and Haji Wright are three. Cameron Carter-Vickers has been used extensively at Celtic. Malik Tillman has been out for a few weeks at Rangers.
Note that Hudson did not specifically refer to players who were injured and are unable to play. He could also have meant players who are playing through injuries.
Some of the players who were surprising not to see were Chris Richards, who continues to see limited minutes at Crystal Palace. Erik Palmer-Brown who is a regular starter at Troyes team that is struggling in Ligue 1, Tanner Tessmann who is among the better players on a Venezia team that is in relegation battle in Serie B, Jordan Pefok who has also seen his minutes cut at Union Berlin,
One specific player who Anthony Hudson addressed was Wolfsburg winger Kevin Paredes who is also eligible for the U.S. U-20 team this year and who has been making regular sub appearances for Wolfsburg – including last week where he notched the equalizing assist off the bench.
“With Kevin, he was right on the edge,” Hudson said. “We've been watching him closely. And look, if he keeps doing what he's doing, he's going to get an opportunity. He's doing really, really well. One thing I would say is just the guys we've brought in ahead of him, maybe they've got more minutes, a little bit more experience, playing more consistently, starting games - in terms of Antonee Robinson, we're looking at Josh Scally over there as well. Kevin's right there. He's a really, really interesting player. We value him highly.”
“He's one where I can see with the amount of programing we have coming up and how we're going to have to balance the squad, he'll get an opportunity for sure,” he added.
What can the team learn?
It is true that the United States is considered the heavy favorite in both games. Most opponents the United States will face this cycle should be considered much stronger. While winning is important to qualify for tournaments this summer, it is fair to ask what other lessons and objectives the team can realistically accomplish when success against El Salvador or Grenada won’t indicate success against teams from Europe, South America, or the top teams from Africa, Asia, or CONCACAF?
Here are some of the key objectives.
Reintegrate Gio Reyna: If getting Reyna back into the squad can go smoothly and set the stage for it to be easy in subsequent camps, then that will be a boost. It’s the top story for this camp, which is fine. It will be better if the issue is discussed less in more important games.
Set Pieces: The team needs to find ways to be more dangerous on set pieces. This was a major weakness all through World Cup qualifying and in Qatar. This team needs to identify set piece takers and targets in the box. They need to work on finding each other.
A backup for Tyler Adams: Again, this will be tricky for the U.S. team since they shouldn’t need a defensive midfielder to win these games. With Adams out, they can work on other options. A player like Johnny Cardoso can work on connecting with his teammates, which would be good. But defensively, he probably won’t be tested all that much.
More offense from Musah: Yunus Musah has been a key starter for the U.S. team ever since he committed to the program. He has looked athletic and smooth with the ball in the midfield, but can he be a threat with his shot or with a final pass to set up dangerous chances? That has been missing from him for Valencia and the U.S. team. It is also one of the few things that separates him from being an elite player. These games should see the U.S. team have possession and they should be able to create chances. It’s a good stage for Musah to just work on this aspect with his teammates.