With the 2022 World Cup fast approaching, United States Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter will be working to select the finest figures to fill the coveted 23-player roster.
In preparation, the USMNT lined up several friendly matches against nations of a similar caliber, in addition to the Concacaf Nations League taking place this summer. The schedule enables Gregg Berhalter to call up different players and see what works before making the ultimate decision.
The journey to the World Cup was not an easy one for the American side, struggling through challenges during the Concacaf qualifiers before earning a ticket to the international tournament. But now, it seems, the road to Qatar could be even more difficult.
Between injuries and sidelined players, Gregg Berhalter may have to work miracles.
Several USMNT regulars have seen season-ending injuries in 2022. Players Berhalter once counted on for success are now unavailable. While they may heal in time for the World Cup, one must question their fitness levels in comparison to those playing in and out every weekend.
Weston McKennie was the first USMNT player to shock with an injury, after fracturing the second and third metatarsals in his left foot during Juventus’ Champions League round-of-16 match vs Villareal on February 22. The player subsequently failed to feature in any of the remaining World Cup qualifiers, sitting out the rest of the season as well. While he’s expected to make his return to the field sometime in the summer, his stamina remains in question. Having sat out the months leading up to the international tournament, the midfielder might not be up for it.
Sergino Dest and Gio Reyna followed, both suffering hamstring injuries. Reyna has seen an inconsistent year with Dortmund after his initial blow in September while featuring for the USMNT in a qualifier. His 2021 injury left him sidelined for over five months, before returning to yet another issue. The player is now out for the season with a muscle and tendon injury.
Dest, on the other hand, picked up the hamstring in mid-April. While FC Barcelona has not given an exact timeline for his return, it is not promising that he’ll be ready by the summer.
At the back, Chris Richards and Miles Robinson are a concern. The two formed part of Berhalter’s trusted backline during the World Cup qualifiers.
Richards suffered a muscle-tendon injury in his right thigh in April, sending the player to the sidelines for the remainder of the season. The defender had just come back for Hoffenheim from an ankle issue sustained during the USMNT qualifier in January before the latest hit. Robinson is the latest casualty, tearing his Achilles during Atlanta United’s match against the Chicago Fire on May 7. The player is undergoing surgery and awaits an estimated six-to-nine months recovery period.
Who will lead in goal? The question remains.
Berhalter’s go-to option, Manchester City’s Zack Steffen, has seen a turbulent season with the Premier League side. He rarely features, but once given the opportunity, Steffen looks unprepared. The goalkeeper also made an astonishing error during the FA Cup semi-final vs Liverpool, struggling to play with his feet before Sadio Mane capitalized on the opportunity to make it 2-0. While the USMNT head coach defended Steffen after several errors, it is difficult to imagine a goalkeeper making a World Cup start with only nine appearances in the previous season.
Matt Turner, however, remains an option, but the goalkeeper saw months on the sidelines after picking up a foot injury. He has since returned for Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, giving a sign of hope to the American side. But by the time the World Cup comes around, Turner may be a backup 'keeper himself as he moves to Arsenal.
Sean Johnson, Gaga Slonina, and Ethan Horvath are unlikely candidates for the World Cup, but Berhalter insists anything can happen.
“Zack is a very good goalkeeper, he's done really good games in the past, he's going to continue to do good games," he said. "Matt Turner’s going to get back into form and keep doing his thing. Gaga’s a young, up-and-coming goalkeeper, we have Sean Johnson, who’s been strong in the league. Ethan Horvath’s contributed well. I'm confident that when November comes around, one of those guys will be able to do a great job and play."
Finally, the attack.
Christian Pulisic has long been the adored face of the USMNT, leading the attack to success. The Chelsea figure inspired several goals during the World Cup qualifiers, saving the USMNT, but at club level, he’s struggling. Pulisic has seen an unpredictable season with the Premier League side, serving mostly as an unused substitute. He sees the occasional 90 minutes, scoring only five goals so far in 2021/2022.
Now, it seems the American may be moving on from Chelsea. As the transfer window looms, Christian Pulisic could be in trouble.
The USMNT’s recent success story, Ricardo Pepi, also hasn’t seen a good year either since transferring to FC Augsburg. After a record-breaking time with FC Dallas, the player’s stamina has slowly declined. He’s become a substitute for the German side, managing only 11 appearances and zero goals.
The American side has other options in Tim Weah, Gyasi Zardes, Jesus Ferreira, and Brenden Aaronson, but the head coach does not sound too confident.
“Listen, I don't want to underplay this. But France won the World Cup without a striker scoring a goal. It could be done, right? It's not that dire,” he said. “Would I want our striker to be scoring more goals? Of course, but it's also up to the team to provide them opportunities to score.”