Who will Gregg Berhalter pick for World Cup 2022 qualifying when play begins in September with a triple window?
He has given some hints about the parameters he will use to make his selections.
Size of the squad. The group will consist of more than 23 players due to the demands of qualifying -- three games in seven days for all the five windows except the November window, which will consist of two games, and travel in or out of the country between every game.
How many more? We've gone with 26+1 players to start. (Read on.)
Berhalter likes to go to his bench. It was a winning strategy both in the 2021 Nations League -- he used 19 of the 20 field players (all but Yunus Musah) in the two games -- and at the 2021 Gold Cup -- 17 of the 20 field players (all but Donovan Vines, Jackson Yueill and Jonathan Lewis) got into the semifinal or final -- and he will want to go 16 deep in each of the three qualifiers.
Berhalter will likely have a few players on stand-by in case he needs to make changes to his roster between qualifiers. For practical purposes, they will likely be MLS players -- flying players in from Europe in the middle of the window won't make a lot of sense.
Selection considerations. Berhalter has always said the goal of the Nations League and Gold Cup was to win them -- and the USA did the double, beating Mexico in both finals to boot!
Big picture: Many of the national team players have broken through at European clubs with remarkable success. But the squad is still young and (relatively) inexperienced. Of the 41 field players in our pool of 46 players, 28 were eligible for the Olympics as U-23 (U-24 in 2021) players, and only 10 players have previous experience in World Cup qualifying.
The goal of the two tournaments was to get these players more international experience, work with many of the players for an extended period for the first time and see how they accept their roles. (The latter will be critical as it is unlikely that many players will start every game in a window.)
After the Gold Cup final, Berhalter had already turned his attention to the next task at hand.
“This tournament is in the past and now we shift towards qualifying," he said. "We know it's going to be grueling, but we think the player pool has matured and it's been battle-tested, and now we move on.”
Right there, Berhalter gave more hints about how he will go about picking his team. With an emphasis on "matured" and "battle-tested," it is unlikely that he will call in anyone for the September qualifiers whom he did not have at the Nations League or Gold Cup with the possible exception of Chris Richards (whom he saw in the March friendlies).
Positional breakdowns. The breakdown of Berhalter's squads has been consistent: three goalkeepers, plus two players at each field position for a total of 23 players.
He will likely want to add extra player at center back, outside back and center forward. For the purposes of the September window, we've added a second extra center back: Tim Ream, whom Berhalter has consistently called in and prizes for his experience. If any European-based player gets called in without the assumption he will play, it will be Ream.
At most positions, there is a clear pecking order. We placed three players on the bubble: Sam Vines, Paul Arriola or Matthew Hoppe, all with multiple starts at the Gold Cup.
Berhalter will have to decide whom he will take as a fifth outside back. Sergino Dest can play right back or left, so does Berhalter select a third right back or second left back? The choice between DeAndre Yedlin and Shaq Moore at right back is tight, then between one of them and Vines. Again tight.
Also, what does Berhalter do with Hoppe and Arriola?
Four wingers would start out as locks: Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah. All four won domestic league or cup championships (or both) or in the case of Pulisic the biggest prize of all, the 2021 UEFA Champions League trophy. They all played well in June with the national team, so Arriola or Hoppe is not beating any of them out.
If Berhalter decides to add extra player or not take an extra defender, Arriola or Hoppe will likely be the first one to be added.
Limitations. Berhalter's ability to construct his roster has its limitations, though. There are factors he can't control, particularly as it applies to his European-based players:
-- Injuries (Yunus Musah, for one, is currently injured and might not be ready by the end of August);
-- Form (Playing time is no guarantee for many players having to earn trust of new coaches);
-- Late-summer moves (The summer transfer window ends the same week as the September international window opens).
Here's what we think Berhalter will do with our positional breakdowns, chosen from a pool of players whom he worked with at the 2021 Nations League or 2021 Gold Cup or who played in the March 2021 friendlies.
Note: In parentheses are ages as of Sept. 2, date of the El Salvador-USA game (and Gyasi Zardes' birthday -- he turns 30 on Sept. 2).
Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/GER D2, 26)
Zack Steffen (Man. City/ENG, 26)
Matt Turner (New England Revolution, 27)
On stand-by: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United, 36), Sean Johnson (New York City FC, 32).
Outside Backs (5):
Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR, 23)
Sergiño Dest (Barcelona/ESP, 20)
Shaq Moore (Tenerife/ESP D2, 24)
DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray/TUR, 28)
Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG D2, 24)
On bubble: Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids, 22).
In pool: George Bello (Atlanta United, 19), Bryan Reynolds (Roma/ITA, 20).
Center Backs (5+1):
John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER, 28)
Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL, 22)
Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG D2, 33)
Chris Richards (Bayern Munich/GER, 21)
Miles Robinson (Atlanta United, 24)
James Sands (New York City FC, 21).
On stand-by: Matt Miazga (Chelsea/ENG, 26), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC, 28).
In pool: Henry Kessler (New England Revolution, 23), Donovan Pines (D.C. United, 23).
Injured: Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls, 28).
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids, 26)
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER, 22)
Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA, 23)
Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy, 28)
Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders, 26)
Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers, 24)
On-standby: Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City, 19), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED, 23).
In pool: Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes, 24).
Injured: Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP, 18).
Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg/AUT, 20)
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG, 22)
Gio Reyna (Bor. Dortmund/GER, 18)
Tim Weah (Lille/FRA, 21)
On bubble: Paul Arriola (D.C. United, 26), Matthew Hoppe (Schalke/GER D2, 20).
In pool: Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids, 24).
Center forwards (3):
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER D2, 21)
Jordan Siebatcheu (Young Boys/SUI, 25)
Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew, 30, 30)
In pool: Daryl Dike (Orlando City, 21), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen/FRA D2, 21).