USMNT's depth chart, revisited

FIFA's three fall international windows will come fast and furious, one after another.

The USA just played its first three World Cup 2022 qualifiers, and the squad for the October window, which begins with a match against Jamaica Oct. 7 in Austin, will have to be decided in only two weeks.

The squad for the September window was largely based on what players had done at the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup.

Ricardo Pepi and Konrad de la Fuente played themselves on the team with their play in August, but a bunch of players who played key roles in the run to the Gold Cup championship were out of consideration because they were injured (Reggie Cannon, Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Eryk Williamson), they had just completed or were in the process of completing transfers (Gianluca Busio, Matthew Hoppe, Nicholas Gioacchini) or lost their starting jobs because they missed the start of preseason (Shaq Moore).

The nucleus of the next squad that U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter will pick for the matches against Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica will consist of players he had in September.

As poorly as John Brooks and Sergino Dest played, it is hard to imagine that they will not be called back. Weston McKennie was suspended for the Canada and Honduras games, but he has not been ruled for the future. "He’s a big part of the team," Berhalter said after McKennie's departure. "And I’m sure when he’s performing well, he'll be back in the team.”

That caveat is critical: McKennie will be back in the team when he is performing well.

That cannot be taken as a given, though. In 2020-21, McKennie flourished, to the surprise of some, when he moved from Schalke 04 to Juventus. But his coach, Andrea Pirlo, is gone, and there has been no indication that Pirlo's successor, Massimiliano Allegri, views McKennie as highly. (McKennie started in Saturday's 2-1 loss to Napoli in large part because Juve was missing five South American players returning from World Cup qualifying.)

McKennie's situation isn't unique. The 2020-21 season saw Americans enjoy unprecedented success across Europe, but no one is so special or so talented that future success is a given. In many cases, Americans are playing for new teams or new coaches. Some are being asked to play new roles (Gio Reyna, now injured, at Borussia Dortmund) or face new competition for playing time (Christian Pulisic went from being one of five choices to just one of six players Thomas Tuchel has to choose from up front at Chelsea).

Like Pepi and de la Fuente in August, it is conceivable that someone might play themselves into the national team because of their play in September. Chris Richards at Hoffenheim, Joe Scally at Borussia Moenchengladbach or perhaps Busio? Others might recover from injuries that kept them out of the squad that assembled two weeks ago in Nashville. Tim Weah and Yunus Musah come to mind.

But Berhalter is going to be limited in his options by those who are injured or aren't performing. Already it looks like Reyna might miss the October qualifiers because of the strained hamstring he suffered in the 0-0 tie at El Salvador. Josh Sargent, Dest and Pulisic all returned to their European clubs with injuries suffered in the Octagonal. There is no indication these are long-term injuries, but how long before they are back in action remains to be seen.

The USA's limitations in its ability to break down its opponents from the run of play were a problem all summer in the Nations League and Gold Cup and exposed again in the three September qualifiers. It was headed for disaster until it broke out for four second-half goals on Wednesday night in San Pedro Sula.

A big "gracias" should go to Honduras for switching up its formation and making three substitutions, which all played right into the USA's hands. Berhalter said as much after the match: "It made it very easy to press when they were playing with three in the back."

More to the point, the USA simply wore the Catrachos down with their superior depth. That is nothing new. Berhalter's substitutes were the difference late in games throughout the Nations League and Gold Cup. They accomplished nothing against El Salvador or Canada -- when Berhalter waited 21 minutes after Cyle Larin's 62nd-minute equalizer to make changes -- but the three halftime subs amazingly all scored against Honduras.

The irony was, the injuries to Weah, Reyna and Dest and McKennie's suspension depleted the USA's depth, forcing Berhalter to field a patchwork lineup, which along with an uncomfortable formation (Tyler Adams forced to start at right back, James Sands struggling in midfield) almost imploded in the first half. The USA hung on, barely, until Berhalter deployed his subs who he believed didn't have more than one half left in them and waited until the second half to use them.

The Octagonal -- 14 games played in five windows over seven months -- is going to be a battle of attrition.

It shouldn't have to be that way, but until it develops the mix of personnel and tactics to play more fluidly and break down the opposition, the USA's best bet is going to be to win with its depth.

* * * * * * * * * *

U.S. depth chart:

Note: In parentheses are ages as of Oct. 7, date of the USA-Jamaica game.
*Played in World Cup 2022 qualifying.

*Matt Turner (New England Revolution, 27)
Ethan Horvath (Nott. Forest/ENG D2, 26)
In pool: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United, 37), Sean Johnson (New York City FC, 32), Bill Hamid (D.C. United, 30).
Covid isolation: Zack Steffen (Man. City/ENG, 26).

Outside Backs:
*George Bello (Atlanta United, 19)
*Sergino Dest (Barcelona/ESP, 20)
*Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG D2, 24)
*DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray/TUR, 28)
In pool:  Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy, 20), Shaq Moore (Tenerife/ESP D2, 24), Bryan Reynolds (Roma/ITA, 20), Joe Scally (Bor. M'Gladbach/GER, 18)
Injured: Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR, 23), Sam Vines (Antwerp/BEL, 22).

Center Backs:
*John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER, 28)
*Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL, 22)
*Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG D2, 33)
*Miles Robinson (Atlanta United, 24)
*James Sands (New York City FC, 21)
In pool: Chris Richards (Hoffenheim/GER, 21), Matt Miazga (Alaves/ESP, 26), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC, 28).
Injured: Aaron Long (NY Red Bulls, 28),

*Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids, 26)
*Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER, 22)
*Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy, 28)
*Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA, 23)
Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP, 18).
*Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders, 26)
In pool: Gianluca Busio (Venezia/ITA, 19), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED, 23), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes, 24).
Injured: Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers, 24)

*Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg/AUT, 20)
*Konrad de la Fuente (Marseille/FRA, 20)
In pool: Paul Arriola (D.C. United, 26), Matthew Hoppe (Real Mallorca/ESP, 20).
Injured: Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders, 26), *Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG, 22), *Gio Reyna (Bor. Dortmund/GER, 18), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA, 21)

*Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas, 18)
*Jordan Pefok (Young Boys/SUI, 25)
In pool: Daryl Dike (Orlando City, 21), Nicholas Gioacchini (Montpellier/FRA, 21).
Injured: *Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG, 21), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew, 30)

21 comments about "USMNT's depth chart, revisited".
  1. John Sabala, September 13, 2021 at 8:55 a.m.

    Lets not lose sight of the fact that those starting players in MLS are not facing even remotely the competition the European based players see on a daily basis at every position.  Many of these players are rotated just due to the games played in the club season, UEFA or league cup games.  The schedules are quite brutal for many of them.  One could even argue the practice match play is tougher than what is seen by any MLS team, so players not being on the pitch for their European clubs should for more than cameos is not a good measuring appratus for GB.  SA should really delve deeper into GB's choice of squad (especially the number of players brought in), and the game and tactical plans as a whole for the team?  US soccer media is not going to do it.  You left far too many players out of the possible pool.....just don't count those who played this summer.  Midfielders - Julian Green and Duane Holmes....CB - Carter-Vickers, Palmer.....Forwards...Boyd, Soto    There are more in the pool to draw from for the matches.

    I can honestly see European clubs not releasing players this next window due to danger of being injured in CONCACAF matches.  It is a real risk for them with no rewarding payoff for letting them attend.  You can understand these clubs protecting their investments.  

    Please let us dive into tactics and game plans we believe we should see employed by the US as a whole and why our coaching staff does not seem to find a way to move forward instead of asking them after the matches are over.

  2. frank schoon replied, September 13, 2021 at 10:42 a.m.

    John, forget SA delving deeper in to tactical plans and asking questions.. I've been around long enough reading SA to see that they lack a deeper knowledge of the game. They do a decent job,but my main complaint of American soccer journalists is they lack the deeper insights of the game to come up with good thought provoking questions....It is what it is......

  3. John Sabala replied, September 13, 2021 at 11:15 a.m.

    I understand, if enough of us ask these questions maybe it will have some impact?? May be wishful thinking, but I am a glass is half full kind of guy.  Our player pool has never been this deep so there is no excuse to not change tactics and style of play where we dictate play of our opponents from the offense, pace and intensity of possession pressing soccer.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, September 13, 2021 at 11:32 a.m.

    To expect soccer media to second guess or criticize USSF's and its coaches handling of the MNT is expecting an awful lot. Antagonizing them would cost SA access. USSF is notoriously thin skinned. Access keeps SA afloat. 

  5. frank schoon replied, September 13, 2021 at 12:02 p.m.

    John,Yes, we have a deeper player pool but it is all horizontal not vertical.....It is like a glass ceiling , we don't produce higher quality type of players....They are all so similar in makeup. We don't produce creative, insightful, players. We basically produce defender types, who work hard.
    European teams don't get American ball players for their technical, wizardry, great intelligence. That is why we are so happy that some of the players can go to Europe to improve their game. 

  6. Santiago 1314 replied, September 13, 2021 at 1:49 p.m.

    Bob, Not sure that SA has the Access to ask USSF; but it sure Sounds like something else that is going on in "REAL Life" Media today.... But, the Dam is Breaking there also... ... From John Ondrasik of "Five for Fighting"  Fame...Superman, 100years, Chances(The Blind Side Movie)... HAUNTING, DISTURBING... Not PC, Sorry....My Son Got Deployed to Mid-East, Sorting thru all the Refugee Flotsam and Jetsam... 1 Month Now, No Sight In End and his Wife and Child had to Relocate OFF Base to get Help... 

  7. R2 Dad replied, September 13, 2021 at 2:42 p.m.

    JS, we can only hope this information about Euro clubs refusing to release players makes it way back to CONCACAF. Not to punish clubs, but to highlight the injury problems when players have such a short window to travel 1/3 the way around the planet for these international matches. Euro players then had further travel back to the states for that second match--it's really disruptive and I'm not surprised injuries are as high as they are. 

  8. humble 1 replied, September 16, 2021 at 2 p.m.

    My son was coached this summer in a remote town in a fly over state by a crusty old former Croatian national keeper, who has coached almost every well know keeper in the U.S., excepting the new generation emerging.  In coverstation one day after practice, we broached the topic of coaching licenses in the U.S., he laughed and quiped, 'it took me four years in Croatia to get the license they give in four weeks here".  This is our reality.  Coaching is light here.  Most soccer is turbo soccer, one way, linear and vertical, go forward until we loose the ball then switch to defend.  Until USSF wakes up from their slumber this is where we will be.  Coaches are the key and the process to license the coaches must be studied and refined like the process to make a fine wine.  Unfortunately, soccer is much more dynamic and tactical game than any of baseball, basketball or American football, and to master the tactics and the identification and the player development concepts is a much more difficult task, for an individual, for nation to have a pipeline like exists in Italy, Argentina, Germany, this is a much greater task requiring a concerted unified commitment and effort.  Even England, the inventor of the game, they struggle to produce international class coaches and have only a couple coaching in their top league, I don't get the feeling we have that commitment or effort going on here today.  Please, make it happen!   

  9. Ben Myers, September 13, 2021 at 10:20 a.m.

    GB's choice of players for the starting lineup against Honduras was gobsmacking.  A defender as a center mid?  No wonder the US attack was almost non-existent.  At least GB had the good sense to substitute the right players, the impact players who ultimately made the difference.

    GB is still too much wed to the use of MLS players, being a 100% MLS product himself as a coach.  To be fair, the level of MLS play has come up a notch in the last several years, but it still lacks the intensity, pace, coherence, overall fitness and technical ability of the European leagues, and not just the top ones.

    It's best for the USMNT to hope that all the injured players playing in Europe recover, resume training and play at least some of the time.  I have to believe that the  training sessions of European clubs are nearly as intense as the matches themselves.  AS long as the European are fit, recall them, whether playing or not.  That, too, will create some intensity for USMNT's own training. 

  10. Mark Buckley, September 13, 2021 at 10:38 a.m.

    As my previous posters made clear - NO MLS players, they do nothing in training and have useless matches. Paul Arriola might disagree, he trains under Hernan Losada. I guess he moved from Europe to MLS and decided to stop using European training methods because he is in MLS. I am much more concerned with the manager's choice of line-ups and formations than the players on the field right now. Anyway what do I know?

  11. R2 Dad replied, September 13, 2021 at 2:36 p.m.

    MB, you have an opinion and we can all learn from it so don't discount your 2 cents. I didn't know about Losada, but I bet he would be an excellent next interview for SA.

  12. Santiago 1314, September 13, 2021 at 2:16 p.m.

    Konrad.          SGT.                Weah
    Roldan.          DIKE.               Arriola
              Musah.                  Acosta
             Green.                     Sands
    Vines.                                           Moore
    Bello.                                             Scally
                   Brooks.             McKenZIE
               Carter/Vickers. Palmer/Brown
    ----------------------* Turner. *-----------------

  13. Ted Morehouse replied, September 13, 2021 at 6:35 p.m.

    Isn't Sands more a defender than a mid-fielder?  Wasn't he best positioned at backline in Gold  Cup?  I know Gregg used him at mid dukes in Honduras match, but everyone said he was mis-assigned at that spot.  Thoughts? 

  14. Seth Vieux replied, September 13, 2021 at 8:47 p.m.

    Santi I'm a pretty big fan of 4-2-3-1 myself and keep hoping to see GB try it on. At this point I just can't imagine it's going to happen :-/

    But I do agree just about completely with what you have here if I were putting together a lineup from our pool. 

  15. Santiago 1314 replied, September 13, 2021 at 10:10 p.m.

    Ted, Yes Sands can Play CB, but ahead of Which of My CBs would you put him.???.. I don't think he is as Athletic as the 6 I listed... He did a Terrific Job as "Libero" versus MARTINIQUE... He is a Good Passer and Reader of the Game...Maybe better than Adams or Certainly Acosta... I see that he could make a WC Roster as a 5th CB/3rd DM.

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, September 13, 2021 at 10:19 p.m.

    Seth, You say 4-2-3-1; I say 4-2-1-3 ... It's the same Players, doing the same things... Cf has to Push Up on CBS... Outside "3s" have to Push up on the Wing, and Drop Back if our Def has the Ball... Main thing is the Front "8" GegenPress together immediately after Losing the Ball...Best chance for USA to Score is Off Press in Opponents DeF Third... Maybe one day we will be able to "Build from the Back"... But we ain't there yet

  17. John Sabala replied, September 14, 2021 at 1:29 a.m.

      Seth and Santi,
    I also like the 4-2-3-1, or as Santi says 4-2-1-3.  With the personnel and our talent I don't think this is the best offensive formation.  We need to get away from using two D-mids as we lose the midfield battle from a lack of players in the center of the pitch.  France used this to win the WC, but they had Kanti and Pogba playing the two D-mid spots with Griezemann (sp?) on top.  Pogba was able to push forward because Kanti is (IMOP) the best #6 in the game.  But the key person for this formation is a dominating #9 that can hold up play and distribute the ball....aka Giroud in the WC.  We don't have that #9 like that.....and no it is not Pepi....not yet anyway.  Again, I say 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1.  Allows us the press and I think protect our wide areas better since more teams will try to counter attack us on the outside. I would prefer the 3-4-2-1 as the top 3 interchange and there is not a true #9. There is more runs in behind the backline in the formation.  This fits better for guys like Pulisic, Aaronson, Weah, Sargeant, Konrad, Reyna.

  18. R2 Dad, September 13, 2021 at 2:52 p.m.

    As much as we would like to get all our Euro players back to the US for these qualifiers, the risk of injury to them is too high. I don't know what the answer is, because all the matches and travel they are already subjected to is stressful enough. All the UEFA players get to take a commuter flight to their home countries for international duty; our top players have to take a 5-10 hour flight to get to the US matches in CONCACAF. Pulisic is already injury prone at age 22--he's capped his transfer value by being injury-prone. Is that the future for Gio as well? Credit to Haaland's father for protecting his son as he develops--curious what their next move will be.

  19. Kent James, September 13, 2021 at 5:41 p.m.

    Credit to GB for developing such a deep talent pool.  He has brought people in and supported them, even when they've struggled, and seems to be very good at managing the expectations/egos of the players.  

  20. humble 1 replied, September 16, 2021 at 2:02 p.m.


  21. Ted Morehouse, September 13, 2021 at 6:31 p.m.

    It will be fascinating to see which players can be assembled for the October round.  Exceptionally hard for US, given the number of great young players we now have in Europe and UK.  How is it that Miles Robinson ( one of our most stalwart players in round 1) remains unclaimed by any European team?  He is clearly one of the best already. 

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