The U.S. national team wrapped up the October window with a 2-1 win over Costa Rica to finish with six points over the three games and 11 points in total. Gregg Berhalter’s squad now sits second in the Octagonal, three points behind Mexico.
The United States is still in a pretty good spot, despite the ugliness of the Panama loss in the middle of the window. The U.S. squad is still exceptionally young and inconsistent. But the player pool is large, and both the team and players should only continue to improve throughout World cup qualifying with more repetitions to build up chemistry.
The October window offered some lessons and raised some new questions. It will be interesting to revisit them in November.
Here were some of them.
1. Is there a No. 1 goalkeeper?
Zack Steffen got the start against Costa Rica, and it was surprising in that Matt Turner had started each of the six games at the Gold Cup and the first five World Cup qualifiers. Prior to that run, Steffen was the undisputed No. 1 keeper for the team.
Turner has done well. He’s been a fantastic shot-stopper but playing with the ball at his feet has, at times, been shaky. Still, he has not been at fault for any goal and has made some big saves. He continues to be a very important piece of the equation for the New England Revolution, which has been the best team in MLS in 2021.
Steffen looked uneasy on Costa Rica’s early opener – both in coming out and then on the save attempt. After that, he did his job. The problem for Steffen is that he doesn’t play regularly at Manchester City. He is the backup goalkeeper on one of the best teams in the world, behind one of the best keepers in the world. He hasn’t had a consistent starting job since the first half of his season-long loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2019 – two years ago.
Prior to that, however, Steffen was Berhalter’s goalkeeper on the Columbus Crew.
Will Berhalter continue to rotate Turner or Steffen to keep them both ready. Or will he gravitate towards one?
2. Where's the fullback depth?
The U.S team has won three games so far in World Cup qualifying and in each of wins, the team has received multiple big moments from its fullbacks.
Against Honduras, it was Antonee Robinson’s equalizing goal and DeAndre Yedlin’s assist on the goal that put the Americans ahead for good. Against, Jamaica, Sergino Dest delivered the assist on the opening goal and Antonee Robinson played Brenden Aaronson behind the defense for Brenden Aaronson’s assist. Then against Costa Rica, Dest hit a stunning golazo for the opener and then sent the ball into the box for Tim Weah’s shot that resulted in a goal.
Getting the fullbacks further up the field is so critical to having the team play well from the run of play. World Cup qualifying has made that obvious.
But it raises the question when there is a need for roster turnover or there are injuries – the team needs more fullbacks who can press forward.
There are issues. Yedlin is a seasoned veteran at this stage but is his final ball going to be lethal enough? George Bello has struggled and should not be written off yet given his youth, but he isn’t ready. Shaq Moore doesn’t play for Tenerife and is in jeopardy of being dropped in future call-ups. The recent defection of Julian Araujo and Reggie Cannon’s lack of playing time have affected the pool.
There could be an opening in the next few windows for players to emerge in backup roles. Joe Scally at Borussia Moenchengladbach will likely get integrated very soon and a November call-up seems very plausible. Sam Vines is returning to training at Royal Antwerp and he provides a very good left foot. John Tolkin is still way off but has shown a lot of promise at left back with the Red Bulls.
3. Can USA win without Tyler Adams?
Tyler Adams is so critical for the U.S. team to play the way it wants to play. When he’s settled into his deeper midfield position, he gets a ton of touches, shields the backline, chases down opponents, passes well, and makes very few mistakes.
There are very few players like him anywhere, and the U.S. team has to change the way it plays when he’s not on the field. The entire “next man up” philosophy is harder in the case of Adams.
4. What's the hierarchy at central defense?
It’s hard right now to make a definitive judgment as to what the order of central defense pairings is for the U.S. team. This past window made things more competitive, which is good, but also more unsettled, which isn’t good.
Walker Zimmerman had a strong camp where he moved from the outside of the team (he only was called in for the October window as a replacement for Tim Ream and was the only field player to not play in the September window) to a more inside role. He might not get called up in November, but his chances are greater. He started the first two games and wasn’t at fault for Panama’s goal. He also provides an aerial ability that is tough to replicate and offering something unique is important.
Miles Robinson wasn’t quite at the level he was at in the Gold Cup and the first three qualifiers, but he was still a net positive. His athleticism helps. Chris Richards was finally given the chance in big game and looked the part. His regular starting role at Hoffenheim will only keep him in the mix.
Mark McKenzie is tough to read. He’s been with the team most of the past year after his move to KRC Genk but seemed to be behind the other three defenders this window.
There are also others not with the team in October who have strong cases for call-ups. John Brooks is arguably the most talented player but pulled out of this camp with a back injury and has had a poor start to the season at Wolfsburg. Matt Miazga has played well at Deportivo Alaves early in the LaLiga season and while that team could get relegated, Miazga has been the heart of the team’s defense. Berhalter has seen value in Ream but with Zimmerman also providing veteran leadership, it remains to be seen if Ream will fade.
Central defense is both competitive and uncertain. The October window only highlighted this while offering no real answers.
5. Which players will stabilize their club situations?
When looking at the rosters for the U.S. team in both September and October as well as the summer tournaments, many of the players are still in situations where the playing time at club levels is uncertain.
Some players will emerge within or fall from the player pool depending on playing time. We have seen many players make very positive statements.
Gianluca Busio, for one, has cemented his starting XI job at Venezia after his move.
Tim Weah looked sharp against Costa Rica but struggled against Panama and his inconsistency can be attributed for due to the fact that he’s yet to ever regularly start at the club level (Paris St. Germain, Celtic and Lille). This season, he's finally getting lots of playing time at Lille and this would be very important to him and the U.S. team given his talent level.
The same could be said for Yunus Musah, who is beginning to start regularly again for Valencia but still out in a wide position – as opposed to his preferred central position.
Matthew Hoppe is still adjusting to Mallorca and La Liga but the consistent minutes aren’t there. McKenzie isn’t quite a regular starter yet at Genk. Then, of course, Steffen never plays (except for domestic cup games).
The bigger question marks, however, are from those not on this October roster but who are looking to get back into the mix.
Nicholas Gioacchini is still looking for a starting job at Montpellier but it is within reach. The same for Erik Palmer-Brown at Troyes. Miazga has the starting job at Alaves locked down, but can he overtake the others in front of him? Josh Sargent has been playing for Norwich but hasn’t stood out on club that is struggling mightily in the Premier League. Julian Green has faded at Greuther Fuerth. Konrad de la Fuente has also cooled off after a fast start at Marseille. Jesus Ferreira might get back into the team if he continues to play well for FC Dallas. Can Vines return once he is healthy and playing again at Royal Antwerp?
There is so much uncertainty at the club level with players, and there are a lot of variables.
The U.S. rosters in 2022 might look quite a bit different than they do right now.