There wasn't anything positive to take away from the USA's two friendly games against Japan and Saudi Arabia in Europe, but at least they did serve one purpose.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said the window gave "some clarity" to him and his coaching group.
"Things became pretty clear,” he said.
“Things,” he said with a smile.
Before the September window opened, Berhalter said he was 80 percent done picking his team for the World Cup. That leaves five or so spots he must decide on. After that, he must hope everyone is healthy when his team heads to Qatar. (He said he was missing "five starters" in the September camp to underscore his point about the uncertainty of who will be available.)
Here are the likely five toss-ups he must make decisions about to complete his 26-player squad he will announce on Nov. 9:
1. Odd-man out in goal? Right now, Matt Turner is the No. 1 ahead of Zack Steffen, though Steffen is likely Berhalter's choice to start in goal if he's healthy and in form. Problem is, that hasn't been the case since ... when? If Steffen doesn't go, Sean Johnson and Ethan Horvath are both headed to Doha as Turner's backups. If Steffen is on the plane, either Johnson or Horvath won't have a seat. Neither got on the field in the September window. (Berhalter said Turner, whose playing time at Arsenal is uncertain, needed the work.)
2. Vines or Scally as the fifth outside back? Sam Vines started the first game at left back and Joe Scally came off the bench in the second half of the second game at right back. Both are youngsters playing well in their second seasons with their European clubs, Vines for unbeaten and untied Royal Antwerp in Belgium, Scally at Borussia Moenchengladbach, sixth in the Bundesliga. Berhalter's need? A backup for Antonee Robinson at left back. A left-footed player, like Vines? (He looked tentative.) Or Sergino Dest, who played on the left side against Saudi Arabia? Unlike Vines, Scally was immediately assertive. (His selection would give the USA four players at right back: Dest, Reggie Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin and Scally.)
3. Tillman or Roldan in midfield? German-American Malik Tillman filed his switch of association in the late spring to join the USMNT in June. A couple of big games for Rangers, which he joined on loan from Bayern Munich, helped the Scottish giants qualify for the Champions League, but since then, it has been rough going for the 20-year-old midfielder, who can play on the outside or in a central role. Before the camp opened, Berhalter said Tillman "needs to pick it up a little." Unfortunately, he didn't do that in his two appearances off the bench. The alternative is Cristian Roldan, who was one of just six players who was called up for all five windows during qualifying as well as the June 2022 window though he rarely played: just 105 minutes, all off the bench, in 18 matches. He recovered from groin surgery to return to action with the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday night. On a 23-player roster, Roldan would have zero chance. But he still has a shot at going to Qatar as the 26th man, prized for his contributions in the locker room.
4. Arriola or Morris as the fifth winger? If Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna are all healthy -- all four were never healthy for any of the five World Cup windows -- there will likely be room for Paul Arriola or Jordan Morris but not both. Both are MLS players, and both returned to the national team after long injury layoffs. Arriola has had the better MLS season and had two good games in qualifying -- the home wins over Jamaica and Panama -- so he probably has the edge.
5. Pefok, too good to pass over? A big winner of the September window was Jordan Pefok by his absence. Jesus Ferreira and Josh Sargent played against Japan. Ricardo Pepi and Ferreira took turns up front against Saudi Arabia. No one produced. Berhalter's selection of Pepi, whose 11-month scoring drought ended days after his call-up, over Pefok, one of the main threats for Bundesliga leader Union Berlin, was a big surprise. Before the Saudi game, Berhalter said Pepi didn't need to score five goals. "We need him to play like a forward in our system and hopefully he gets opportunities and hopefully he takes the opportunities well." Those opportunities never came. On Pefok, Berhalter said before the camp, "We know Jordan's profile, we know what he can do. We didn't feel like we needed to see him to determine whether he could be on the roster." Now? Or never?