For most of us, the Qatar World Cup kicks off in six months. But for the U.S. men’s national team, that time is going to pass by a bit differently. In some ways, from the perspective of American coaches and players, the tournament might seem like it’s only about four weeks away. That’s approximately how much time they have remaining to work together and prepare.
The clock starts ticking at the end of this month, when the U.S. will gather in Cincinnati to train and get ready for the first of four games across 14 days. The Americans will face fellow World Cup qualifiers Morocco (June 1) and Uruguay (June 5 in Kansas City, Kan.) in friendlies, then take on Grenada (June 10 in Austin, Texas) and El Salvador (June 14 in San Salvador) in Concacaf Nations League play. And then that’ll be it before two more friendlies toward the end of September, likely to be contested in Europe against non-UEFA opponents, round out the schedule.
That brief runway means that there’s not much time for revision or revolution in the U.S. player pool, and that the team coach Gregg Berhalter will bring to Qatar has already begun to take shape (barring injury).
“Right now, it’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s just fine-tuning. That’s all it is. We’d be crazy to think that now until November there is going to be a complete 180,” Berhalter told The Washington Post a couple weeks ago.
“I think we’ll have a lot of answers,” by September, he added. “Is that largely the team? I think so.”
It doesn’t make much sense for Berhalter to shut the door on anyone. Injuries or sudden surges in form happen. But chemistry and tactical familiarity are factors, and there’s only so much time remaining for players beyond the team’s established core to make their World Cup case. Berhalter’s 27-man June roster, unveiled Friday afternoon, includes familiar members of that core as well as a handful of men with a priceless chance to make a late push for ticket to Doha (FIFA still hasn’t publicly announced World Cup squad size). Apart from the Nations League’s status as the qualifying competition for the 2023 Gold Cup, the four games themselves don’t matter much. But the stakes, for several, couldn’t be higher.
Among those vying for places are three European-based players who weren’t involved in World Cup qualifying: defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), forward Haji Wright (Antalyaspor) and attacking midfielder Malik Tillman (Bayern Munich).
Carter-Vickers, 24, is the England-born son of an American father (and former pro basketball player) and a Tottenham Hotspur product who last featured for the U.S. in the summer of 2019. The center back bounced between loans to English clubs before making his way to Glasgow last summer. He found a home in Celtic’s defense, helped anchor the club’s return to the Scottish Premiership summit while earning more than 40 starts in all competitions. Carter-Vickers’s place on the depth chart was boosted further by the Achilles injury suffered this month by Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson.
Wright, 24, is another player who has blossomed after finally finding some firmer professional footing. The Los Angeles native, who was once apart of the Schalke 04 system that helped forge Weston McKennie, was loaned to Antalyaspor by Danish club SønderjyskE and then caught fire toward the end of the Turkish Süper Lig campaign. Wright has 14 goals this season and took an eight-game scoring streak into Friday’s finale against Galatasaray. Berhalter’s continuing search for a reliable front-running finisher makes Wright’s emergence especially timely and intriguing. Wright is uncapped at the senior level but made an appearance at camp in mid-2019.
Tillman is just 19 and is the son of an American father and German mother. From Nuremberg, he joined Bayern in 2015 and has risen through the ranks, earning seven appearances this season with the senior squad. He’s also made his way through the German national team system. After a couple appearances with the U.S. U-15s, he spent several years in the DFB setup and even played in a couple UEFA U-21 championship qualifiers in March. Germany U-21 coach Antonio Di Salvo told Kicker this week that Tillman’s decision “surprised us a lot. … We were in intensive talks regarding his prospects in the senior national team.”
Tillman is in the process of filing his change-of-association paperwork with FIFA and won’t be eligible to step up on the field until it’s completed. The U.S. hasn't ruled out getting clearance before the end of the international window.
Here’s a look at the U.S. roster, which includes 19 players who were part of the qualifying campaign.
Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
The race for the starting role seems wide open as Steffen was less than convincing down the stretch in World Cup qualifying and remains the clear second choice at Man City. Turner has recovered from a foot injury and is back on the field for New England, but his playing-time prospects are uncertain with a summer transfer to Arsenal pending. Horvath has been the backup at Forest, which will play for a 2022-23 Premier League place on May 29 in the Championship playoff final.
New York City FC’s MLS Cup hero, Sean Johnson, has been a frequent third goalkeeper under Berhalter but was left off this time. Chicago’s Gaga Slonina was also omitted, but he committed to the U.S. going forward after being courted by Poland.
George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld), Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Injuries to Miles Robinson’s and TSG Hoffenheim’s Chris Richards, along with John Brooks’s continued absence, leaves a spot in central defense open next to Zimmerman. Carter-Vickers, Long and Palmer-Brown will state their claim. Palmer-Brown, a 25-year-old Sporting Kansas City product, earned a U.S. recall in March and came on in relief toward the end of the 0–0 draw with Mexico at the Estadio Azteca. He was named Troyes’ April player of the month.
On the flanks, workhorse Antonee Robinson, who is Premier League bound with Fulham, remains the likely World Cup starter on the left. But the right remains in play—at least next month—while Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest recovers from injury and a rollercoaster season in Spain. Yedlin is the squad’s most veteran player, while Scally will look to earn his first U.S. cap after making 33 appearances in his first full season with Gladbach’s top team.
James Sands, the versatile Rangers defender who just played in Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final, is among those left behind, along with right back Shaq Moore, who started the pivotal qualifier against Panama in March, Mark McKenzie, Bryan Reynolds and Sam Vines.
Berhalter told The Post this month that he planned to train the U.S. in a three-back alignment during camp, “Just so the guys are familiar with it. At a World Cup, you want that in your pocket.”
Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Luca de la Torre (Heracles), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Malik Tillman (Bayern Munich)
After missing the end of Italian season with a broken foot, McKennie is back in full training and ready to join the U.S. at the end of the month. His match availability and fitness is uncertain, but his presence can be vital even if he’s not on the field. McKennie played in just seven of the Americans’ 14 World Cup qualifiers thanks to injury and suspension, but the U.S. went 5-1-1 in those games.
Along with Tillman, the other slight surprise among the invited midfielders is Mihailovic, who hasn’t played for the U.S. since late 2020. The 23-year-old has been outstanding for Montreal, however, tallying seven goals and five assists in 16 MLS and CCL games.
Roldan’s performance will be worth watching. The 26-year-old was an immense piece of the Sounders’ historic CCL run. But he still hasn’t found a way to make the same sort of impact in Berhalter’s 4-3-3 as he does in Brian Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1, where he plays a little higher and wider.
Gianluca Busio and Sebastian Lletget are among the familiar names left out.
Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tim Weah (Lille), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor)
There’s some certainty at the winger position, where Pulisic, Aaronson, Weah and Morris are established and Gio Reyna will have a spot waiting once he’s finally returned from an unfortunate run of injuries.
But there’s none up top, where Berhalter started five different players during qualifying. Nobody staked a convincing claim to the role and only four of the Americans’ 21 Octagonal goals came via the No. 9. Wright will enter the fray, and he’ll be joined over the next few weeks by Ferreira, who’s been lighting it up for FC Dallas. Ferreira had one of those striker’s goals in qualifying and has started the MLS campaign with nine goals in 12 games.
Among those missing through injury are Jordan Pefok, who had another excellent season with Switzerland’s Young Boys—27 goals—but was unable to find a groove with the U.S. after call-ups in March and last September. Josh Sargent (Norwich City) has been out since early April with an ankle injury, while Daryl Dike will remain with West Brom with an eye on fortifying his place for next season after his spring was beset by injuries. And Ricardo Pepi, who burst onto the scene with his stunning October brace in Honduras before struggling after his transfer to Germany’s Augsburg, will be given some time to rest after a taxing season. But he remains in the long-term, albeit fuzzy, forward picture.
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