After throwing a Neymar-esque party following the U.S. men’s national team’s qualification for the World Cup, despite their 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, we at Yanks Abroad have finally overcome our hangovers to compile a list of the 23 players in contention for the flight to the Middle East.
Following a scoreless draw at Mexico, a big win over Panama, and that disappointing loss in San Jose to wrap the Octogonal, the U.S. booked automatic qualification to the big show in November. Now, it’s time for them to prepare for their Group B opposition with the likes of England, Iran, and an unnamed opponent in their path to advance to the knockout stages.
While there are a few players that are certain locks to be in the squad come November, who else deserves a spot on that plane?
There are a few players that have already locked down their spots, but there are still plenty of seats open on the plane. Did Jesus Ferreira do enough to earn a ticket? Are Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman the center-back pairing from here on out? Did Zack Steffen take over as the No. 1 between the posts?
The race to claim one of the 23 tickets for Qatar has now commmenced.
Note: Michael Adubato (MA), David Smith (DS), Andrew Vorce (AV), and Kenya Brown (KB) compiled this feature.
Pack Your Bags, Boys
Christian Pulisic – F, Chelsea (England)
This guy will have the weight on his shoulders at the World Cup but he is certainly capable of delivering (MA). One of the first names on the team sheet. He went off against Panama, which is just another feather in the cap for Captain America (AV). This is the guy who will be counted on to create 90th-minute magic in the critical games. If we need a late goal against Iran to reach the knockout, watch out for #10 (DS).
Tyler Adams – M, RB Leipzig (Germany)
Do we have a new contender for Captain America (MA)? Steady, dependable and a fantastic leader both on and off the field – exactly what is needed in the team captain and every-game starter (DS)
Sergino Dest – D, Barcelona (Spain)
To have an outside back playing at Barcelona (please, keep playing), he’s the starting outside back in game 1 (AV). The hamstrings seem to be the bogeyman for the young players recently, but he’s still the top right-back for the team (KB).
Zack Steffen – GK, Manchester City (England)
For my money, he’s still the USA’s #1 (MA). The battle between him and Turner to be the starter will go down to the literally the finals weeks until the tournament (KB). Keeps trading places with Turner as the starter, but on the plane regardless (DS).
Matt Turner – GK, New England Revolution (USA)
Moving to Arsenal in the summer is a big risk, but he’s already locked down his spot (KB). After playing for Arsenal, he could surpass Steffen, but not now, not in Qatar (MA). His recent injury is only a blip, the real game is whether he’ll be starting in the first USMNT game on November 21 (DS).
Weston McKennie – M, Juventus (Italy)
The injury aside, he has been the best player in the middle of the park. He starts in game 1 (AV). Wes is the soul of the team. When he’s on the field, any game is winnable. When he’s not, sometimes the mountain is too much to climb (DS). He oozes confidence on the field and makes the players around him better (MA).
Antonee Robinson – D, Fulham (England)
Perhaps the best, new, unexpected mainstay in the starting lineup to come out of the qualifying cycle (DS). When you got a guy who can supply decent crosses into the area, you don’t leave him at home (KB).
Miles Robinson – D, Atlanta United (USA)
He’ll be starting in one of the central defensive roles, no question about it (MA). The Zimmerman-Robinson partnership in central defense seems set, now they have several months build it into a fused nemesis for opposing attacks (DS).
Walker Zimmerman – D, Nashville SC (USA)
If John Brooks is intent on fighting his way back into the team, he’s going have to go through either Zimmerman or Robinson (KB). I think he has proved his worth and has earned a place on the plane to Qatar (MA). Proof that a player can stay in MLS and still be a lock USMNT starter…but he should still head overseas after Qatar (DS).
Gio Reyna – F, Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Even with layers of rust, he had several of those “WOW” moments in the last window. That run against Mexico was sublime (DS). Coming back from injury, he has some fitness to regain but should be fine come November (MA).
Nearly a Lock
Tim Weah – F, OSC Lille (France)
President George Weah’s kid is going to the World Cup (KB). If he is fit, he’s on the plane. He’s a starter in game 1 (AV). He starts when he’s healthy for now, but still lacks the consistency for a lock starter and could be a bench option by November if he doesn’t rediscover his scoring touch (DS).
Brenden Aaronson – F, Red Salzburg (Austria)
This young Jersey boy will find a starting spot hard to come by but he’ll be there (MA). The fact that he’s not a starter is a sign of the current USMNT depth, but fortunately he’s just as deadly as first man off the bench (DS).
Chris Richards – D, Hoffenheim (Germany)
A solid defender who would be useful if called upon (AV). He’ll be a good option off the bench should either Robinson or Zimmerman get injured (KB). He’s dropped behind Robinson and Zimmerman in the pecking order but can fill in for either with little or no step down in quality. His next loan/move in summer will be critical (DS).
Yunus Musah – M, Valencia (Spain)
Seems to have solidified his spot next to McKinnie and Adams in the midfield, he should be on the plane. The question is, will he start? (AV) He’s young, inconsistent and goes anonymous for long stretches, but his skill-level and potential are unmatched, and his moments of brilliance are worth the effort (DS).
Kellyn Acosta – M, Los Angeles FC (USA)
Maybe the right person in the midfield when you need someone to talk smack to the opposing players (KB). He won’t start if everybody is healthy, but solid, dependable backups are sometimes the key players in knockout games (DS). Yeah, he’ll most likely go. Unfortunately (MA).
Fairly Safe Bet
DeAndre Yedlin – D, Inter Miami (USA)
He’s a backup until needed, but as currently the only active USMNT player who’s actually been to a World Cup, his veteran presence is needed (DS). He supplies leadership and experience that this young team needs, and is still good on the field. He should be on the plane (AV).
In a Battle
Ricardo Pepi – F, FC Augsburg (Germany)
It’s not going well for club or country. Still, he has the faith of Gregg and the brash talent to be a game-changer (DS). Thankfully, it’s a Winter World Cup, or else he might be iced out due to club form. However, he’ll have the rest of this season, an entire European pre-season, and the opening months to the 2023 campaign to prepare (AV). Oh yes, he’s the great pretender. This World Cup is honestly too early for him (MA). This might be too much for him too soon (KB).
Luca de la Torre – M, Heracles (Netherlands)
His foot is officially in the door with a call-up and solid play in the last window, it’s now up to him to keep it open (DS). It won’t be easy, but if he keeps his head down and impresses with his club, he will not be ignored by Berhalter (MA). There are a lot of options in MLS and Abroad for Midfielders. LDLT has been a bright spot, but will it be enough to displace someone else (AV)?
Cameron Carter-Vickers – D, Celtic (Scotland)
Playing well and about to help Scotland to the Premiership title. It’s a travesty that Berhalter hasn’t called him up (KB). If he doesn’t go, we need a new head coach (MA).
Ethan Horvath – GK, Nottingham Forest (England)
The #3 keeper slot is still wide open, but he’s got a slight edge over teenager Gabriel Slonina…for now (DS). To be honest, we really only have three keepers but let’s make him sweat a bit (MA). It’s good to see him back in the fight, but he’s going to have a battle with Sean Johnson (KB).
Work to Do
Gianluca Busio – M, Venezia FC (Italy)
There is not a shortage of midfielders available, and so Busio must continue to flourish abroad in order to remain relevant. Seria B won’t cut it (AV). It’s not going well for Busio at soon-relegated Venezia right now, but a new team in the new season will be make or break for him (DS).
Paul Arriola – F, FC Dallas (USA)
Well, somebody from MLS has to go (MA)! He’s the most likely to be that MLS guy who could just as easily be replaced by two other MLS guys (Jordan Morris, Jesus Ferreira) (DS).
Erik Palmer-Brown – D, Troyes (France)
The fourth center back is still up for grabs between 4-5 players, EPB is simply the most recent flavor of the month. Watch out for CCV (DS). He’s still got time to make an impression. The Concacaf Nations League could be where he solidifies a spot (KB). Needs to continue playing, but will provide a cover at CB should we need one (AV).
Other Bubble Battlers
Reggie Cannon, Jordan Pefok, John Brooks, Shaq Moore, Jesus Ferreira, George Bello