USMNT World Cup Hopefuls: Is There a Path for Slonina?

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Once again we’re back with a look at how the MLS-based players aiming to make the USMNT squad heading to Qatar in just over two months performed recently in league play.

The days remaining until the announcement of Gregg Berhalter‘s squad for the upcoming warm-up matches against Japan and Saudia Arabia have almost dwindled to the point that they can be counted on the ten fingers that might be gouging out my eyes in November, depending on how the games go.

For the players with even the faintest glimmer of hope of making the cut for these late-September friendlies and eventually the final tournament in Qatar, this means that every minutes they spend on or off the field is critical.

Due to the chaotic and borderine nonsensical MLS summer schedule that sees some teams play midweek rounds one week, followed a full round of games over the weekend, and then another half-round of games for overworked players, we’ll do this week’s analysis on a player-by-player basis instead of going through the games.

As always, if you have any tips for excluded players who are making a strong case to earn a spot in the narrowing window of chances before November, leave a note in the comments or drop us an email at, and we’ll give them a nod.

Let’s start with a longshot whose odds increased significantly over the last two games, namely Chicago Fire’s 18 year-old goalkeeping Wunderkind Gabriel Slonina.

Let’s skip the numbers and simply state that the recent Chelsea acquisition was phenomenal in the nets in last Wednesday’s trip to New England and Saturday’s subsequent visit to Columbus, both of which ended in scoreless draws.

Slonina was arguably the man-of-the-match for in both games, with a combined 14 saves, no goals conceded, and a general level of maturity and command that would hardly be expected for an 18 year-old who has at times struggled for consistency.

The future Chelsea player still has a mountain to climb if he wants to be in the final 26 for Qatar, however with Zack Steffen reportedly out until October with injury, Matt Turner mostly glued to Arsenal’s bench, and Ethan Horvath proving himself to be a competent keeper in the English second-tier, and nothing more, Slonina still has a narrow path.

FC Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez finally showed that he can have a game where he doesn’t score, and was mostly neutralized in FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 win over Charlotte over the weekend.

He only had 23 touches over 89 minutes of play, and did little with his limited time on the ball, however anybody who truly thinks that his chances to prove his worth in the September friendlies took a hit as a result is simply living in a fantasyland.

Speaking of free-scoring forwards in MLS, Jesus Ferreira broke his…um…one-game scoreless streak with a goal and overall strong performance in FC Dallas’ 3-0 victory over Minnesota United over the weekend.

The Texan had a total of four shots, forcing one save in addition to his score, set up one chance, completed 76% of his 45 passes amidst his 57 touches, hit three of six long balls, and was caught offside once.

The big question won’t change between now and November 21: Ferreira is a beast at the MLS level, but will this translate onto the international stage? Undoubtedly, we will find out, for better or worse.

Sticking with FC Dallas, Paul Arriola had a less prolific weekend outing, picking up his fourth yellow card of the season – one short of a suspension – and not standing out in his 82 minutes against Minnesota.

He took one shot, created one chance, missed the target on all six of his attempted crosses, won six of ten duels, and drew one foul in comparison to his two committed. Still, a spot in Gregg Berhalter’s roster is undoubtedly his to lose.

Finishing out the forwards hoping to catch Berhalter’s eye, Jeremy Ebobisse is still the least likely to make the flight eastward, but at least is still keeping his pinky finger wrapped around the rear of fuselage.

He netted his 15th goal of the season – one behind both Vazquez and Ferreira – for San Jose Earthquakes over the weekend in their 2-0 home win over Vancouver Whitecaps. Few criticisms could be made of Ebobisse’s generally strong performance as center forward, as he stayed involved (33 touches), was tidy on the ball (85% passing rate) and consistently pressured the opposition.

Still, somebody has to be the last one on the plane, and somebody has to be the first left behind, and the once-capped Ebobisse is looking like a better candidate for the latter category.

Seattle Sounders attacker Jordan Morris had a pair of games over the last week, playing 87 minutes in the team’s 3-2 loss at Orlando on Wednesday, and from whistle to whistle in their 2-1 home win over Houston on Sunday night.

Morris had a quasi-assist in the loss to Orlando and was involved in their opening goal in the win over Houston, so he was indirectly impactful, even if he failed to stand out in either game.

Seattle’s other candidate for inclusion on the USMNT roster for Qatar – Cristian Roldan – is still injured with a predicted return in October, and will need an immediately strong return to have any chance.

Aaron Long was rested for the New York Red Bulls’ 1-0 road win over Montreal on Wednesday night, but returned to the field three days later in their deflating 2-0 home loss to Philadelphia Union.

Was he horrible? No. Was he good? Also no. Over the 90 minutes in the loss, he had issues hitting accurate passes, both short and long, although he won the majority of his tackles (2/3) and duels (8/13), held the ball well, and didn’t commit any fouls.

If I were a betting man, I would put money on Long being called into the September friendlies simply because he’s a Berhalter favorite, however missing the cut in November due to his inability to be anything more than average in MLS.

Montreal attacking midfielder Djordje Mihailovic had a pair of games to make his case after missing out on a June call-up due to injury, although might still end up on the wrong end when the final decisions are made due to poor circumstance.

In Wednesday’s loss to the Red Bulls, he was active (2 shots, 1 chance created, 47 touches), however hardly influential. In Montreal’s 4-3 road win over Toronto on Sunday night, he found his scoring touch.

Mihailovic netted Montreal’s second goal on his lone shot of the game, a brutal cannon-shot from outside the area that would have even left his mother wondering how she could have created such a monster.

Still, since returning from his unfortunate ankle injury, he has been an above-average attacking midfielder, which might not be enough to earn a call in a couple weeks, and eventually in November.

New York City FC keeper Sean Johnson is in a similar boat as Slonina, hoping to take advantage of any slips in form or injuries on the part of Steffen, Turner and Horvath, albeit with the slight advantage of 15 additional years of experience.

Nevertheless, two poor games for NYCFC over the last week might have negated any advantage he had over the 18 year-old.

In his team’s 2-1 home loss to DC United on Wednesday night – a loss to the current trash-heap that is DC United should be automatically disqualifying for any opposing player on the field – Johnson botched the save on the losing goal.

In their 3-0 shut-out defeat by New England Revolution four days later, he was simply a step behind and beaten, albeit with the assistance of a poor defensive showing by his teammates.

Kellyn Acosta couldn’t prevent LAFC from slipping up in their 2-1 loss at Houston last Wednesday, despite his usually solid performance. In the left midfield role, he had 61 total ball contacts, completed 90% of his 41 passes, created three chances, and won four of his six duels.

Nevertheless, he earned his eighth yellow card of the season, which led to him being suspended for LAFC’s 2-0 weekend win over Real Salt Lake. Regardless, Acosta’s spot in the September roster and on the Qatar squad is a certainty.

Finally, we’ll close out with the Nashville defensive pair of Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore, who had perhaps the strongest showing over the last week outside of Slonina’s superhuman feats.

Nashville had a good week overall, beating Colorado Rapids 4-1 on Wednesday night, then following up with a 3-0 shut-out over surprisingly strong Austin FC three days later.

It’s hardly necessary to go through the numbers for Zimmerman since it’s an anomaly when he doesn’t stand out in Nashville’s central defense, touch the ball more than anybody else on the field, complete the vast majority of his passes, make life difficult for opposing attackers, and provide at leat one or two dangerous moments on set pieces per game.

Should we be surprised that he headed in a corner for his third goal of the season, committed only one foul over 180 minutes in both games, hit seven of nine long balls, and won the vast majority of his tackles and duels over both games?

Obviously not.

The USMNT-relevant uncertainties surrounding Zimmerman have more to do with whether he will start, and in which games he might serve as captain, so it might even be overkill to continue including him in an article like this with the word “hopeful” in the title.

Moore is truly riding the thinnest of hopes to make the USMNT squad in the coming months, however his summer move to MLS might finally be paying off after his two strongest performances stateside.

Against Colorado, he held his own over 88 minutes of play, focusing more on clean defense in the 4-1 win rather than offensive thrust. However in the follow-up victory over Austin, he was more involved in the attack, notching his first assist, creating an additional chance, taking one shot, and hitting three of his four long balls.

Realistically it’s probably too late for Moore to truly make a push, however he has been a regular in Berhalter’s squads, so his inclusion in September and his chances beyond will likely depend on how widely the USMNT coach casts his net in the coming weeks.

Moving up: Gabriel Slonina
With Zack Steffen constantly getting injured, Matt Turner likely to have less than ten competitive games before November, and Ethan Horvath showing nothing special in his long-awaited starting role, the chances of a MLS-based keeper being the #3 option in Qatar are rising. Right now, Slonina has the edge over Johnson.

Moving down: Djordje Mihailovic
He’s not been bad, but he’s not been great. His ankle injury in May derailed what was a clear path to the final 26, and he’s struggling to return to a top level in time for it to matter.


David Smith

I'm YA's resident doctor, but not the kind of doctor you would want giving you an examination anywhere outside of a lecture hall. I've been YA's feet-on-the-ground in Germany since 2008, have an affinity for overly verbose descriptions of irrelevant minutiae, keep an eye on YAs in most of the destinations on mainland Europe, and watch a whole lot of Serie A.

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