USMNT Big Board: The 23 who will represent the U.S. at Qatar 2022
Nine hundred sixty-nine days. That's the time between today and the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The United States men's national team will be there. (Right? Right.) While two and a half years is an eternity in international soccer, it's never to early to start projecting the roster of 23 men who will make up Gregg Berhalter's team. So that's exactly what we're going to do: from one (most confident) to to 23 (least confident) -- creating a squad of three goalkeepers, six defenders, nine midfielders and five forwards -- with another dozen or so names in the mix as well.
When we look back at this list in November 2022, we'll no doubt have been wrong. In fact, we hope we're wrong, because being wrong would mean that additional players have emerged.
Editor's note: Players ages are listed as at the time of the start of the World Cup, on Nov. 21, 2022.
1. Christian Pulisic | 24 | Midfielder | Chelsea
Pulisic, 21, is the U.S.'s best player. He's been their best player since 2016 and there's nothing on the horizon that should make anyone think that will change. Although his first season at Chelsea was interrupted by injuries, he showed well above-average ability on the field with six goals and six assists in a little under 1,600 minutes across all competitions. The coronavirus-induced layoff might work in his favor, giving him time to heal his abductor muscle and otherwise give a break to a body that's gone nonstop for years. A lot of the American potential rests on Pulisic's shoulders.
2. Tyler Adams | 23 | Midfielder | RB Leipzig
Pulisic is the red, white, and blue's best player, but there's a scenario in which Adams is the squad's most important. If the New York Red Bulls product can serve as a space-eating, game-destroying, pressing, workaholic midfielder, he will free up his teammates and take pressure off of them. Because of injuries, we haven't seen this in practice, but the game is mostly there. Two questions: Can he develop the passing game Berhalter's system requires and can he stay healthy? Two yeses, and the Americans level up.
3. Zack Steffen | 27 | Goalkeeper | Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Manchester City)
The American No. 1 kept Fortuna Dusseldorf in multiple matches this season, continuing to develop into a world-class shot-stopper. Steffen is growing into the immense talent Manchester City saw when they purchased him from the Columbus Crew in 2019. He's another guy for whom the unexpected layoff might be a benefit -- the doctors in Manchester are working on Steffen's balky knee -- so here's hoping he returns to 100 percent whenever soccer returns. He needs to play, though, and one potential worry would be if he ends up back at City, backing up Ederson.
4. John Brooks | 29 | Defender | Wolfsburg
Remember when Brooks came off the bench and scored a game-winner against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup? That was fun. And so, so long ago. Now 27, the center-back has established himself as the team's first option when he's healthy. (The story of the U.S. team in 2019 and 2020 is one of injuries, isn't it?) Brooks has only played 53 games since he moved to Wolfsburg in 2017, and he's a sporadic figure in the American camp as well. He could start every game in Qatar; he could fail to make the team.
5. Weston McKennie | 24 | Midfielder | Schalke
A couple weeks ago after the midfielder scored a ridiculous goal in the Bundesliga, a friend texted me something to the effect of "McKennie does difficult things easily, and makes easy things look impossible." Nailed it. The good news is that it's easier to master simple things than harder ones, but it still needs to be done. McKennie's only 21 with strong instincts and time to continue improving. (He's also yet another player who needs to stay healthy.)
6. Sergino Dest | 22 | Defender | Ajax
Was there a better highlight for U.S. Soccer in 2019 than Dest choosing to play for the Stars and Stripes over the Netherlands? It was certainly the most unexpected highlight. The 19-year-old Ajax product could start at either full-back position, a welcome talent infusion for a program that's struggled to fill those positions. (See: DaMarcus Beasley playing left-back into his 50s. We kid, we kid -- mostly.) Dest boasts flair and pizzazz, although his individual defending needs work. He'll turn 22 in November 2022, and could be a first-choice starter for three straight World Cups.
7. Reggie Cannon | 24 | Defender | FC Dallas
Two and a half years ago, no one would have expected the right-back to be a near-first-choice starter for the senior national team. But here we are after a year in which Cannon was always solid and occasionally great for the Americans. He doesn't have the ceiling that some other players do, but succeeding internationally is about being reliably good, an area in which the FC Dallas defender excels. Bonus points for Cannon's leadership abilities -- Dest cited him as a reason for picking the U.S. -- on a team that needs some.
8. Jordan Morris | 28 | Forward | Seattle Sounders
Jurgen Klinsmann plucked Morris out of obscurity and gave the pacey forward his first cap immediately following the 2014 World Cup. Morris stayed more or less the same player for four years until tearing his ACL in February 2018 and missing the entire MLS season. When he returned, he moved out wide and started dominating on the wing. There's still some speed, but he uses it to beat defenders and cross rather than sprint from point to point. Morris, more than anyone in the player pool, altered his game to create a more effective, lasting role.
9. Paxton Pomykal | 22 | Midfielder | FC Dallas
The 2019 season saw the FCD midfielder go from occasional substitute to game-breaking talent. He can play both sides of the ball, a stout tackler who can pick out a pass. Pomykal isn't a lock. He needs to stay healthy (again) and continue to improve. If those things happen, however, he's a sure-fire first-XI choice for Berhalter.
10. Giovanni Reyna | 20 | Midfielder | Borussia Dortmund
The 17-year-old son of American legend Claudio Reyna showed rapid progress at Borussia Dortmund, making eight Bundesliga appearances, two in the Champions League, and scoring his first DFB-Pokal goal on a wonderstrike. This is Pulisic-level trajectory, people. No pressure or anything. He's in a good spot at a club that knows how to develop young talent and his father's experiences will help as well. The betting favorite for America's next superstar.
11. Miles Robinson | 25 | Defender | Atlanta United
The former Syracuse Orange star is the heir apparent at center-back. Although there's plenty of depth at the position, Robinson should spend the next two and a half years earning his starting spot in Berhalter's lineup. He'll improve under the tutelage of Frank de Boer at Atlanta United, playing a key role on one of MLS' strongest and most consistent teams.
12. Matt Miazga | 27 | Defender | Reading (on loan from Chelsea)
Miazga, purchased by Chelsea in 2016, has bounced around on three separate loans, looking exceptional at times and middling at others. He's entering his prime, and finding a home at Reading (and ever-elusive fitness) should help settle things, although he'll need the Royals to keep him on loan for the 2020-21 season.
13. Paul Arriola | 27 | Midfielder | D.C. United
Is Arriola a limited player? Yes. Has he proven himself effective and borderline indispensable for Berhalter's American side? Yes. Is that a problem? Perhaps. Here's the truth: If a fortune teller told you that she could peer into the future and tell you where one player was on the depth chart at the start of the 2022 World Cup, Arriola is the player you should pick if you want to know how the team will do. If he's high up, that's a squad that might not do very well. If he's in some sort of super-sub, kill-the-game-off role, you'd feel pretty good about the program's status.
14. Tim Weah | 22 | Forward | Lille
Weah does a handful of things every game that no other player on the U.S. roster would attempt or imagine, the heir apparent to the Clint Dempsey "try s---" school of thinking. He pulls off those audacious attempts more than one might think. On the flip side, Weah can disappear for stretches and do inexplicably silly things as well. With more consistency and experience, the winger would become a revelation. If he doesn't get there, Tyler Boyd (who has his own issues with consistency and decision-making) could take this spot.
15. Sebastian Lletget | 30 | Midfielder | LA Galaxy
Lletget is so, so close to being truly great. He's smooth and smart and skilled, and just a bit too slow. Make Lletget 5% better and he's the best player in American soccer. He's not, but he's still a flexible piece who can play multiple roles, organize an attack and fill gaps. He's creative in a way that few other men in the pool are, with enough personality to keep a team entertained during a long tournament. "Da Boy" deserves to go.
16. Brenden Aaronson | 22 | Midfielder | Philadelphia Union
While perhaps this is a bit of a reach (it is), the trajectory of the Philadelphia Union homegrown player has been darn near vertical for the past 12 months. Will that continue? Who knows. But early season returns in MLS were strong, with Aaronson showing a new bite to his play, a willingness to mix it up and a growing intelligence about his game. We've been burned before by jumping onto bandwagons too quickly (everyone loves a bandwagon!); his game and improvement, however, feels more sustainable.
17. Jozy Altidore | 33 | Forward | Toronto FC
From a young gun to an old veteran, Altidore -- still just 30 with 115 caps and 42 goals to his name -- remains the best striker in the American pool given the inconsistency of Josh Sargent. He's injury prone -- a hamstring injury hamstrung the U.S. chances in Brazil -- and, obviously, not getting younger, but he's the top choice until someone else takes that spot.
18. Sean Johnson | 33 | Goalkeeper | New York City FC
The second-string goalkeeper on a World Cup team likely isn't going to play. They are there for leadership purposes and experience. Brad Guzan is the only goalkeeper in the U.S. pool with World Cup experience, but he'll be 38 in 2022, so Johnson gets the nod. Bill Hamid could also be a fit. It's too far out to make any concrete determinations, especially for a position that, in all likelihood, won't see the field.
19. Jackson Yueill | 25 | Midfielder | San Jose Earthquakes
Another player who was on no one's radar a couple of years ago, Yueill blossomed under Matias Almeyda in San Jose, playing his way into seven caps and counting for the red, white and blue. The midfielder can hit line-breaking passes as well as anyone in Berhalter's arsenal, a valuable skill in Word Cup games where defenses are compact and organized. The U.S. features a number of central midfielders and lacks spots for all of them, but Yueill is slowly breaking away.
20. Josh Sargent | 22 | Forward | Werder Bremen
Is there a more frustrating player in the pool than Sargent? Last month, he scored a laser against Hertha Berlin, the type of pure strike that displayed his immense ability. But he wanders in and, mostly, out of games, unfocused and uncommitted. Both Berhalter and his club coach at Werder Bremen have called him out multiple times in the media, which means they've done so more often in private. So far, no good, but everything is there for Sargent to start at the top of the American formation for a decade if he wants to get there.
21. Tim Ream | 35 | Defender | Fulham
Here's your backup full-back spot. We'll go with Ream, who has been very good recently, for his leadership, experience and ability to play on the left or in the middle. But two and a half years from now, it's easy to see any number of players making a case for this position: Daniel Lovitz, Nick Lima, Antonee Robinson, Aaron Herrera, Chris Gloster, Sam Vines or Julian Araujo. It's simply too early to tell with any certainty. (A minority opinion: It won't be DeAndre Yedlin, who falls asleep on defense far too often.)
22. Ulysses Llanez | 21 | Forward | Wolfsburg
Llanez tallied the game-winner against Costa Rica in February, stepping up to take a penalty in his first start for the senior national team. The 18-year-old forward has yet to make an appearance for Wolfburg, which he joined in 2019 after spending 2017 and 2018 with LA Galaxy II, but those first-team minutes are coming. When they do, he could move up this list quickly.
23. Jesse Gonzalez | 27 | Goalkeeper | FC Dallas
With the backup role spoken for, the third-string goalkeeper spot should be given to a younger player who could fill in if things go very, very wrong in terms of injuries, but is mostly there for the experience of it all. This is a forward-thinking pick for a potential future No. 1. We'll go with the FC Dallas backstop here, but this spot could just as easily go to Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath, JT Marcinkowski or even Jonathan Klinsmann.
The Best of the Rest
24. Michael Bradley | 35 | Midfielder | Toronto FC
A big question mark. Bradley will run through a wall to make this team, but he'll be 35 and is currently rehabbing from a strange ankle injury. Another one to consider: Darlington Nagbe. He's good enough to fight for a spot, but only if he wants one, which he doesn't seem interested in proving.
25. Gyasi Zardes | 31 | Forward | Columbus Crew
Or Jeremy Ebobisse or Nicholas Gioacchini or another forward. It's a thin position, especially if Sargent struggles to mature and/or Altidore keeps getting hurt. There's an opportunity here for someone, anyone, to step up and grab a ticket.
26. Aaron Long | 30 | Defender | New York Red Bulls
We come to the other center-backs. There's a case for Walker Zimmerman, Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown or Cameron Carter-Vickers to slot in here, or, really, in the 23 as well. Only time will tell. And don't forget Bayern Munich's Chris Richards, too.
27. Duane Holmes | 28 | Midfielder | Derby County
While Berhalter hasn't given the diminutive Derby County midfielder much of a look, that could change if Holmes continues his stellar form in the Championship. Cristian Roldan could make a push here as well.
28. Jesus Ferreira | 21 | Forward | FC Dallas
The son of Colombia international David Ferreira made his U.S. debut against Costa Rica in February, soon after receiving his citizenship. A player who could rocket up this rankings during the latter stages of 2020.
29. Richard Ledezma | 22 | Midfielder | PSV Eindhoven
Another teenager who is long on potential and at a club (PSV/Jong PSV) that values youth and understands how to develop players. In 12 months, Ledezma could also be much higher on this list.
30. Sebastian Saucedo | 25 | Midfielder | Pumas
Saucedo, 23, left Real Salt Lake. where he struggled to find a fit, but caught on with UNAM in Mexico. Consider Christian Cappis here, as well.