USMNT Fringe Players and Roster Prediction
By Brian Maurer
Image courtesy of Getty Images
The final international break before the 2022 World Cup is fast approaching. While the majority of the USMNT roster is locked in, these September friendlies will be a final opportunity for several players to try and book their ticket to Qatar. I compiled a list of players who are on the bubble of making the USMNT World Cup roster. This list includes these players’ recent form, and then I included a roster prediction after going through the list.
The striker position, specifically, is going to continue to garner the most interest for most USMNT fans. This is because only one player out of a likely three could be considered a safe bet to make the USMNT roster. Jesús Ferreira, at this point, is close to a lock for the World Cup roster, but there are at least two other striker positions open that will be based on both form and performances during the September camp.
Several USMNT strikers have come out of the gate firing during the start of their European seasons, while a couple MLS strikers have also continued to maintain solid runs of form late into their MLS campaigns. On the wings, Christian Pulišić and Tim Weah are both locked in. Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna can both be used as depth wingers as well. However, there could still be another wing spot open for a fringe player to make a push.
Jordan Pefok - Union Berlin - Pefok is off to a flying start with his new club Union Berlin. He has notched three goals and three assists* in six starts in all competitions. This start has put himself firmly back into the striker conversation for the World Cup.
Josh Sargent - Norwich City - Sargent has also forced himself back into the roster conversation with a solid start. He has been given the opportunity as Norwich City’s starting center forward for five straight games. He has five goals and an assist in those five games, and Norwich has won all five of those games.
Haji Wright - Antalyaspor - Wright has continued his blistering club form with five goals in his first six starts for Antalyaspor. Whether this is enough to give him another look after failing to impress with the national team over the summer will be known once the September camp roster is announced.
Brandon Vazquez - FC Cincinnati - Vazquez has been playing at an MLS all-star level all season. Over the summer he has been in particularly great form scoring eight goals and one assist in his past twelve games.
Paul Arriola - FC Dallas - Arriola’s form has begun to dip. He has only one goal and two assists since the beginning of July.
Jordan Morris - Seattle Sounders - Morris, and the Sounders as a whole, have struggled to maintain form all season. He does have seven goals on the season, but overall his form has been inconsistent.
Malik Tillman - Rangers - Tillman has made noise since joining the Rangers. Especially in their Champions League qualifiers where he has a goal and an assist in three qualifiers. He has also firmly cemented himself in the Rangers starting line-up in the Scottish Premiership. Berhalter could definitely be giving Tillman another look in the September camp.
The USMNT midfield is just about locked in. Weston McKinnie, Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta, and Reyna (if he stays healthy) are all locks. Aaronson is also a lock but he has just recently been added to more of a midfield role from where he was initially used as a winger, so he is likely to be implemented as depth in both the midfield and on the wing.
Reyna is another player who is likely to fill a depth role in both the midfield and on the wing, as long as he can stay healthy. There are still a few players who could challenge for a spot as depth midfielders, especially since the roster size was increased from the standard 23 up to 26.
Djordje Mihailovic - CF Montreal - Mihailovic has returned from his injury and should likely get a call into the September camp as he missed out on the summer camp due to his injury. Since Mihailovic returned in July he has only scored one goal in nine games. However, he is averaging four shot creating actions (SCA) per game** and has 2.5 xA in that time, so the creativity has continued to be there, the final product has not. Montreal continues to be one of the stronger teams in MLS having only lost once since Mihailovic’s return.
Luca de la Torre - Celta Vigo - De la Torre has only made two appearances for 12 minutes this season. His club situation continues to drag his potential down. However, Berhalter definitely seems to appreciate his talent in the midfield so he could still get a look in the September camp.
Cristian Roldán - Seattle Sounders - Roldán and the Sounders continue to struggle this season and have only won three of their past nine games. He has one goal in that time, granted he has also missed the past few games due to injury. He, like Morris, are struggling to get results for their team, and are in jeopardy of being a part of the first Seattle team to not make the playoffs.
This is another important position to keep an eye on as one of the locked in starting center backs, Miles Robinson, has gone down with an injury which will keep him off the plane. The other big question, outside of the USMNT’s striker situation, will be who is the starting center back alongside Walker Zimmerman. Sergiño Dest and Antonee (Jedi) Robinson are also locked into the roster.
However, Jedi Robinson’s injury will need to be monitored and the adjustment to the roster if he indeed can not go will be a massive swing. DeAndre Yedlin’s experience also makes him a likely lock for the World Cup. However other depth fullback positions are likely up for grabs if someone can get on a heater going into the final months before the team is selected.
Cameron Carter-Vickers - Celtic - Carter-Vickers continues to be a regular in the Celtic backline. The biggest performance so far this season was a 4-0 clean sheet that was kept against the other Scottish powerhouse, Rangers, in the beginning of September.
Aaron Long - RB New York - Long has had a pretty strong resurgence this season since recovering from his injury. Of late, the results have not been as strong as they were earlier in the season. Long does continue to be a strong presence in the RBNY back line and has actually found the net four times as well. He is very likely to get a call up in September and could easily be on the plane for Qatar with the unfortunate Robinson injury.
Chris Richards - Crystal Palace - Richards made a big move to Crystal Palace this summer. Although, it could take him some time to work his way into Patrick Vieira’s starting lineup. He is getting a few sub appearances, and got the start for the club’s first EFL Cup match against third tier side Oxford United, where he helped keep the clean sheet. A call up for the September camp is likely and his skills and ability even without regular club contributions likely gets him on the plane, especially with the loss of Robinson.
Erik Palmer-Brown - Troyes - Palmer-Brown has been a regular starter so far this season for Troyes as they are in another relegation battle trying to stay Ligue 1. This past weekend he was subbed off a bit earlier than usual, but that was likely to try and push for a much needed draw. His passing percentage has not been superb this season (82%) but that is also because he is being asked to launch a lot of long balls forward as Troyes are forced to absorb pressure and defend. His short and medium passing accuracy has been great. It will be interesting to see if he gets another look in September.
George Bello - Arminia Bielefeld - Bello continues to struggle to get minutes at Arminia Bielefield. The move to Europe has not been good so far for Bello and has likely hurt his chances of making the plane. If he gets an opportunity in September he will really have to showcase something special.
Joe Scally - Borussia Mönchengladbach - Unlike Bello, Scally’s move to the Bundesliga has gone fantastically well. He has solidified himself as the starting right back at Borussia Mönchengladbach, and also scored a goal in their German Cup 9-1 blowout win. Scally has a great opportunity if he can make an impression in September, that is if he can shake off the rough performances he had for the USMNT over the summer. Although, his performances then might have already sealed his fate on missing out in this World Cup campaign as his summer performance was really really poor.
Reggie Cannon - Boavista - Cannon continues to be a mainstay in Boavista’s backline. The difference between this season and his past couple seasons is the team is starting to get some results. It will be interesting to see if Cannon can continue to help Boavista if they can actually make a bit of a jump from where they have been in the past couple of seasons. Regardless, Cannon will likely be given a look in September, and unless something drastically changes he is also likely to be able to ink his place on the roster as he has been able to maintain a regular rotational spot on the USMNT for several years now.
Sam Vines - Antwerp - Vines has been on an absolute tear this season for Antwerp. With the recent Jedi Robinson injury scare, Vines could easily be given another look in the September camp. Vines’ good performance in the 2021 Gold Cup tournament will likely be in the back of Berhalter’s mind as well.
The keeper situation is close to locked in. Matt Turner and Zach Steffen are both locks for the World Cup. The third keeper slot is still up for grabs.
Ethan Horvath - Luton Town - Horvath has finally found himself a starting job at Luton Town this season. So far he has two clean sheets and has been able to hold onto a decent save percentage (61.9%). If he can maintain his role and put up a few more solid performances he could likely stamp his place as the third keeper on the plane, although he does face some stiff competition from Sean Johnson.
Sean Johnson - NYCFC - Johnson, who started out the season so well, is starting to feel what it's like to be a part of a team that is in really poor form. NYCFC went through the ringer this summer losing striker Taty Castellanos and their coach Ronny Deila. This has led to some really poor team performances, including some poor results from Johnson. While he has 13 clean sheets this year, he has only one from his past nine games. During that nine game stretch he has also given up 18 goals which is 4.5 more than the post shot expected goals (PSxG) he has faced in that time. If this poor run of form continues he will likely lose out to Horvath for the third keeper spot.
World Cup Roster Prediction 1.0
With all these fringe players’ form in mind, here is my first prediction for the USMNT World Cup roster. I will likely update it with a 2.0 closer to the November roster release.
Christian Pulišić Tim Weah Jesús Ferreira Josh Sargent Haji Wright Paul Arriola Malik Tillman
Gio Reyna Brenden Aaronson Yunus Musah Weston McKennie Tyler Adams Kellyn Acosta Djordje Mihailovic Luca de la Torre
Walker Zimmerman Sergiño Dest Antonee “Jedi” Robinson DeAndre Yedlin Chris Richards Cameron Carter-Vickers Aaron Long Sam Vines
*All stats found on FBref.com
**These calculations do not include Mihailovic’s 45 minutes against Chicago Fire on 9/13/22