Five questions for the USMNT’s September friendlies

·7 min read

You don’t have to like facts and don’t kill the messenger.

These are the forewarning statements from this writer ahead of this post, which will evaluate the five things to watch closest during September’s United States men’s national team friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia.

[ MORE: Japan vs USMNT preview ]

With red-hot Jordan Pefok surprisingly left off this roster, already-raised are threatening to leave the forehead, so a reminder:

Gregg Berhalter’s decisions are what we’re considering here, not what any individual writer might do (Jordan Pefok, John Brooks, Tim Ream, and Djordje Mihailovic would really like a certain individual’s takes).

So read on, as we evaluate the evaluations that are the final two World Cup warm-ups as the precious tournament approaches with great vigor.

More USMNT news

USMNT starting lineup options for pre-World Cup friendly vs Japan Japan vs USMNT: How to watch live, team news, updates World Cup 2022 Group B: England, USA, Iran, Wales schedule, fixtures, rankings

How does Christian Pulisic look (in form and face)?

Christian Pulisic is, basically, too good for CONCACAF. He’s also too good to be a part-time player right now, which he is with Chelsea.

The intense USMNT striker has a permanent chip on his shoulder and should feel unleashed as one of the side’s focal points.

The fact that the modifier “one of” is even included in a discussion about a player who was — and maybe is — the program’s generational talent shows how growth of young players in the program has been golden; Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Brenden Aaronson are among the talents who keep rising but haven’t touched their ceilings.

[ MORE: Ranking the 2022 World Cup kits ]

So who is the 24-year-old (as of Sunday) Pulisic right now and what is his frame of mind? Are his 177 Chelsea minutes played out of 900 this season down to bad management, or has it been merited by form in training?

Pulisic has yet to record a goal or assist for Chelsea this season, but he has no such slum,ps in his USMNT career. He has 21 goals and 12 assists in 51 caps and it’s not all CONCACAF dominance despite the new Nations League calendar dictating that most recent games have been against regional foes; Pulisic had two assists in the 3-0 win over Morocco, scored in the 2-1 away win over Northern Ireland.

The American’s play and body language are going to be read as often as his commercial with Roy Kent has aired on television, which is fitting as this time of a World Cup cycle definitely has it’s fill of pressure-pressure-pressure-pressure.

How sharp are Matt Turner and the goalkeepers?

Some would say that Arsenal backup goalkeeper was already No. 1 on the USMNT’s goalkeeping depth chart, but Zack Steffen’s injury problems have very much made the first shirt up for grabs if it wasn’t already.

Turner, 28, has 18 caps for the U.S. and when healthy was first choice for his last three World Cup qualifiers. He’s started every other game since returning for June’s international friendlies and Nations League outings clean sheets against Morocco and Grenada.

He’s been second-choice to Aaron Ramsdale since moving from Arsenal, but Turner made his Gunners and Europa League debuts with a 2-1 win over Zurich in Switzerland.

So now Turner enters September’s camp as a clear No. 1 amongst the current call-ups, in front of Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and NYCFC’s Sean Johnson.

It’s also an important camp for Horvath, as it feels inevitable that Johnson has secured steady hand third keeper status. Johnson is five years older than Turner and six years older than Horvath and Steffen, and Berhalter’s had plenty of praise for the veteran. Horvath’s been good for the Hatters in the Football League Championship, but what if Steffen is healthy and there’s only one spot left after Turner and Johnson?

Will away dry spell end in Germany, Spain?

A few will dismiss this query given that the rich status of soccer in the United States sure gets a lot of games on U.S. soil, providing limited chances to perform outside of the U.S.

But the Yanks are winless in six-straight away fixtures, drawing El Salvador, Mexico, and Jamaica while losing to Costa Rica, Canada, and Panama since a 4-1 win over Honduras at San Pedro Sula on Sept. 8, 2021.

Throw in the fact that this window’s friendlies are against strong, hungry Asian sides readying for the World Cup, and you’ve got all the makings of proper tests.

Japan thumped South Korea in July and Ghana in June. Losses to Brazil and Tunisia show they can be bested, but Japan’s got wins over plenty of World Cup contributors in their rear view mirror. Austria and Saudi Arabia combined to take only three points off the Japanese in World Cup qualifying (The Saudis won 1-0 in Jeddah).

Captain Maya Yoshia isn’t the only familiar name on Japan’s roster, as Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Monaco’s Takumi MInamino, and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada, and Real Sociedad’s Takefuso Kubo sit behind dangerous Celtic strikers Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda.

As for Saudi Arabia, it went 13W-4D-1L in qualifying and play in a lot of 1-0 contests including recent Spain-based friendly losses to Colombia and Venezuela. The team will also feel at home in Murcia, where it played those matches and where it will tangle with Ecuador four days prior to the tilt against Berhalter’s men.

Put plainly, these are tough tests for the USMNT.Berhalter’s team is the No. 14 FIFA-ranked team and they sit No. 23 in Elo Ratings.

Here’s where those settle alongside their September opponents and World Cup group stage foes:

  • England 5/12

  • USMNT 14/23

  • Wales 19/22

  • Iran 22/25

  • Japan 24/29

  • Saudi Arabia 53/59

Game(s) on.

Who, if anyone, can crash the roster party?

We’ve got a pretty good read of the definites and extremely likelies when it comes for the roster for Qatar.

First let’s use a couple of superifical metrics. Who was used in U.S. Soccer’s official jersey unveiling video? And who was included in the collectible Panini sticker book for the 2022 World Cup?

Sticker book: Turner, Steffen, Dest, Long, Richards, A. Robinson, Yedlin, Zimmerman, Aaronson, Acosta, Adams, McKennie, Musah, Ferreira, Pepi, Pulisic, Reyna, Weah

Jersey unveiling: Adams, Aaronson, Pulisic, A. Robinson, Long, McKennie, Zimmerman, Dest, Richards, Weah, Acosta, Ferreira, Musah, Arriola, Reyna, Long, De La Torre, Yedlin, Morris, Carter-Vickers, Tillman.

Who can crash the party?

Josh Sargent, Johnny Cardoso, Joe Scally, Erik Palmer-Brown, Mark McKenzie, Reggie Cannon, Ethan Horvath, and Sean Johnson are all on the roster this month and not in the above categories. McKenzie, Palmer-Brown, and Cardoso have only been called due to injuries, so this is a huge chance for them.

Where is the forward focus right now?

Barring injuries, we’re positive that Pulisic, Aaronson, Arriola, Ferreira, Weah, and Reyna are set for Qatar.

Doesn’t leave room for too many others, does it?

While positional pools are often drained of also-rans this close to a tournament, what makes the USMNT’s forward ranks so intriguing is that not only is the starting center forward job still in play, but it could come from someone who isn’t even in it right now.

That’s Jordan Pefok, who will be looming over the discussions anyway but will be downright casting his shadow over it if one of the following players fails to seal his own deal.

Ricardo Pepi’s had a pair of bright outings for Groningen, entering the window along with Josh Sargent as in-form now and ultra-bright prospects at some points during their tenure.

Jordan Morris is a proven commodity but Arriola’s seeming favorite status means Berhalter would be keeping very much like-for-like guys over the field. That said, Aaronson and Morris being in this camp means that the September group plus Weah could very well be the group.

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Five questions for the USMNT’s September friendlies originally appeared on NBCSports.com