The conclusion of last month’s international window coincided with the end of what we’ll call the experimentation phase for United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter. Four games into his tenure, Berhalter has capped 28 players.
“Our goal was to evaluate as many people as possible during this camp, and we did that,” Berhalter said following last week’s 1-1 tie with South American champion Chile, which came a few days after a 1-0 win over Ecuador. The two games marked the first time Berhalter had his full squad available for selection. “I think we have a good understanding of the qualities that the player pool has now.”
What exactly have we learned? Berhalter has been in contact with about 40 players since taking the job late last year. His most recent USMNT roster told us which holdovers from the disastrous 2018 World Cup cycle might have a future with the program (like Paul Arriola, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Tim Ream and DeAndre Yedlin) and which ones (like Matt Besler, Brad Guzan and Fabian Johnson) might not. We also know how his team will line up.
“We’re clearly playing with wingers now — you can see that,” Berhalter said before the last set of matches. “Wide wingers, which we haven’t always done in the past. Our fullbacks aren’t as high as they used to be in the past, so I think that’s changed a little bit. If you really want to boil it down, I’d call it a 4-3-3.”
Armed with this information, it’s time to take a crack at Berhalter’s current depth chart. It is from this list that the new boss will select the 23-man squad for this summer’s all-important CONCACAF Gold Cup. After that, all bets are off. The region’s new nonsensical Nations League tournament, most of which conflicts with the end of the MLS season, should allow the coach to look at several less-established European-based players (think guys like Duane Holmes or Jonathan Amon).
For now, though, this is probably the most accurate representation of who Berhalter is working with. All the names listed below have either been called in this year already or were specifically mentioned by the manager at some point over the last four months. It’s not perfect; no players fill more than one position, even though the versatility of players like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and DeAndre Yedlin only make them more valuable.
Here’s our snapshot of what the program looks like right now.
Jozy Altidore, 29 years old, Toronto FC (MLS)
Gyasi Zardes, 27, Columbus Crew (MLS)
Christian Ramirez, 27, LAFC (MLS)
Josh Sargent, 19, Werder Bremen (Germany)
With Altidore recovering from ankle surgery, Zardes has started all four games so far under Berhalter, scoring once — last month’s game-winner versus Ecuador. But Altidore, who has goals in each of TFC’s last two games, remains the undisputed No. 1 target striker when healthy, and for good reason: He’s got 40 goals in 110 caps and a better goals-per-90-minutes strike rate than U.S. legend Landon Donovan.
Box striker Ramirez has been called into both of Berhalter’s first two camps (although he didn’t play in either March match), while Sargent, who spent the last international window with the U-23s and who could end up at the U-20 World Cup instead of the Gold Cup group stage, is talented enough to make it a difficult decision for the coach. One vet currently on the outside is Bobby Wood, who has just three goals in 20 Bundesliga games and hasn’t dressed for Hannover in a month.
Jordan Morris, 24, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
DeAndre Yedlin, 25, Newcastle United (English Premier League)
Corey Baird, 23, Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Jeremy Ebobisse, 22, Portland Timbers (MLS)
Morris started here against Ecuador with the rest of what appeared to be Berhalter’s first-choice lineup, and he’s playing a similar position with his club. He’ll still face competition from former Sounder and fellow Seattleite Yedlin, who is versatile and experienced enough to play as a right wing back, as he did against Chile, depending on the opponent. Baird started the USMNT’s most recent match and three of four this year, while Ebobisse started Berhalter’s first match out wide (albeit on the opposite side) and continues to gain valuable reps in Portland.
Paul Arriola, 24, D.C. United (MLS)
Jonathan Lewis, 21, New York City FC (MLS)
Antonee Robinson, 21, Wigan Athletic (English Championship)
Kenny Saief, 25, FC Cincinnati (MLS)
Arriola has played his way into a starting job in a spot where there isn’t much depth. Lewis has added a spark off the bench in four straight games for the U.S. and has more than half as many minutes through NYCFC’s first month this season as he did all of last year. The speedy Robinson, who recently returned from an ankle injury, is more likely to be used in midfield than at fullback in Berhalter’s system. Saief said last month that he hadn’t heard from the coach. But he’s a natural lefty (like Robinson) and has played well for FCC since arriving from Belgian side Anderlecht.
Tim Weah has the wheels to play this position and did, with the expected growing pains, last year with the senior team. But the 19-year-old’s playing time has dried up recently at Scottish club Celtic, where he’s on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, making it more likely he ends up with the U-20s this summer.
RIGHT NO. 10
Weston McKennie, 20, Schalke (German Bundesliga)
Cristian Roldan, 23, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Darlington Nagbe, 28, Atlanta United (MLS)
Marky Delgado, 23, Toronto FC (MLS)
McKennie’s a lock for one of the “dual 10” roles when healthy, and he’s expected to be fully recovered from the sprained ankle he suffered against Ecuador by the time Gold Cup camp kicks off. If not, Berhalter will have full confidence in Roldan, who started in three of his first four games and performed especially well against the stacked Chileans.
The emergence of Roldan could come at the expense of Nagbe, who was rested in January and hurt in March. That said, Adams could easily wind up in a more natural central midfield spot if McKennie can’t go. Delgado is a long shot after he wasn’t recalled following January camp.
LEFT NO. 10
Christian Pulisic, 20, Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga)
Sebastian Lletget, 26, LA Galaxy (MLS)
Djordje Mihailovic, 20, Chicago Fire (MLS)
Paxton Pomykal, 19, FC Dallas (MLS)
The playmaking role belongs to Pulisic, plain and simple. Lletget has clearly emerged as his understudy, however; the Galaxy man subbed on for Pulisic in both of the March tilts.
Mihailovic showed flashes of his vision, finishing and overall potential against Panama in January but probably isn’t quite ready for primetime. Mihailovic might have been leapfrogged already by the similarly gifted but more defensively sound Pomykal, who’s been outstanding for FCD early this season and who will be a key player for the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup.
Wil Trapp, 26, Columbus Crew (MLS)
Michael Bradley, 31, Toronto FC (MLS)
Russell Canouse, 23, D.C. United (MLS)
Kellyn Acosta, 23, Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Berhalter started Trapp in his first game with his entire squad available, suggesting that the No. 6 job — assuming the coach continues to rely on one dedicated defensive midfielder — is his former captain with the Crew’s to lose. But while both Trapp and Bradley showed tidy possession skills and the ability to spay dangerous passes from deep, both have some physical limitations when it comes to winning the ball.
Canouse, called in early this year but yet to debut, is more of a pure destroyer in the Kyle Beckerman mold. Meantime, 2018 qualifying veteran Acosta, who was sent home early by Berhalter in January, has been trying to earn a recall by tightening up his overall game.
Tyler Adams, 20, RB Leipzig (German Bundesliga)
Nick Lima, 24, San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Reggie Cannon, 20, FC Dallas (MLS)
Keegan Rosenberry, 25, Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Adams acquitted himself well against Ecuador before being sent back to Germany, and there’s no reason (besides an unforeseen setback that would keep McKennie out of the Gold Cup) to think that Berhalter will scrap the experiment after just one game.
Lima hasn’t played a full 90 this season and didn’t get on the field at all in the Quakes’ most recent game, a 5-0 drubbing by LAFC. If he continues to sit, it could potentially open a Gold Cup roster spot for Cannon or Rosenberry, who both participated in January camp.
RIGHT CENTER BACK
Aaron Long, 26, New York Red Bulls (MLS)
Matt Miazga, 23, Reading (English Championship)
Walker Zimmerman, 25, LAFC (MLS)
Justen Glad, 22, Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Long didn’t dress against Chile but only because Berhalter has seen enough to know that he’s his first choice next to the left-footed Brooks. Miazga is right behind Long after settling quickly in England’s second tier. Zimmerman wasn’t called up in March, but his strong start to the MLS season for LAFC should help earn him a Gold Cup nod. January call-up Glad, meanwhile, who’s currently out with a broken toe, is still looking for his maiden cap.
LEFT CENTER BACK
John Brooks, 26, VfL Wolfsburg (German Bundesliga)
Omar Gonzalez, 30, Atlas (Mexican Liga MX)
Cameron Carter-Vickers, 21, Swansea (English Championship)
Auston Trusty, 20, Philadelphia Union (MLS)
Brooks is one of six 2014 World Cup veterans still being considered (Altidore, Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Gonzalez and Yedlin are the others) and, as the most talented and experienced defender in the pool, the most likely to be starting in Qatar in 2022. And Carter-Vickers captained the U.S. U-23s last month and had started 12 consecutive games for the Swans before sitting out Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Brentford. Trusty has yet to be capped.
Tim Ream, 31, Fulham (English Premier League)
Greg Garza, 27, FC Cincinnati (MLS)
Daniel Lovitz, 27, Montreal Impact (MLS)
Fabian Johnson, 31, Borussia Monchengladbach (German Bundesliga)
So far, Berhalter has opted for stay-at-home left backs to counterbalance the hybrid role of the other fullback. That’s resulted in slow yet skilled, slick-passing lefties Ream and Lovitz eating every minute in 2019. Ream has made 20 starts in his first full season in the Prem. Garza would’ve played over Lovitz had injury not forced him to withdraw in January; now that the MLS and Liga MX champ is back for expansion FCC, he reclaims that spot.
Johnson remains the wildcard. He may have been omitted last month, but “I’m very comfortable with Fabian,” said Berhalter, who met with Johnson in Germany this winter. “I left the door open.” Johnson’s experience and versatility, plus the fact that he’s currently playing at a high level (16 appearances for fifth-place ‘Gladbach, including 11 starts), are all worth considering ahead of the regional championship.
Zack Steffen, 24, Columbus Crew (MLS)
Sean Johnson, 29, New York City FC (MLS)
Ethan Horvath, 23, Club Brugge (Belgian First Division A)
Jesse Gonzalez, 23, FC Dallas (MLS)
With Steffen nursing a sore hamstring, Johnson got the nod against Ecuador. That seems to put him just ahead of Horvath, who turned heads with his performances in the Champions League group stage.
Who’s fourth in line? That’s anyone’s guess. We’ll go with Gonzalez since he was the No. 3 last camp sans Steffen. Alex Bono (Toronto) and Tyler Miller (LAFC) were on the squad in January. There’s also 34-year-old Brad Guzan, who can’t be counted out just yet. “It’s about evaluating other players,” Berhalter said when asked why Guzan wasn’t summoned last camp. “Everyone knows what Brad can do.”
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