Gregg Berhalter is referring to the 11 players who “ideally, in an ideal world” would start for the US men’s team in the first game of the 2022 World Cup.
The USMNT coach knows, of course, that “this is not international football”; that this world is far from perfect and that injuries are sure to disrupt his plans. But he invented them gradually, for many years. On the eve of the World Cup, when his last friendly warm-ups are played, he has almost all the information needed to select a starting lineup – and, for that matter, a lineup.
Berhalter hasn’t decided on a 26-man squad for Qatar 2022 yet, but he’s close to it. He indicated that the squad was 80-85% ready for the September training camp. A 2-0 loss to Japan last week and a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia on Tuesday provided further clues, with Berhalter “some clarity”.
He and US Soccer will announce World Cup line-up November 9. He will then sweat through the final weekend of club games before submitting his final roster of 26 players to FIFA by Monday 14 November. By then, all the USMNTs will have gathered in Qatar, at their luxury hotel on the Pearl, and at their Al Gharafa training base.
And by then, barring any last-minute doubts about suitability, the starting line-up of 11 players will also be determined. Here’s what we think will happen with less than two months left.
USMNT Predicts Starting XI for 2022 World Cup
Over the past 12 months, Berhalter’s ideal starting XI has crystallized. Assuming full health, minus Miles Robinson, it looks like this – with a few caveats below:
Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
Back: Serginho Dest
Central defender: Walker Zimmerman
Central defender: Chris Richards
Left back: Anthony Robinson
Defensive midfielder: Tyler Adams
Central midfielder: Yunus Musa
Central midfielder: Weston McKenny
Right wing: Tim Weah
Attack: Jesus Ferreira
Left wing: Christian Pulisic
Warning #1: In his “ideal world,” Berhalter would like Zach Steffen to start with the ball at his feet, he has more options than Turner. But Steffen’s shape and physical form were unstable. He will need to get back on the pitch and play for Middlesbrough, his English Championship club, if he is going to start the World Cup ahead of Turner, who played the full 180 minutes (and played well) in the September friendlies.
Caveat #2: The same goes for Chris Richards. He is the most talented centre-back in the American pool but has missed all six World Cup matches due to injury. In his place, Aaron Long was the only USMNT player, regardless of position, to start all six. If Richards isn’t ready to play 90 minutes – and given he doesn’t have a clear path to regular playing time at Crystal Palace, he might not – Long looks like a stand-in, as uncomfortable as he looks. (Long could also be a better match for Welsh striker Kieffer Moore at 6ft 5in.)
The only other small question mark is on the attacker. Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi are still fighting for the right to start up. But Berhalter praises Jesús Ferreira whenever he can and said this month that Ferreira “checks everything.” [the] boxes.” If Weah and Pulisic are both in the lineup against Wales, Ferreira should be in it as well – with a possible rotation later in the tournament.
USMNT roster prediction for 2022 World Cup
The composition is a little more complicated. But 20 field players and one goalkeeper seem like castles or almost castles. Before we move on to analyzing position by position and identifying these locks, here is our best guess at 26:
Goalkeepers: Zach Steffen, Matt Turner, Sean Johnson
Defenders: Serginho Dest, Anthony Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon
Central defenders: Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers
Central midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKenny, Yunus Musa, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta
Attacking midfielders/wingers: Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronsohn, Gio Reyna, Malik Tillman, Paul Arriola
Strikers: Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi
Locks: Matt Turner
Probably: Zach Steffen
Bubble: Sean Johnson, Ethan Horvath, Gaga Slonina
Turner will either be the starter or number two.
Steffen could be a starter. If not, he could be No. 2, or he could be dropped from the roster altogether.
For the remaining one or two places, Berhalter has two options: choose the “dressing room guy” or look into the future.
In the first scenario, Johnson vs. Horvath is a coin toss. Secondly, the 18-year-old Slonina is an obvious choice. He is the best prospect the US has ever produced and one of the first favorites to start in 2026. He has not yet played for the national team but could be brought to Qatar for experience.
Locks: Serginho Dest, Anthony Robinson
Probably: DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon
Bubble: Joe Scully, Sam Vines
On Tuesday, Berhalter made a serious hint when he started Desta at left-back and Yedlin at right-back, instead of giving Scully a legitimate look at the left flank. Scully was somewhat impressive off the bench, but on the right, that says a lot.
The takeaway is that Dest, in addition to his role as a starting right-back, is a backup left-back. If Anthony Robinson loses in Qatar, Dest will switch flanks and Yedlin or Cannon will take the place on the right side of the defense, depending on the situation and the opponent. (Kennon is prized for his ability to play to the right of three defenders in possession.)
So Scully should theoretically be a third line left back and a fourth line right back. Vines, who looked a little out of his element against Japan, will be the third left back. Both seem unnecessary.
Since Robinson was injured, Berhalter brought only one left-back into the September camp, and his reasoning – “we didn’t feel like we had enough depth on the left flank to play with two left feet” – could probably be applied in November, since Well.
Locks: Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Aaron Long
Probably: Cameron Carter-Vickers
Bubble: Mark Mackenzie
Long Shot: Tim Rome, James Sands
Zimmerman and his two potential partners are on the plane. Carter-Vickers is the clear favorite to join them. It was four on that September list until Richards and Carter-Vickers pulled out of the game with minor injuries. In their absence, Berhalter called in Mackenzie and Eric Palmer-Brown, but instead of giving them real opportunities, he continued to try to forge a viable partnership between Long and Zimmerman.
The question is whether he will take the fifth center back. An extremely logical option would be Rome, who A) is currently the captain of the Premier League club, B) has all sorts of experience, C) would be the left-footed centre-back that the US so lacked against Japan, and D) could serve in as a third-line left back in case of an emergency.
But the September decisions and Berhalter’s words suggest that Ream is seventh on the depth chart at best and falls out of the picture.
“Some of the things we look for in our centre-backs is to play in the high line, cover a lot of space behind them, dominate the air, dominate offensive and defensive standards,” Berhalter said after the title. compound. “And that’s not Tim’s forte.”
(Mackenzie played in the second half of both September games, and while he may seem like overkill with all four top picks available, he could be the fifth pick.)
Locks: Tyler Adams, Weston McKenny, Yunus Musa, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta
long shots: Christian Roldan
You can play here too.: Gio Reina, Brenden Aaronson, Malik Tillman
Midfield seems easy. Three starters – Adams, Musa and McKenny – are obvious. Acosta is Adams’ stunt double. De la Torre duplicates either of the other two positions. So do Tillman, Reina and Aaronsohn, who as a trio give Berhalter enough flexibility to be comfortable with only five true central midfielders.
However, there remains an outside chance that he could use the 26th in the sixth lineup, which could be Roldan, a popular and versatile veteran who is currently injured – and whose stock could grow in absentia.
Locks: Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Gio Reina, Brenden Aaronsohn
Probably: Malik Tillman
Bubble: Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris
We are hesitant to block Tillman just because his USMNT record is very short. But Berhalter clearly appreciates it. Speaking before the training camp, he essentially challenged the 20-year-old attacking midfielder to “up his level” and then said, “He can help this group, but he needs to raise it a bit. I was very impressed and I think it has a huge ceiling.”
Berhalter then used Tillman in both September games from the bench, once in midfield and once on the left flank. The fact that he did not stand out is not so important, because no one stood out.
So with creativity more than driven by this locked-in group of four or five players, the conventional wisdom is that Berhalter will take on a more direct winger as the sixth player in this category. It will most likely be the one between Arriola and Morris to end the MLS season in top form.
Locks: Jesus Ferreira
Probably: Josh Sargent
Bubble: Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Pefok
Ferreira will be on the plane even if it doesn’t take off. Sargent should be, unless he falls into a rut at Norwich. And then we come to the most controversial decision of all.
Berhalter would do anything to reincarnate 2021 Ricardo Pepi. He called up the 19-year-old to September camp despite not scoring for 11-plus months. (Pepi finally scored one the following weekend.) He raved about him in press conferences and gave him a start against Saudi Arabia. He desperately wants Pepi to be on this 26-man team and become his third striker – or something else.
Whether Pepi is eventually able to do so will depend on his performances for new club Groningen. but…