On Thursday, the United States men’s national team played its first match since February and gave fans a solid look at the Yanks’ future. Head coach Gregg Berhalter gave debuts to six players — including a pair of 17-year-olds, Yunus Musah and Giovanni Reyna (who turned 18 on Friday) — hinting at a talented group of young players that could make waves at the 2022 World Cup.
So, after having caught a glimpse of what’s to come in an entertaining 0-0 draw with Wales, we created a 23-man roster (plus seven alternates) that we’d send to Qatar if we were in Berhalter’s shoes and the World Cup started tomorrow.
Editor’s note: Players’ ages are listed as at the time of the start of the World Cup, on Nov. 21, 2022.
While the U.S. player pool has grown deeper and more promising since our last update in March, Pulisic remains the Americans’ brightest talent. The 22-year-old was arguably the most dangerous attacker in England in the tail end of the 2019-20 season, registering five goals and two assists in 11 Premier League and FA Cup appearances.
The biggest question hanging over the Pennsylvania native is fitness; he has missed 22 of 68 games in his first season-plus in West London. Chelsea might be able to get by without him, but the U.S. won’t.
It has been a meteoric rise since Dest decided to commit to the U.S. over his native Netherlands in September 2019. After firmly establishing himself as the first-choice right back for Ajax Amsterdam as a teenager, he excelled in the Eredivisie, sparking an eventual bidding war between Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Barcelona over the summer. In the six weeks he has spent at Camp Nou, Dest has impressed the Barca hierarchy with how quickly he has adapted to life in La Liga.
The kid has rocketed up the pecking order at Dortmund and become central to Lucien Favre’s attack, starting in nine of the club’s 12 matches in 2020-21. Sources at the Westfalenstadion told ESPN that they see much of captain Marco Reus in Reyna, and the New York City FC academy product has developed a tremendous rapport with budding superstar Erling Haaland, who has taken to calling his teammate “the American Dream.”
Adams has started four of Leipzig’s 11 games this season, going the full 90 on each occasion, with another 54 minutes coming in three substitute appearances. Despite the stop-start nature of his time in the Bundesliga, during which he has struggled with nagging injuries, the 21-year-old has looked influential whenever he features for Die Roten Bullen. And under Julian Nagelsmann, Adams is receiving an education from one of the brightest young managers in football.
New to U.S. fans’ collective consciousness is Musah, a 17-year-old New York-born midfielder whose style of play is reminiscent of Paul Pogba. A prestigious academy career at Arsenal saw Musah represent England at youth level, and after his first season at Valencia largely passed by with him outside the first-team picture, he has started seven of Los Che‘s nine La Liga games this term. He has yet to select which country he’ll represent at the international level: While he’s enjoying a first call-up from the U.S., he’s not yet locked in with the Stars and Stripes. Musah could still choose to represent England or Ghana without filing a one-time switch with FIFA.
Steffen’s performances on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf last season sparked interest from rival German clubs hoping to take the American on loan for the 2020-21 season, but City were determined to retain the goalkeeper they signed from Columbus Crew SC in the summer of 2019 to provide competition and the occasional rest for Ederson. Steffen hasn’t played for his club since September, when he started two Carabao Cup ties in the span of six days (conceding once in the process), and with the competition not scheduled to resume until Dec. 22, it could be some time before he gets more minutes.
The heartbreak of Robinson’s failed medical at AC Milan last January has subsided now that he has secured a move to West London and established himself as the first-choice left-back at Fulham. Doing so was far from guaranteed, either, especially considering it was predecessor Joe Bryan who delivered the goals in the promotion playoff final that saw the Cottagers return to the Premier League. But after being left out of the side in the first two games of the league campaign, Robinson has gone the full 90 minutes in each of the past six.
It had appeared clear for some time that McKennie wasn’t pushing on at a dysfunctional Schalke 04, so his move away from the club over the summer came as little surprise. That he wound up at Juventus, however, did. New manager Andrea Pirlo identified the 22-year-old’s relentless pressing as an ideal he wanted to instill in his midfield, but the competition for playing time has proved daunting. The presence of Arthur, Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur has seen McKennie feature intermittently this term, even before factoring in his two COVID-19-enforced absences.
9. Chris Richards | 22 | Defender | Bayern Munich
After a sensational season with Bayern Munich II, leading the team to a 3. Liga title, Richards had several suitors keen to take him on loan and give him a regular taste of the Bundesliga this season. He opted to remain in Bavaria, where he has split time between the big club and the reserves. If he’s patient, first-team opportunities aren’t far away: With center backs David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez all potentially leaving Bayern this summer, the 20-year-old FC Dallas academy product could soon find himself alongside Canada international Alphonso Davies as a regular fixture of the German champions’ back line.
The 20-year-old creator has dazzled in the Union’s fantastic 2020 season, in which they won their first trophy (the Supporters’ Shield), and he earned himself a move to FC Salzburg in January, where he’ll look to emulate the career progressions of Erling Haaland, Dayot Upamecano and Sadio Mane, all of whom graduated from the Austrian side.
There will be plenty of competition for attacking midfield places in Berhalter’s team traveling to Qatar, but Aaronson has demonstrated that he’s among the brightest young talents in the U.S. Soccer pipeline.
11. John Brooks | 29 | Defender | Wolfsburg
Brooks has gone the full 90 minutes in all seven of Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga games this season, as the Wolves aspire to finish the year in the European places. It wasn’t long ago that Brooks was the most expensive American player in history, sealing a €25 million move from Hertha Berlin in 2017, but since then he has missed 37 matches through injury. That will be a concern for Berhalter as he looks for experience and leadership in a young team.
The U.S. has quality and depth emerging at nearly every position on the pitch … except for center forward. Sargent’s high-profile move to Werder Bremen as an 18-year-old in 2018 was a sign of his potential. In his second full season with the senior team, he has registered only seven goals in 45 appearances and has been shifted to the right wing at times this term. If the goals don’t come, the Missouri native could fall down the pecking order by the time Qatar rolls around.
It was only a matter of time before Cannon left FC Dallas for Europe, having proved himself as one of the most adept right-backs in MLS from the age of 20, and his transition to the Portuguese Liga has been seamless. The Chicago native went the full 90 minutes for Boavista 10 days after joining the club, and he has played every single minute since. It’s a shame for Cannon that two of the Americans’ most prized defenders (Dest and Robinson) are also full-backs, limiting his chances of firmly establishing himself in Berhalter’s preferred XI.
14. Matt Miazga | 27 | Defender | Anderlecht (on loan from Chelsea)
Where does the time go? Miazga left the New York Red Bulls for Chelsea nearly five years ago, though his last appearance for the Blues came in April 2016. His loan spells at Vitesse Arnhem, Nantes and Reading yielded varying results, but he has been a fixture at Belgian giant Anderlecht since joining the club at the start of October.
For the 25-year-old, who was once seen as the U.S.’s next great center back, there’s no better education than the one he is receiving from manager Vincent Kompany, one of the greatest defenders of the modern game.
With the hype trains of so many young attacking midfielders pulling into the USMNT station, it’s easy to forget the class that Lletget has demonstrated since returning to the States from West Ham United in 2015. The 28-year-old is a silky midfielder capable of creating in the final third, circulating the ball in the middle of the park and intelligently providing cover for his defense. His steady, veteran presence will be required in a team full of promise.
The veteran striker missed 12 of Toronto’s 24 games in this shortened 2020 season, but he remains the best senior-level goal scorer at Berhalter’s disposal. Even though he has a difficult injury history and will be 33 by the time he’ll arrive in Qatar, he might well be the manager’s best bet to start at the No. 9 spot come November 2022. If Sargent fails to take the next step, Altidore will move up the Big Board considerably if he can remain healthy.
Long viewed as a winger, Weah has been used as a center forward by Christophe Galtier at Lille. Playing time has been elusive this season for the former Paris Saint-Germain player: He sits third in the forward pecking order as he returns to full fitness after missing nearly all of his debut campaign because of two torn hamstrings. He’ll need to get his reps if he’s to fulfill the promise of his teenage years, but with his talent and ability to play as a No. 9, he could prove a valuable asset for the U.S.
18. Jordan Morris | 28 | Midfielder | Seattle Sounders
Morris was the original USMNT golden child before Pulisic, Adams, McKennie and the recent influx of Europe-bound stars. Called up by Jurgen Klinsmann off the back of his performances with Stanford, the Seattle Sounders standout has matured as he has grown, providing the vision, work rate and awareness that make him an impact player at both ends of the pitch. Even if he’s not generating the excitement of his younger cohorts these days, Morris stands to be someone Berhalter will rely on in Qatar.
Eight of Zimmerman’s 12 caps for the U.S. have come since Berhalter was appointed manager, suggesting that the 27-year-old has become a trusted lieutenant in the heart of defense. The FC Dallas academy product doesn’t have the promise of Richards or the experience at the highest level like Brooks, but Zimmerman’s no-nonsense defending and calmness with the ball at his feet will provide an insurance policy should injuries wreak havoc on the back line. (The New York Red Bulls’ Aaron Long, 18 months Zimmerman’s senior, will have his eye on such a role as well.)
A talented playmaker, Ledezma has been lighting up the Dutch youth leagues with PSV and registered an assist in his 16-minute senior debut earlier this month. His creativity would be a welcome addition to a midfield that — anchored by Adams and McKennie — offers more function than form, but with so little senior experience so far, projecting whether the 20-year-old can provide that vision from the middle of the park is a challenge.
21. Michael Bradley | 35 | Midfielder | Toronto FC
With Adams and McKennie firmly embedded in the U.S. midfield, Berhalter won’t necessarily need the defensive cover and steel that Bradley brings to the table. There’s no doubting his leadership would be a boon to a very young squad even if he might not quite fit the high-speed direction of the national team.
22. Sean Johnson | 33 | Goalkeeper | New York City FC
Johnson has been in the form of his life this year, backstopping a shaky and inconsistent NYCFC to contender status in MLS’ Eastern Conference. He would be a safe pair of hands should injury or a dramatic loss of form lead Berhalter to need alternatives beyond Steffen.
Playing time at Brugge has proved problematic for Horvath, who made only three appearances last season and has featured just twice so far this term. If that continues, there’s every chance the 25-year-old could well miss out on the trip to Qatar, but for now the Colorado native possesses enough talent and potential to justify a place on this list.
Missing out on the flight to Qatar
24. Mark McKenzie | 23 | Defender | Philadelphia Union
The 21-year-old center back has firmly established himself as one of the brightest young defenders in MLS this season, justifying the interest shown in him by European clubs like Celtic, Anderlecht and Union Berlin. If any of the central defenders ahead of him on this list falter, there’s every chance McKenzie could force his way into Berhalter’s 23-man roster.
25. Cristian Roldan | 27 | Midfielder | Seattle Sounders
There might be no more versatile midfielder in the U.S. pool than Roldan, who has proved adept in a deep-lying role, as a No. 8, on the wing and as an advanced playmaker. The flip side to that is the 25-year-old hasn’t truly made any of those roles his own, and while a jack-of-all-trades has value to the national team, there’s less and less room for a master of none.
26. Paul Arriola | 27 | Midfielder | D.C. United
Arriola has demonstrated he’s a reliable player on the wings, able to contribute offensively while offering shutdown work rate and defense. But with Morris providing similar attributes and a glut of talented young players in similar positions, the 25-year-old might end up the odd man out.
Ian Darke weighs in on the new-look U.S. squad and how Christian Pulisic’s absence affected the side.
27. Paxton Pomykal | 22 | Midfielder | FC Dallas
The sky is the limit for Pomykal. After establishing himself as a regular in Luchi Gonzalez’s first XI last season, the then-19-year-old attracted the attention of AC Milan and several of Europe’s biggest clubs, positioning himself for a monster 2020, only for a groin injury to end his campaign after only five games. He has missed 33 games through injury in the past four seasons, and if he isn’t able to stay healthy, Berhalter will have to look elsewhere for creativity in the midfield.
De la Fuente possesses vast potential, with the technical ability and trickery to be a devastating attacking option. But as is the case with so many 19-year-olds, consistency has proved elusive. If that changes and he can impact games week in and week out, the Barcelona academy product could prove as impactful as any attacker on this list.
29. Ulysses Llanez | 21 | Forward | Wolfsburg
Llanez has been a standout throughout his youth career, but he has yet to break through in senior football. The 19-year-old has yet to make an appearance for Wolfsburg, and after moving to the Eredivisie with Heerenveen in September, he has played only 38 minutes. If minutes and subsequently goals come, Llanez could be the answer to Berhalter’s forward conundrum.
30. Sebastian Soto | 22 | Forward | Telstar (on loan from Norwich City)
Soto is another candidate to solve the USMNT’s quandary up front, having shone at youth level and now making headlines in the Dutch second division, where he has scored five goals in seven appearances with Telstar.