With the new campaign in Europe just heating up and the MLS regular season entering the stretch run, now is the perfect time to take stock of where members of the U.S. men’s national team player pool stand.
The USMNT has a busy schedule this fall. Following a pair of recently-completed September friendlies — a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan on Sept. 9 and a 4-0 victory against Oman on Sept. 12 — the Americans will face two far stiffer tests next month, when they meet World Cup regular Ghana and four time champ Germany in another pair of exhibitions.
The 2023-24 CONCACAF Nations League then kicks off in November, with a spot in next summer’s Copa America on the line. In the meantime, there’s a lot to talk about as players attempt to put their best feet forward for their club sides and jockey to impress U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter.
Who could be catching Berhalter’s eye? Let’s dive right in.
Strikers Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi picked up with their clubs where they left off with the USMNT last week … by scoring goals. Balogun notched his first for Monaco moments after entering as a sub against Lorient on Sunday.
The day before, Pepi converted a late penalty kick for PSV. That competition is a breath of fresh air for the USMNT, though Pepi probably has to unseat Luuk de Jong as PSV’s first choice before seriously challenging Balogun for the job with the U.S.
Haji Wright has started three of Coventry’s first six games in England’s second tier Championship, including the last two, though his only goal came back on Aug. 12. In Germany’s Bundesliga, Jordan Pefok opened his account for Borussia Mönchengladbach Sunday in the Foals’ 3-3 tie at Darmstadt.
Jesus Ferreira has just one goal since claiming the Golden Boot at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Ferreira is scoreless in his last four games for FC Dallas, even if he did manage three assists over that span. Elsewhere in MLS, Brandon Vazquez scored one and set up another in FC Cincinnati’s 2-2 draw in Philadelphia Saturday. Cade Cowell, who was called in but didn’t play in either U.S. friendly, has just one goal in 18 MLS appearances for San Jose in 2023.
Two other target men remain out with long-term injuries: Daryl Dike (Achilles) and Josh Sargent (ankle).
On the wings, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah are the clear incumbents over everyone else — including Gio Reyna, who still hasn’t made the bench for Borussia Dortmund in 2023-24 after fracturing his leg last June. That’s not likely to change soon, even if Pulisic, like the rest of his AC Milan teammates, had a game to forget in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Inter.
Still, it will be interesting to see if Brenden Aaronson can boost his USMNT stock on the UEFA Champions League stage this fall. Aaronson and Union Berlin kick off the group stage on Tuesday against Real Madrid.
Easily the Americans’ MVP this month, Weston McKennie carried that form back to Italy on Saturday. McKennie was everywhere against Lazio, despite being deployed at wingback, with the Texan helping create all three Juventus goals before being replaced by Weah after 72 minutes. Manager Maxi Allegri was visibly thrilled with McKennie’s performance, which should keep the 25-year-old in Allegri’s lineup for Saturday’s trip to Sassuolo.
In Milan, Yunus Musah made his second Serie A appearance for the Rossoneri in Saturday’s derby, while the third member of Berhalter’s preferred “MMA” midfield, Tyler Adams, has resumed training with Premier League Bournemouth following hamstring surgery last spring.
There’s a big drop-off after those three, but it’s still good that playmaker Luca de la Torre made his fourth straight La Liga start for Celta Vigo despite breaking his nose on U.S. duty. Malik Tillman got his first career USMNT start against Oman but didn’t play for PSV over the weekend and has logged just 18 minutes this Eredivisie season so far.
Tanner Tessmann replaced the injured De La Torre against the Uzbeks and while he wasn’t great, it can’t hurt that he continues to start every game for Venezia in Italy’s Serie B — especially with Djordje Mihailovic mostly sitting on the bench in the Netherlands top circuit.
Youngster Benjamin Cremaschi, 18, made his international debut off the bench midweek. Then, on Saturday, he started his 16th MLS game of 2023 for Inter Miami. Brazil-based Johnny Cardoso is still sidelined by the ankle problem that forced him to withdraw from the most recent USMNT roster.
Just like up top, the U.S. flanks are manned by a pair of lineup locks: Sergiño Dest at right back and Antonee “Jedi” Robinson on the left. With Jedi nursing the sore hammy that would also keep him out of Fulham’s 1-0 win over Luton on Saturday, Danish-born Kristoffer Lund made his first U.S. start last week.
Lund will compete for the left back understudy role behind Jedi with Sam Vines, who won’t participate in the Champions League with Royal Antwerp because the Belgian club mistakenly didn’t include him on the roster. That’s tremendously unfortunate for Vines.
Joe Scally left U.S. camp between games following the death of his grandfather, but he is now Dest’s clear backup on the right. Scally has started all five of ‘Gladbach’s games this year. Another Bundesliga rep, the versatile Kevin Paredes, is a regular off the bench for Wolfsburg and can also play on the wings. Paredes impressed in his USMNT debut against Oman.
Shaq Moore is another option on the right, though it appears that Berhalter has moved on from two-time World Cup veteran DeAndre Yedlin, who turned 30 in July.
The pecking order is fuzzier in the middle. Chris Richards and Miles Robinson started the most recent U.S. game and appear to be Berhalter’s ideal center back pairing, though Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and the ageless Tim Ream (all of whom started at least one match at the 2022 World Cup) remain firmly in contention.
Much will depend on how often Richards plays with Crystal Palace — the Alabama native got a rare start Saturday but conceded the penalty on Aston Villa’s winner — and how quickly Miles Robinson adapts to Europe if he leaves Atlanta in January, as expected. Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty are still in the mix, too.
While Matt Turner is more locked in as the U.S. No. 1 than ever before, the competition behind him has never been more open.
Although Ethan Horvath played against Oman, he’s now third, at best, on the depth chart at Nottingham Forest, which earlier this month acquired experienced Greek backstop Odysseas Vlachodimos to compete with Turner. Horvath was subsequently dropped from Forest’s Premier League roster last week.
With Sean Johnson, 34, recovering from a broken hand, Miami’s Drake Callender backed up Horvath in Minnesota. Callender could have to wait until January for his first cap. Gaga Slonina got his early this year; now Slonina is getting regular games in Belgium. Still just 19, the Chelsea loanee could headline the U.S. roster for next summer’s Olympics in Paris.
Then there’s Zack Steffen. The former U.S. No. 1 had knee surgery in June, and he remains idle at Manchester City. That’s not likely to change until the transfer window reopens in January.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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