Meet Your World Cup Squad: USMNT Is Loaded With Hope and Potential

A layman's guide to the most promising American men's national team we've seen in a long time

November 11, 2022 7:45 am
DeAndre Yedlin, Shaq Moore, Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman at the 2022 USMNT World Cup reveal party on November 9 in New York City
DeAndre Yedlin, Shaq Moore, Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman are interviewed at the USMNT reveal party.
Mike Stobe/Getty

It’s been five years since the U.S. Men’s National Team disastrously failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Looking at them now, in 2022, you get the feeling this is a capable, hardy bunch ready for redemption. 

While it may seem like this thread of hope and potential comes around every time the USMNT qualifies, especially in the last few tournaments, something about this year feels different. Although the team’s two most recent prep matches came and went with a whimper, this is a group who’s on a three-match winning streak against their fiercest regional foe in Mexico, and arguably entering its “golden generation” with the youngest average age of any team at the 2022 World Cup. 

USMNT Coach Gregg Berhalter informed each of the 26 players heading to Qatar that they had made the squad only a couple of days prior to the public announcement, which took place at a somewhat underwhelming “reveal party” in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday. About 80% of the roster announced was as-expected, but there were a few surprises and a couple of key omissions. Below, we break down the key players to know ahead of the Americans’ first match against Wales on Nov. 21, the other countries competing in their group and the team’s realistic chances in this particular World Cup.

The USMNT Standouts

At the helm of this squad you’ve got superstar Christian Pulisic, who, despite travailing through the ups and downs of a Chelsea club in transition through multiple managers, shines when he gets playing time, and is clearly one of the top 75 players on the pitch today. At his peak, the 24-year-old is a maestro in the top third of the pitch, creating quality chances to score for himself and his teammates. He is the guiding light of this USMNT (he was also there in 2018), and ultimately, the performance of this team rests on his shoulders. 

Another pivotal piece of this squad is a supporting cast of high-level stars, who play across a number of top teams, that simply hasn’t been there before. Sergiño Dest, 22, is a fast, nimble defender who was starting at Barcelona, and now finds himself on loan at A.C. Milan. Although injury-prone, Gio Reyna, 19, is showing promise in Germany at Borussia Dortmund and should provide a great spark in Qatar. Juventus’s Weston McKennie, 24, will be another player to watch, especially shuttling forward through the midfield. 

It’s Coach Gregg’s Ship 

Berhalter has been in charge since late 2018, and while he hasn’t produced the most exciting soccer at times, he has been predictable and steady. 

Under his watch, he’s taken an incredibly young squad and built measured improvement, especially considering these players really only get together a few times a year as national matches are few and far between (save for a World Cup year). 

There’s certainly a bit of two-sidedness to his methodology, however. In the wins in regional tournaments and against Mexico, his USMNT has looked solid at every corner, creative and ready to score. In some eye-opening losses (such as the recent friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Japan), they’ve looked flat, uninspiring and patchwork in defense. 

What’s clear is that when it matters, his teams show up and perform, and there’s good reason to believe that trend will continue in Qatar. 

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Surprises, Omissions and Other Players to Watch 

Berhalter opted for Arsenal’s Matt Turner as his number one goalkeeper, and surprisingly left Zack Steffen off the roster, who was at Manchester City and is now on loan at Middlesbrough in the English second-tier. Turner has been solid in his league appearances, and will be among the Americans with the most to prove in Qatar. 

For all of the youth on this squad, DeAndre Yedlin, 29, and Tim Ream, 35, will offer some welcome experience in the defense. Yedlin was on the pitch in 2014 when the Americans almost beat Belgium in the Round of 16 in Brazil. 

The biggest omission is likely 19-year-old striker Ricardo Pepi, who moved to Germany’s top league last year and has since been scoring goals in bunches after a loan to a team in the Netherlands. If for some reason the USMNT comes up short in goals in Qatar, more eyes will be raised about leaving Pepi at home. Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok has also been in fine form, but Berhalter also decided to leave him off the roster. 

Looking Deeper Into Group B

It wouldn’t be a U.S.-involved World Cup without a tricky group stage campaign, and 2022 is no different. The foes awaiting the Yanks include England, Wales and Iran, with the biggest challenge by far being the star-studded yet perennially underachieving English.

Realistically speaking, the Brits are two-deep at almost every position with the likes of captain Harry Kane (Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Phil Foden and John Stones (Manchester City), and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), just to name a few. Despite an unbelievable amount of talent, the modern England men’s team hasn’t quite made it over the hump, and lost real momentum after losing the last European Championship to Italy in a heartbreaker in London. Regardless, they’re a favorite to win the whole thing, and pose real problems for any team they’ll face.

Wales is spearheaded by a couple of marquee players, most notably ex-Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale, who just won an MLS Cup with Los Angeles Football Club. At one time, Bale was the world’s most expensive player, and can still match up with the best, but he’s now 33 and facing likely his last World Cup. After Bale, a healthy (if he can stay that way) Aaron Ramsey will anchor the Welsh midfield. On paper, this is a fairer matchup overall for the USMNT, but not one to overlook with strong players throughout their starting 11. 

Lastly is Iran, formally cited as IR Iran (Islamic Republic of Iran) in this tournament, who are facing calls for formal dismissal based on the long-time exclusion of women from spectating and participation in soccer and violating a FIFA rule about keeping national governments out of soccer federation operations. The country is facing its most significant protests in decades, largely due to the mistreatment of women and other human rights issues. It’s unclear how this male team will respond on a global stage, but their response (or lack of response) will be something to watch closely.

FIFA likely won’t dismiss the team so close to the tournament, so we do have to focus on the team the Americans will play. Iran has had some recent success in the Asian Cup (the continent’s most important national trophy), and has a star striker in Mehdi Taremi, who plays for one of Portugal’s top teams. From there, the talent level drops considerably. The U.S. should be able to handle Iran as long as it takes the country’s challenge and unpredictability seriously. 

How Could This USMNT Do in the World Cup?

If this team doesn’t advance out of the group stage (the top two teams of each group advance), it will be considered a waste of its talent and potential. Finishing first would be of major boon as it would send the Americans to face the runner-up of Group A (likely Ecuador or Senegal) compared to finishing second in the group, which would probably send them into a tougher match against the Dutch. 

Winning this group is a lofty goal, but not out of the question. One of the keys to progressing deep into a World Cup is hitting form at the right time, and this USMNT has multiple key players doing that right now. Josh Sargent is scoring well and often in the English Championship, Tim Weah is thriving in France and Tyler Adams appears ready to marshal at least some of the midfield.

It is with careful optimism that this writer relays that this USMNT looks prepared to make a serious run. The group stage is manageable and either spot would send them to a winnable match in the Round of 16. From there, it’s much tougher to predict who the Yanks could face, but a path to the quarterfinals isn’t out of the question. That’s probably where this team would bow out against a very experienced, France-level opponent, but as with every World Cup, there’s always at least one surprise awaiting us.

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