A pivotal USMNT summer begins with a roster full of European experiences

The United States men’s national team will begin a crucial summer with a squad lacking in consequential decisions and rich in extensive European experience.

This isn’t quite the USMNT’s Copa América roster. This will be announced around June 14, after the friendlies against Colombia (June 8) and Brazil (June 12), before the June 15 deadline.

But it’s close. The 27-player roster announced Monday provides a clear window into head coach Gregg Berhalter’s thinking heading into the Pan American tournament.

Berhalter avoided his most difficult decision, as a striker, by selecting the four players – Folarin Balogun, Haji Wright, Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi – who could play a crucial role in that position.

Speaking via Zoom, he justified the selections by explaining that he now sees Wright “filling more of the winger role” – this is where Wright played and scored for his English Championship club, Coventry City; and where the USMNT lacks depth behind Tim Weah and Christian Pulisic.

A few months ago, speaking to reporters in a Maryland hotel conference room, Berhalter said he would “probably” take “two or three” pure forwards to the Copa América. But with squads dropping from 23 to 26 players – a change CONMEBOL, the tournament organizer, confirmed last week – he will almost surely recruit three attackers, plus Wright, who can also play in the centre.

And he can do it, in part, because the rest of his squad is now blessed with known quantities, some of whom are coming off their best European season to date.

On the wings, Pulisic set personal bests – 15 goals and 9 assists – in his first 10 months at AC Milan; and Weah has just won a trophy, the Coppa Italia, at Juventus.

In midfield, also at Juve, after being pushed towards the exit doors last summer, Weston McKennie had the best season of his professional career.

In Spain, Luca de la Torre moves to Celta Vigo; and Johnny Cardoso impressed at Real Betis.

Tyler Adams, on the other hand, has struggled with injuries; Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah have struggled to gain playing time. But all three have proven themselves in the national team.

A midfield made up of seven players, completed by Malik Tillman, who has just won the Dutch Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven; and complemented by the versatile Brenden Aaronson, who played critical minutes in the Bundesliga for Union Berlin – looks almost ready.

(The training camp roster includes an eighth midfielder, Timmy Tillman, Malik’s brother. But he could be an odd man out when the roster is whittled down to 26 for the Copa América.)

Even in defense, Chris Richards fought admirably and won a regular place at Crystal Palace. Cameron Carter-Vickers won another Scottish title at Celtic. They could be the USMNT’s first-choice centre-back this summer – especially as Tim Ream lost his starting place at Fulham.

On the left side of defence, also at Fulham, Antonee Robinson was a near-ironman in the Premier League.

The only question mark therefore lies at right-back, where Sergiño Dest usually dazzles. Dest tore his ACL this spring. “Obviously,” Berhalter said Monday, “with Sergiño’s loss, we have to determine the right-back situation. And we can consider several options.”

Dest’s injury left Joe Scally as the natural replacement. Behind them, the depth dried up. Berhalter’s replacement choice appears to be Shaq Moore, the third player in the 2022 World Cup and one of four MLS players on this 27-man roster. (The others: center back Miles Robinson, third-string guard Sean Johnson and Timmy Tillman.)

Berhalter said, however, that less natural options were being considered. “We have equal relationships with Joe Scally and Shaq Moore. We have a winger who can play there, in Timothy Weah, who played that for his club,” Berhalter said. “We have central midfielders who can play there, with Weston and Yunus. And then we have central defenders who we are looking at; can they play there?

“Part of the solution might revolve around the bottom three,” Berhalter said in response to a question about that possibility. In this scenario, Weah could play right winger; Antonee Robinson could play left-back; and Pulisic could partner one of the attackers up front, with Reyna behind them.

“But the first objective is to see how we are going to fill this right-back position, because we know we will miss Sergiño,” concluded Berhalter.

Moore was perhaps the most controversial inclusion on the 27-man roster. Other slight surprises were Johnson and Mark McKenzie. The fact that they were the headliners says a lot about the state of the USMNT. Among these 27 players, 18 are survivors of the 2022 World Cup. The roster is largely settled.

The challenge now is for the top 20 players to develop into a unit capable of competing with elite teams – the type they will need to beat to achieve lofty ambitions for the 2026 World Cup.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Cardiff City), Sean Johnson (Toronto), Matt Turner (Nottingham Forest)

DEFENDERS (9): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Kristoffer Lund (Palermo), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Shaq Moore (Nashville), Tim Ream (Fulham), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Cincinnati) , Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Tyler Adams (Bournemouth), Johnny Cardoso (Real Betis), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (AC Milan), Gio Reyna (Nottingham Forest), Malik Tillman (PSV Eindhoven), Timmy Tillman (LAFC)

BEFORE (7): Brenden Aaronson (Union Berlin), Folarin Balogun (Monaco), Ricardo Pepi (PSV Eindhoven), Christian Pulisic (AC Milan), Josh Sargent (Norwich City), Tim Weah (Juventus), Haji Wright (Coventry City)

The USMNT’s most likely starting lineup for its Copa América opener — June 23 against Bolivia in Arlington, Texas — is as follows:

Goalie: Matt Turner
Defenders: Joe Scally, Chris Richards, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson
Midfielder : Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna
Advantages: Tim Weah, Folarin Balogun, Christian Pulisic

The USMNT’s preparations for a busy summer and its two-year journey to the 2026 World Cup will begin next week in suburban Washington, DC. Players begin reporting to camp on May 28. All will arrive on June 2.

They will play Colombia on June 8 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. They will then travel to Orlando for a friendly match on June 12 against Brazil.

They will then tie for the Copa América. Their group stage schedule is as follows:

  • Sunday, June 23 against Bolivia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

  • Thursday June 27 against Panama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

  • Monday July 1 against Uruguay at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City

Their quarter-final would take place on July 6. The final will take place on July 14.

A week later, a U.S. Olympic team will travel to France. There will be very little overlap between the Copa América and Olympic teams. The latter is a team predominantly under 23, with only three surplus players allowed.

It is therefore clearly a secondary event. “The priority is the Copa América,” Berhalter said in February. The Olympics, however, will be an opportunity for fringe players who might have squeezed into the Copa América roster, but will benefit more from their Olympic debut.

Berhalter has already identified some of those U-23 players: winger Kevin Paredes, midfielder Aidan Morris and fullback Bryan Reynolds, “potentially,” are the ones he mentioned by name on Monday.

Others include guards Patrick Schulte, Chris Brady and Gaga Slonina; midfielder Tanner Tessmann; and attack Paxten Aaronson.

Center back Walker Zimmerman is a strong candidate for one of the three overflow spots. Forward Brandon Vazquez and center back Auston Trusty are also among the many others in the conversation, Berhalter said Monday. The same goes for players who will be on the Copa América roster but may not play heavy minutes.

“We are considering a number of players for the Olympics and Copa America,” Berhalter confirmed. “It’s about talking to the clubs, really assessing the load in Copa América, the load in this whole training camp, and really figuring out what makes sense for the players.”

The U.S. men will begin their Olympic slate against hosts France on July 24, the very first day of competition, at 3 p.m. ET (9 p.m. Marseille local time).

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