Key Decisions for USMNT Ahead of World Cup
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The USMNT is looking forward to the World Cup this winter, which kicks off in Qatar in November.
After failing to reach the finals in Russia four years ago, the tournament represents a watershed moment for US soccer. The team qualified with a game to spare from a tough CONCACAF pool, finishing third behind Mexico and surprise group winners Canada.
Usually, it is the USWNT making headlines, picking up World Cups and Olympic medals, but there’s a feeling around the men’s camp that they could make waves in Qatar. Nobody expects Gregg Berhalter’s team to win the competition, but emerging from a group containing Iran, Wales and one of the pre-tournament favorites, England, is possible. Many pundits fancy the USMNT to reach the round of 16, and they’re second-favorites to do so from Group B in the latest Coral odds. However, being contenders and achieving their goals are two different things, and as their 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in the final qualifying game proves, they are not infallible.
In their last fixture, they stole a draw from El Salvador after going 1-0 down, with Sports Illustrated reporting it took a last-gasp goal to secure the point. Whilst little can be read into the result, it suggests there are still big choices for Berhalter. So, what are the key roster decisions troubling him ahead of the World Cup?
Goals win games, and at times, the striker for the USMNT hasn’t been as prolific as Berhalter might like. Jesús Ferreira is at the top of the goals charts in Major League Soccer, and the 210year-old has seven in 13 for his country, but he’s far from the finished article. Will Berhalter wish to back up his exciting young talent with a proven European performer like Haji Wright? He’s been in the Bundesliga with Schalke and was sensational for Antalyaspor in Turkey last season. They’re the front-runners, but who else could trouble Berhalter’s squad? Daryl Dike is one to watch; he’s recently moved to West Bromwich Albion in England, and if he gets off to a good start when their season kicks off at the end of July, he could be a popular pick.
Scoring goals is one thing, but stopping them is another, and the US has always produced good goalkeepers. Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and Kasey Keller all played at the highest level in England, and Matt Turner will be hoping to do the same. He’s recently joined Premier League team Arsenal and started the 3-0 win against Morocco. Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath are also playing in England and, like Turner, will start the season as a backup for their clubs. That could be good news for Sean Johnson, the 33-year-old currently playing for New York City; he’ll have regular football under his belt when the World Cup starts
You’d expect Walker Zimmerman to start the first game against Wales on November 21, but who will partner him? Berhalter will have some flexibility in who he takes to Qatar, but who he picks to shut out the opposition strikers will be another thing altogether. John Brooks, Miles Robinson and Chris Richard all have injuries of varying lengths, which could be good news for Cameron Carter-Vickers. The Celtic man has played twice for his country recently, as has Eric Palmer-Brown of French club Troyes. Berhalter may look to use his Europe-based players here, perhaps those accustomed to playing in certain heat. However, if not, Aaron Long looks to be the best pick; he started the two most recent matches and appears to be favorite to partner Zimmerman.