United States
USMNT stock watch: Folarin Balogun stands out in struggling attacking trio
United States

USMNT stock watch: Folarin Balogun stands out in struggling attacking trio

Updated May. 25, 2023 5:39 p.m. ET

The European seasons are winding down. Next month's international break is nearly upon us.

Next week, U.S. men's national team interim coach Anthony Hudson is expected to name his roster for the CONCACAF Nations League finals in Las Vegas, which begins for the USMNT with a hotly anticipated semifinal encounter against arch-rival Mexico on June 15.

We’ll get to that shortly. First, some housekeeping.

Contrary to rampant online speculation, Hudson will use almost entirely different sets of players for the Nations League and Gold Cup, which begins six days after the former ends. That was always and still is the plan. Hudson will also be in charge for both tournaments; while a recent report suggested he could leave after the Nations League, FOX Sports can confirm that Hudson is under contract through July. New U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker confirmed Wednesday that Hudson will be in charge for both tournaments.


"Our aim is to have our new coach in place by the end of the summer," Crocker told ussoccer.com, adding that the federation has already "had a number of conversations with some of the candidates."

So who will Hudson pick to face El Tri (and either Canada or Panama in the finale/third place match)? 

After a banner 2022 that included a return to the World Cup for the first time in eight years, 2023 hasn't been a particularly good one for USMNT members earning their livings overseas.

Christian Pulisic is an afterthought for a dysfunctional Chelsea. Leeds United trio Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and midseason arrival Weston McKennie are on the brink of being relegated from the England's Premier League. World Cup starters Sergiño Dest, Matt Turner haven't logged a minute for AC Milan and Arsenal, respectively, since March. Another, Yunus Musah, has seen his playing time steadily decrease over the last month while Gio Reyna has made one start for Borussia Dortmund since February (though he continues to produce off the bench).

[Gio Reyna scores again in stoppage time, keeps Dortmund in title race]

None of that will keep any the regulars from being summoned to training camp in Los Angeles ahead of the short trip to Nevada, or out of Hudson's lineup if they're healthy. Still, question marks remain in several key positions. Will prized recruit Folarin Balogun start immediately? Who'll replace the injured Adams and Tim Ream? Let's take stock of the USMNT player pool ahead of a busy summer.


The assumption that Balogun became the program's No. 1 striker the moment he committed to the U.S. isn't unfounded. Balogun — who over the weekend became the first American to net 20 goals in one of Europe's "Big Five" leagues — has outscored every other player in the pool this season.

Hudson could still start Ricardo Pepi or Josh Sargent (if he's healthy) against Mexico based on their own strong seasons and status as established members of the squad. You can be sure Balogun will get every opportunity to win the job, though.

Jesús Ferreira is probably next in line after those three. Whether he should be ahead of Haji Wright, who wasn't summoned by Hudson in March despite scoring regularly in Turkey, is another matter. Daryl Dike is unavailable because of injury, leaving Brandon Vazquez the likely the center forward replacement if anyone else goes down.

On the wings, Pulisic and Tim Weah are even bigger locks than they were at the World Cup. Pulisic's still the most dangerous and decorated U.S. attacker. Weah has reclaimed a starting role at Lille after a run of substitute appearances. Behind them, Aaronson went from regular to reserve at Leeds. Given his super sub role, Reyna still might not be 90-minutes fit. Jordan Morris, who along with Ferreira is tied for second in MLS with eight goals is still in the mix, as is LigaMX-based Alejandro Zendejas.

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With World Cup captain Adams (hamstring surgery) out, there will be no MMA midfield this summer. McKennie and Musah seem certain to keep their places, though, despite struggling mightily at club level over the last two months.

As for Adams? There's no clear defensive-minded understudy for the heart and soul destroyer, though LAFC's Kellyn Acosta comes closest. Other options centrally include Taylor BoothJohnny Cardoso, James Sands and Aidan Morris, who is also eligible to play for (and is being pursued by) Canada. And then there's Timothy Tillman, the older brother of injured USMNT forward Malik Tillman whose one-time switch of association from Germany to the U.S. was approved by FIFA on Tuesday.

Hudson could try to solve the Adams problem by deploying McKennie and Musah deeper behind a playmaker like Luca de la Torre, who has earned a bigger role after emerging as a key contributor for Spanish side Celta Vigo. It's also possible that Hudson could move Aaronson or Reyna inside; the latter played as a central attacking midfielder in his most recent U.S. match, a 1-0 Nations League win over El Salvador in March. World Cup roster member Cristian Roldan remains out with post-concussion symptoms.

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One center back spot seems likely to be occupied by healthy again Miles Robinson. Walker Zimmerman is the prime candidate to step in for Ream with fellow World Cup vet Cameron Carter-Vickers also injured. Chris Richards should make the roster, leaving Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty to vie for the last center back place, though Matt Miazga and youngster Jalen Neal were also named to Hudson's 60-man provisional list.

So was 2014 World Cup John Brooks. The 30-year-old didn't play at all for the U.S. in 2022, Brooks' first calendar year without a cap since making his international debut a decade ago. Expect the MLS-based Miazga and Neal to be considered for the Gold Cup if they don't make the cut next month.

The two starting fullback spots are basically set in stone. Antonee "Jedi" Robinson is a lock on the left, while Sergino Dest will almost certainly keep his place on the opposite side despite barely playing at club level since the World Cup. Shaq Moore, Joe Scally and DeAndre Yedlin, all backups in Qatar, probably serve the same role on this roster. Right backs Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds and lefty John Tolkin remain possibilities, with DeJuan Jones and England-eligible Marlon Fossey the long shots.

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By starting Matt Turner over Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen in both March games, Hudson made clear that the World Cup No. 1 is still the Americans' first choice between the sticks.

That probably hasn't changed even though those matches represent the Arsenal backup's most recent competitive minutes, and even though Horvath and Steffen both had solid if not spectacular seasons in England's second tier Championship.

While all three should be in this camp, there's an outside chance that popular 33-year-old Sean Johnson, who anchored the mostly-MLS based lineup in last month's 1-0 friendly win over El Tri, reprises his role as a reserve. Touted prospect Gaga Slonina won't be called; the American U-20 World Cup starter will get a needed break before reporting for Chelsea's preseason in July.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter at @ByDougMcIntyre.


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