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World Cup 2022: Who stood out for USMNT in June matches?
United States

World Cup 2022: Who stood out for USMNT in June matches?

Updated Jun. 15, 2022 5:32 p.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

What have we learned about the USMNT this month?

After four games in 14 days, quite a bit. The first two matches, against fellow World Cup entrants Morocco and Uruguay, gave the Americans a good look at the type of competition they’ll be up against later this year in Qatar.

The last two, CONCACAF Nations League contests versus Grenada and El Salvador, were useful in other ways, mostly as mental tests — especially Tuesday’s rain-soaked, come-from-behind, 1-1 tie in San Salvador.


El Salvador vs. United States Highlights

Despite horrible playing conditions, the USMNT squeaked out a 1-1 draw against El Salvador on Tuesday.

"I think it's a good takeaway and a good end to the June camp, and [it] really brought the guys together in a good way," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said afterward. "This is what builds teams."

Building a team is what this month was all about. It was a rare chance to get extended time together as a squad and the last one before the main event. Berhalter and his staff have just two tune-ups left (in September against a pair of Qatar-bound teams to be announced) before facing Wales on Nov. 21, the opening day of the World Cup.

Those September matches will be about fine-tuning details. The four June games were more about experimenting — partly with tactics (Berhalter tried a couple of formations) but mostly with personnel.

With several roster locks for Qatar injured, this month provided a chance for others to impress. Some took advantage of the opportunity. Others didn’t.

Let’s dive in and take a look.

Jesús Ferreira is still the USMNT’s top striker

You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: The diminutive Ferreira is not your prototypical center forward. It’s also true that the MLS goals leader leaves camp as he entered it: as the most reliable, consistent striker the USMNT have.

That might say more about Berhalter’s lack of alternatives than anything else. Outside of CONCACAF, Ferreira remains entirely unproven at the international level. He squandered opportunities against Morocco, Uruguay and Grenada before eventually exploding for four goals against the latter.

Scoring chances at World Cups are rare. When opportunities arise, they must be converted.

There’s still room for a hotter foot to unseat Ferreira before Qatar. Daryl Dike, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright will all enter the European season knowing that a hot streak could get them back into the picture on the eve of the tournament.

It’s also possible that Berhalter moves a winger such as Tim Weah up top or uses a "false nine" — no dedicated striker at all. But based on what the coach has said, that doesn’t seem likely. For now at least, it’s Ferreira’s spot to lose.

A rough few weeks for Haji Wright

Hopes were high for Wright coming into camp. The 24-year-old arrived fresh off a scoring tear in the highly competitive Turkish league, and as a former U.S. youth international who came through the ranks with Christian Pulisic and several other current regulars, he fit like a glove in the locker room.

Wright scored off the bench in the 3-0 win over Morocco but didn’t do much other than bury that penalty kick in three appearances this month. His big opportunity came with a start Tuesday, but he didn’t take it; Wright was yanked at halftime.

"We're all rooting for Haji," Berhalter said. "We purposely played more direct in the first half because we thought he could be the force that would unsettle them. It just wasn't his night."

You have to feel for Wright; two days of rain made the field in El Salvador unplayable, and he shanked wide his only clear look at goal. Still, a hot start to the new season could earn Wright another look in September.

"It doesn't rule him out for anything in the future," Berhalter said. "It's about him going back to his club and then continue to score goals and do his thing. But it was an unlucky night for him tonight, for sure."

Brenden Aaronson can man the middle

It has been clear for a while that the USMNT need more creativity in the middle, so seeing Aaronson in a playmaking role was one of the more intriguing developments this month. Deployed on the wing throughout World Cup qualifying, the English Premier League-bound live wire started in the midfield Tuesday and against Morocco. He also replaced Luca de la Torre at halftime against Grenada.

Aaronson performed well. His versatility, energy and responsible defending give Berhalter the flexibility to add a little more attacking prowess to a three-man midfield that has mostly consisted of the "MMA" trio of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams.

Taking any of those players off the field won’t be easy. But injuries, suspensions and necessary adjustments based on specific opponents or matchups happen. We now have a better idea of whom the coach will turn to in midfield if they do.

Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris boost their stock

With Aaronson, Pulisic, Weah and the injured Giovanni Reyna all in the mix on the wings and all World Cup-bound if healthy, there aren’t many open spots for the bubble players behind them. As such, it was imperative for both Arriola and Morris to have a good month. And they did.

Arriola was his usual combative self in a 45-minute cameo against Uruguay. He scored in the Grenada rout. The harsh red card he picked up in San Salvador isn’t likely to be held against him.

Meanwhile, Morris overcame a slow start to the month — he didn’t play a minute in the first two games — by scoring the late equalizer Thursday:

Jordan Morris' header is the equalizer

Jordan Morris scores in stoppage time as the USMNT crawl back to a draw with El Salvador in the CONCACAF Nations League.

That goal could leave a lasting impression. A former striker, Morris can finish inside the box. He’s also a beast defensively, and he boasts a physical profile that matches up well against the hard-tackling English and Welsh fullbacks the U.S. will face in Qatar.

Aaron Long is Miles Robinson’s replacement (for now)

The question coming into the camp was who would replace injured starting center back Miles Robinson. The answer? Aaron Long. While Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown saw only spot duty, Long was the lone U.S. player to start all four games in June. If the World Cup began tomorrow, he’d be in Berhalter’s lineup alongside Walker Zimmerman.

But the World Cup doesn’t start tomorrow. Long had a couple of shaky moments against Morocco and Uruguay. Like Ferreira, he hasn’t regularly faced top-level competition. So the door remains open for highly regarded Bayern Munich prospect Chris Richards, who missed this month due to injury but whom Berhalter trusted enough to start four times during qualifying, to swoop in and claim the job.

At right back, there’s no reason to think Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin aren’t still behind Sergiño Dest. But both could make the World Cup roster if Berhalter continues to view Dest as Antonee Robinson’s primary backup over George Bello on the left. Joe Scally, still just 19, probably didn’t do enough in his first two USMNT appearances to leapfrog any of them.

Sean Johnson makes the most of his chance

With Zack Steffen out this month for personal reasons, Matt Turner played two of the four games in goal. Sean Johnson and Ethan Horvath, vying for the third and final keeper spot in Qatar, split the others.

Johnson was a surprise starter against Uruguay — the veteran was added to the squad only after Steffen withdrew — and he was superb. He stoned Liverpool's new $100 million striker, Darwin Núñez, in the second half to maintain the clean sheet against La Celeste. Johnson certainly helped himself with that performance.

On Tuesday, Horvath made a costly positioning error in El Salvador that resulted in a goal. Again, you have to feel for the guy. The conditions were comically poor, and every keeper is capable of committing a mistake. Still, the error will be part of the calculation when Berhalter picks his squad.

There is still time for a surprise at keeper, though. While Horvath, Steffen and Turner are all projected to be understudies in the Premier League next year, they are also just one injury away from a streak of consistent minutes that could propel them into the U.S. net come November.

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


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