FIFA Men's World Cup
World Cup 2022: United States men's national team stock watch
FIFA Men's World Cup

World Cup 2022: United States men's national team stock watch

Updated Nov. 21, 2021 8:32 p.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

Editor's note: The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar begins Nov. 21, 2022, only on FOX networks. All this week, we'll have stories and videos counting down to the one-year-out mark.

Eight games into the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 14-match World Cup qualifying marathon, we know a lot more about the American player pool than when the Octogonal kicked off almost three months ago.

Some semblance of a first-choice starting 11 is beginning to emerge for Gregg Berhalter. After rotating his lineup during the three-match windows in September and October, the coach started just 13 players in two November games: a touchstone triumph over rival Mexico followed by a ho-hum 1-1 draw in Jamaica earlier this week. The picture gets clearer with each result.


The next three qualifiers –– against El Salvador, at first-place Canada and back home versus Honduras — aren’t until late January. From a player personnel perspective, a lot can and will change between now and then. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

"We want competition for spots," Berhalter said before facing the Reggae Boyz.

With the first phase of qualifying over, which players have helped themselves the most heading into the final six games?  What factors could impact Berhalter’s lineup decisions when the business end of qualifying resumes early next year?

Let's go position-by-position below.


Winger Tim Weah emerged as the USMNT’s biggest winner in November. The Lille attacker set up Christian Pulisic’s game-winner against Mexico with some nifty footwork and an inch-perfect cross, then scored the only U.S. goal in the 1-1 tie at Jamaica. Weah was named Man of the Match after both.

Ricardo Pepi made his third consecutive start at the central striker position –– with Gyasi Zardes hurt, he was the only natural "No. 9" on Berhalter’s roster –– and while he didn’t score, he assisted on Weah’s strike in Kingston.

Meanwhile, Brenden Aaronson cooled down ever so slightly this month after being arguably the most dangerous, most consistent American forward the previous two.

If Weah stays hot and Pulisic is fully recovered from the ankle ailment that limited him to a substitute’s role in November, Aaronson could be dropped to the bench (or into the midfield) in January.

The real question is what happens when Giovanni Reyna returns from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the opener. Pulisic is a lock on one of the wings if healthy, with Weah, Reyna and Aaronson all vying for the job on the opposite side. Paul Arriola also remains in the mix. Konrad de la Fuente –– who struggled mightily in September and hasn’t been back since –– could play himself back into consideration with French club Marseille.

One thing to consider: Pepi will either be in the middle of the MLS offseason or fresh off a transfer to a European club (same for Daryl Dike), so it’s fair to wonder how much he’ll be involved in January. Who would replace Pepi? Probably Weah, who has some experience up top. There’s also a chance that Jordan Pefok and/or Josh Sargent, who has a new coach at Premier League cellar-dweller Norwich City, get another look.


With a spectacular performance in the 2-0, "dos a cero" win over El Tri, Yunus Musah entrenched himself as an automatic starter (if he wasn’t already) along with Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie. It’s difficult to believe Musah won’t turn 19 until the end of the month. He started the play that Pulisic finished and was generally everywhere against Mexico:

The MMA midfield has obvious chemistry. Adams, McKennie and Musah complement each other so well. When one of them is missing, as McKennie was in Jamaica because of yellow card accumulation, the drop-off is clear.

Gianluca Busio, 19, filled in for the Juventus man in Kingston but didn’t do much. The slick, technical Busio was an odd choice for a tilt played on an uneven field against the most physical team in CONCACAF, and Berhalter probably should’ve gone with the more robust Kellyn Acosta from the start. His options are limited, though. While Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan both made the roster (unlike Luca de la Torre), they appear to have slipped down the depth chart. Neither played a minute this month.

The cold reality is that no obvious solutions exist when one of the Big Three is out.


After Weah, Walker Zimmerman upped his stock more than anyone else this month. The Nashville SC center back stepped in next to Miles Robinson on the U.S. backline and was dominant in both games.

What does that mean for veteran John Brooks? Brooks was left off the November squad following a drop in form that he openly admitted to in a statement to FOX Sports:

Brooks was superb in his next match for German club Wolfsburg. Surely, Berhalter was hoping to light a fire under the 28-year-old, who remains the most experienced and talented defender in the U.S. player pool. After all, he’s going to need him.

Even though it might now seem like Zimmerman’s job to lose, unless he and fellow MLSer Robinson are loaned to European teams this winter, they won’t have played a match in months by the time late January rolls around.

That could open the door for Brooks and 21-year-old Chris Richards, who showed well in Jamaica with Robinson suspended. Mark McKenzie appears next up at center back, with left-footed vet Tim Ream another viable option. Matt Miazga remains on the outside looking in.

At left back, Antonee Robinson struggled at times this month, especially in Jamaica, but remains ahead of Sam Vines. On the right, DeAndre Yedlin filled in admirably for Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest, the star of the October window who missed out this month due to a back issue.

Reggie Cannon and versatile newcomer Joe Scally didn’t play, and Shaq Moore wasn’t called in at all. But Scally, just 18, is the real deal. Look for him to make his breakthrough before the qualifying tournament wraps in March.


If there were any doubt about the identity of Berhalter’s No. 1 keeper before the Mexico game, it’s gone. With him having now made three consecutive starts, the job clearly belongs to Zack Steffen.

That might seem unfair to Matt Turner, who was excellent through the first five qualifiers, conceding just three times. But Steffen would’ve been the choice from the beginning had he not been slowed by injury and a bout with COVID-19. Berhalter loves the Man City backup’s distribution, which was on full display in the win over Mexico. Behind Turner is Sean Johnson, who is still ahead of Nations League hero Ethan Horvath and longtime national teamer Brad Guzan.

It’s difficult not to see Steffen between the sticks in January. Like the rest of the USMNT’s MLS-based contingent, Turner won’t be playing, which was the main argument in favor of him, with Steffen seeing only spot duty in England.

One of the most prominent soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports, the New York City native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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