5 key questions for USMNT in World Cup qualifiers
The USMNT host Jamaica and Costa Rica and head to Panama in three key World Cup qualifiers in October, and there are plenty of big questions facing Gregg Berhalter’s side.
Actually, they’re massive questions and this is crunch time for the USMNT head coach.
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After picking up a disappointing five points from their first three qualifiers last month, the pressure is on this young side to kick on as they aim to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
These three games in October will be crucial in determining how this qualifying window starts to shape up.
Jamaica will be tough opponents (even without Michail Antonio and Leon Bailey) while Costa Rica and Panama have both had decent starts to qualifying too, so this will be a tricky month for Berhalter’s boys to navigate.
Especially as starters Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and John Brooks are missing through injury for the USMNT.
As we said previously, this roster is going to be stretched to its limits and there are some clear areas of weakness in this player pool. Below are five key questions facing the USMNT as they enter a crucial 10 days.
1. How will they cope without Pulisic, Reyna?
The creative heart of this USMNT side has been ripped out. Pulisic and Reyna were both injured during the last batch of World Cup qualifiers in September and haven’t played for their club teams since. This duo represent the spark and individual brilliance that gives the USMNT an advantage over most of their CONCACAF opponents. Will Brenden Aaronson stand tall as their stand-in? Aaronson will likely start in one of the attacking midfield roles but there are so many new options in this squad. Will one of Matthew Hoppe, Tim Weah or Paul Arriola also be able to provide the spark from attacking midfield areas too? Even if they do play well, the USMNT won’t be able to get close to replacing Pulisic and Reyna.
2. Who is going to take charge of the center back battle?
John Brooks, who has struggled this season for club and country, is out injured and he was the only reliable option the USMNT had at center back. Now it is over to youngsters Miles Robinson and Chris Richards to step in, because Tim Ream is out of this squad too. Walker Zimmerman seems like a good bet to play plenty of minutes in October, as his reliability in the air and positioning is a big plus. Center back has been a problem area for the USMNT for a long time now. Time for someone to stand up.
3. Can leader Tyler Adams help USMNT be flexible?
Yes, Weston McKennie is back in this squad after being sent home for disciplinary reasons in September, but he isn’t going to be the captain. Tyler Adams, 22, is. The versatile RB Leipzig man has shaken off his injury issues to be ready for this window of games, and the USMNT need him to lead. Adams is the kind of player who always delivers a 7/10 display and he will likely start alongside McKennie in central midfield. Adams has to not only do his defensive work but also help the USMNT dictate the tempo of these games and start attacks. With Pulisic and Reyna out, his role as a ball carrier and feeding the attacking midfielders will be key in these games. Adams is able to play in several positions and his tactical flexibility and savvy positioning should help the USMNT be more flexible in-game. Berhalter’s side switching between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 will be needed and Adams is the ideal man to lead all of this.
4. Who will start in goal?
Matt Turner had the shirt in September as Zack Steffen was out due to a positive COVID-19 test. Turner played pretty well in all three qualifiers but has struggled a little, by his own admission, since returning to MLS with the New England Revolution over the last month. Steffen has only played 90 minutes for Manchester City since mid-August and it may be a lot to ask him to dive straight in to three World Cup qualifiers. It really is the flip of a coin, here. Having question marks around your goalkeeper, in front of what’s likely to be a brand new center back pairing, is never ideal.
5. Is teenager Ricardo Pepi now the go-to guy up front?
Okay, so, Ricardo Pepi is only 18 years old but the FC Dallas forward is clearly going to feature heavily in these games. His display at Honduras last time out was epic, as he scored on his debut and grabbed two assists in the late surge to victory. Pepi, who has been linked with a January move to Ajax and over European giants, gives the USMNT a directness up top. But will he start? Gyasi Zardes, back fit and in this squad, could lead the line in some of these games. His extra experience in this situations could be key, but it will all depend on what chances the attacking midfielders can create for Pepi and Zardes to make the most of.