Ever since the U.S. men’s national team exited the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the round of 16, off-field matters have garnered most of the attention. The ugly spat between U.S. World Cup manager Gregg Berhalter and the family of winger Gio Reyna — one that resulted in a decades-old domestic violence incident involving Berhalter coming to light — took center stage. The departures of sporting director Earnie Stewart and GM Brian McBride added to the sense of upheaval.
The hiring of Matt Crocker as Stewart’s replacement has created optimism that things are coming back together, but Anthony Hudson remains the interim manager after Berhalter’s contract wasn’t renewed. The four matches since his appointment — a pair of friendlies and the final two matches of the Concacaf Nations League group stage — have revealed little beyond the addition of Club America’s Alejandro Zendejas to an already deep winger pool.
So on June 15, when the U.S. squares off against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals, we’ll get a clearer sense of whether the USMNT has progressed or regressed — or at least moved beyond a tumultuous winter. With that in mind, in this edition of the Big Board we examine the current state of the roster ahead of the competition semifinals.
This Big Board represents the best players available in the USMNT pool right now. This is a depth chart, not a roster prediction, but we should see the USMNT’s best available players in the Nations League fixture.
However, this period is one when the roster has a bit more fluidity than it might have at other times during the cycle. Players who just missed out on Qatar can find themselves back in contention, and a new generation of players — including a certain forward — is ready to make an impression. Injured players — including usual locks to start such as Tim Ream and Tyler Adams — will be shunted to a different category from their usual status.
Meanwhile, for those who don’t make it for the Nations League, the Concacaf Gold Cup later in June could provide an opportunity. Most Europe-based players will be given some time off after long club seasons, which means Hudson will not be picking his best available squad for the Gold Cup, but he has stated that there will likely be around six players who will take part in both tournaments.
How we’re doing this
As we have in the past, we’re going position by position, from goalkeeper to attacker, and sorting the player pool in four tiers based on recent form and Hudson’s perceived preferences since he took over in January. (Not the biggest sample size, we know.) Those tiers:
Tier 1: Projected starter. Roster locks and players who are clear starters at their positions.
Tier 2: Contributor. Expected to be on the roster and contribute on the field, either as a sub or as a possible starter.
Tier 3: On the bubble. In contention to be on the 26-man squad and provide roster depth.
Tier 4: Out of the picture. Whether they are locks who are injured and thus unavailable, or they are players who have been around the team but likely won’t receive much of a look for inclusion, this group is not in consideration right now.
Turner is listed as the starter, but picking the No. 1 goalkeeper is a trickier decision for Hudson than one might think. Turner has been on top of the U.S. goalkeeping depth chart since the middle of 2022, but after a season in which he made just seven first-team appearances — and none in league play — there is legitimate concern about rust.
That didn’t stop Hudson from starting Turner in both of the Nations League games in March, but it could leave the door open for one of Horvath or Steffen. Both have been ever-present for their respective club sides, Luton Town and Middlesbrough, with each making over 40 appearances and both teams reaching the promotion playoffs. Horvath’s Luton Town has won promotion to the Premier League, and Steffen looks to have put his World Cup snub behind him.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, among goalkeepers who logged more than 1,000 minutes in the English Championship, both Horvath and Steffen were in the middle third of the league in terms of goals prevented, recording marks of -0.96 and -2.03, respectively. While neither mark is impressive, both players improved in that stat since Jan. 1, with Horvath recording 1.67 goals prevented in that time and Steffen 0.65. If Turner shows even a hint of having lost form, then Hudson might feel compelled to look at either Horvath or Steffen.
Slonina is considered the USMNT’s goalkeeper of the future, but he wasn’t included in the 60-player provisional roster that Hudson submitted to Concacaf for the Nations League. That said, he could end up featuring in the Gold Cup. Meanwhile, Johnson is on standby for the Nations League should the injury bug strike.
Selections right now: Turner, Steffen, Horvath
Tier 4: George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld), Sam Vines (Antwerp) , Jonathan Gomez (Real Sociedad), Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United), Marlon Fossey (Standard Liege), Julian Gressel (Vancouver Whitecaps), DeJuan Jones (New England Revolution), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls)
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Dest and Robinson were the starters at the World Cup, and nothing has changed since then. Such is Dest’s skill going forward that not even his lack of minutes with AC Milan will be enough to dislodge him. Robinson meanwhile has been a consistent presence on the left side for Fulham, and continues to fill a position for the U.S. that was long a trouble spot.
Scally’s steady season for Gladbach, not to mention his versatility, has made him a near certainty to be called up. Scally’s ability to play on the left could open the door for both Cannon and Reynolds to be called in.
If one of that trio falters, that could leave room for Moore or Yedlin. There is often a desire to have some wise old heads on the roster, but with the bulk of this squad now having been part of a World Cup, there figures to be plenty of experience already. Besides, winger Tim Weah spent considerable time in wide defending roles this season with Lille, and in a pinch could fill in at that position.
Selections right now: Dest, Robinson, Scally, Reynolds, Cannon
Tier 1: None
The USMNT’s center-back depth has decreased over the past six weeks. Ream’s broken arm and knee surgery for Carter-Vickers have ruled both players out, leaving a quartet of contenders vying for two starting spots.
Zimmerman has been his usual steady self for Nashville SC, though he has missed time of late with a “lower body” injury. Miles Robinson’s comeback from an Achilles injury has been one of the feel-good stories of the MLS season. But the center-backs who have helped themselves the most over the European club campaign are McKenzie and Trusty, with the latter named Birmingham City’s Player of the Year.
Tier 3 contains some talented players, albeit with question marks. Richards seems to perpetually be “the center-back of the future” — but after just 10 first-team appearances for Crystal Palace this season, he seems to be stagnating in terms of the U.S. depth chart. Erik Palmer-Brown was ever-present for Troyes in 2022-23, but how much does the fact that his team was relegated count against him?
Then there is Brooks. The Hoffenheim defender was surplus to requirements for the bulk of Berhalter’s tenure, but the center-back has looked sharp since moving back to the Bundesliga in January, and with Ream out he could provide some additional quality and experience in the back. The fact that Berhalter isn’t the manager could see him work his way back into the side.
Selections right now: Zimmerman, McKenzie, Trusty, Brooks, M. Robinson
Tier 4: Gianluca Busio (Venezia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Alan Soñora (FC Juarez), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Richie Ledezma (NYCFC, on loan from PSV Eindhoven), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), James Sands (NYCFC), Timothy Tillman (LAFC), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Make no mistake: the absence of Adams due to injury looms large, with his range and tackling almost impossible to replicate. The result has been a two-pronged solution in terms of Adams’ replacement. De la Torre has gotten the nod in games in which the U.S. has more of the ball, while Acosta features when more defensive mettle is required. The latter is expected to feature against El Tri, though he has been hobbled by a leg injury of late as well.
It’s an imperfect solution, which is why Hudson has started looking at other options like Cardoso, Morris and Soñora, though that isn’t near a big enough sample size. Mihailovic could get a look as well if Hudson decides he needs more attacking options, but reading the tea leaves, Cardoso figures to get the nod.
One intriguing option is Tessmann. He has been a mainstay for Venezia this season, a team that at one point looked headed for relegation only to rally and make the promotion playoffs. Tessmann is getting married later this summer, so the Gold Cup seems unlikely. That means if he’s to get a look from Hudson it will have to be in the Nations League.
The other spots pick themselves, with Musah and McKennie still penciled in as starters despite uneven club seasons. There is always the possibility that Reyna or Brenden Aaronson could be deployed in midfield, but in this side, both have more value further upfield.
The likes of Tillman, Morris, Soñora and Roldan (assuming he’s recovered from the concussion that has sidelined him since April) look set to contend for spots on the Gold Cup roster.
Selections right now: McKennie, Musah, Acosta, De la Torre, Cardoso
The deepest spot on the roster became even more competitive with the addition of Zendejas, who has been electric at times for Club America this season. Given the inconsistent form that the other contenders showed at club level during the just-completed campaign, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Zendejas get considerable playing time on the right.
That said, Pulisic remains a shoo-in to start despite his difficult season. Weah got the nod at the World Cup but hasn’t really taken the next step in terms of becoming a more critical player at Lille, hence his playing time in more defensive roles. Aaronson encountered difficulty in his first Premier League season, but his high energy level makes him a perfect impact sub.
That leaves Reyna as the other likely starter, though he could see time in a central midfield role. Tillman’s successful loan stint with Rangers ended with a hamstring injury, so he is out. Booth and Paredes enjoyed solid seasons as well, and Jordan Morris had a red-hot start before cooling off. Booth’s creativity should get him the nod here.
Selections right now: Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, Zendejas, Weah, Booth
The center-forward spot has long been a weakness for the U.S., and the just-concluded European club season did little to provide more clarity. The campaign witnessed impressive seasons from the likes of Pepi (13 goals in all competitions), Sargent (13 goals) and Wright (16 goals).
But then the long pursuit of Balogun paid off with the New York-born forward, who scored 20 goals for Reims, pledging his international future to the USMNT. On paper he offers an immediate upgrade with his pace and finishing, not to mention his work rate in helping his team win the ball back. Barring injury, he’ll be given every opportunity to win a starting spot.
Were it not for Balogun’s arrival, Pepi would probably have gotten the nod given the way he came through for the U.S. in the 1-0 win over El Salvador that clinched the USMNT’s spot in the Nations League semifinals. Sargent’s foraging for Norwich City is a valuable wrinkle to his game, and he provides a bigger body if that’s what the game requires.
Rightly or wrongly, the World Cup performances of Wright and Ferreira still stick in the memory, and not in a good way. So does Hudson make room for the mobility of Ferreira or the better finishing from Wright? Or does FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez get the nod? It probably doesn’t matter for this two-game stretch. If Hudson goes with four forwards, Wright probably is the pick.
The oft-injured Dike, who last month went down with an Achilles injury that will sideline him for at least six months, cannot catch a break.
Selections right now: Balogun, Pepi, Sargent