USMNT World Cup squad and line-up predictions as Qatar 2022 draws near
Gregg Berhalter has 11 players in mind who would “ideally, in a perfect world” start for the US men’s national team at the 2022 World Cup opener.
The USMNT coach knows, of course, that “this is not international football”; that this world is far from perfect and that injuries will surely thwart his plans. But he’s been brewing them up little by little for years. On the eve of the World Cup, when his final warm-up friendlies are played, he has pretty much all the information he needs to pick a starting line-up – and, for that matter, a squad.
Berhalter is yet to commit to a 26-man squad for Qatar 2022 but he is close. The squad was 80-85% set before a training camp in September. A 2-0 defeat by Japan last week and a 0-0 draw by Saudi Arabia on Tuesday provided further clues – and “some clarity” for Berhalter.
He and US Soccer will unveil the World Cup list on November 9th. He will then sweat through a final weekend of club games before submitting his final list of 26 players to FIFA by Monday 14 November. By then, the entire USMNT will have gathered in Qatar, at their luxurious hotel on The Pearl, at their Al-Gharafa training base.
And by then the starting XI will also be decided, provided there are no last doubts about fitness. Here, in less than two months, is what we think it will be.
USMNT has predicted the starting lineup for the 2022 World Cup
In the past 12 months, the ideal starting XI has emerged for Berhalter. Assuming full health, with the exception of Miles Robinson, it appears to be this – with some caveats below:
Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
Be right back: Sergino goal
center back: Walker Zimmerman
center back: Chris Richards
left behind: Antonia Robinson
Defensive Midfield: Tyler Adams
Central midfield: Yunus Musah
Central midfield: Weston McKennie
Right wing: Tim Weah
Striker: Jesus Ferreira
Left wing: Christian Pulisic
Caveat #1: In his “ideal world” Berhalter would like to start Zack Steffen, who is more skilled with the ball than Turner. But Steffen’s form and fitness were unstable. He would need to get back on the field and into a groove for Middlesbrough, his English championship-winning club, if he is to start ahead of Turner at the World Cup – who played (and played well) every 180 minutes in September’s friendlies.
Caveat #2: Same goes for Chris Richards. He is the most talented central defender in the US pool but has missed all six World Cup lineups through injury. In his place, Aaron Long was the only USMNT player, regardless of position, to start all six. If Richards isn’t ready to play 90 minutes – and given he has no clear path to regular time at Crystal Palace, he may not be – Long appears to be the deputy, no matter how uncomfortable he’s looked. (Long could also be the best matchup for 6ft-5 Welsh forward Kieffer Moore.)
The only other small question mark is with striker. Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi continue to fight for the start at the front. But Berhalter praises Jesús Ferreira whenever he can, saying this month that Ferreira is “checking everything [the] Boxing.” If Weah and Pulisic are both in the line-up against Wales, Ferreira should be there too – with some rotation as the tournament progresses.
USMNT roster prediction for the 2022 World Cup
The roster is a bit more complicated. But 20 outfield players and a goalkeeper appear to be bans or near-bans. Before we get to the position-by-position analysis and identify those locks, here’s our best guess for the 26:
goalkeeper: Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, Sean Johnson
defender: Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, and Reggie Cannon
centre-back: Walker Zimmermann, Chris Richards, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers
Central midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta
Attacking midfielder/winger: Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, Malik Tillman, and Paul Arriola
striker: Jesús Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, and Ricardo Pepi
Castles: Matt Turner
Probably: Zack Steffen
bladder: Sean Johnson, Ethan Horvath, Gaga Slonina
Turner will be either the starter or #2.
Steffen could be the starter. If not, he could be No. 2 or be left out of the squad altogether.
For the remaining one or two spots, Berhalter has two options: choose a “locker room guy” or look to the future.
In the first scenario, Johnson versus Horvath is a coin toss. In the second case, 18-year-old Slonina is an obvious choice. He is the best goalkeeper USA has produced in a long time and first favorite to start in 2026. He has not yet played for the national team but could be brought to Qatar for the experience.
Castles: Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson
Probably: DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon
bladder: Joe Scally, Sam Vines
Berhalter dropped a massive hint on Tuesday when he started Dest at left back and Yedlin at right back instead of giving Scally a legitimate left flank look. Scally was a bit impressive off the bench – but on the right, which is telling.
The takeaway is that in addition to his right-back role, Dest is left-back from the start. If Antonee Robinson went down in Qatar, Dest would switch flanks, with either Yedlin or Cannon stepping in on the right back, depending on the situation and opposition. (Cannon is valued for his ability to play on the right side of a back three with possession.)
So Scally would theoretically be the third string on the left back and the fourth string on the right back. Vines, who looked a bit overwhelmed against Japan, would be the third left-back. Both seem unnecessary.
With Robinson injured, Berhalter only brought a left-footed full-back to September camp, and his reasoning — “we didn’t feel like we had enough depth down the left flank to play with two left-footers” — could probably come in November as apply good.
Castles: Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Aaron Long
Probably: Cameron Carter-Vickers
bladder: Mark McKenzie
Long shot: Tim Ream, James Sands
Zimmerman and his two potential partners are on the plane. Carter-Vickers is the clear favorite to join them. That was the four in that September roster until Richards and Carter-Vickers retired with minor injuries. In their absence, Berhalter called McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown, but instead of giving them real chances, he continued to try to forge a viable partnership between Long and Zimmerman.
The question is whether he will take a fifth centre-back. The most logical option would be Ream, who is A) currently captain of a Premier League club, B) has tons of experience, C) would be the left-footed centre-back that USA was sorely lacking against Japan and D) could as a third-string serve, in an emergency on the left rear.
But September’s decisions and words from Berhalter suggest Ream is, at best, seventh on the depth chart and out of the picture.
“Some of the things we look for in our centre-backs is to play a high line, cover a lot of space behind them, be dominant in the air, dominate on offensive and defensive standards,” Berhalter said after naming the roster. “And that’s not Tim’s forte.”
(McKenzie played in the second half of both September games, and while he’d seem redundant if the top four options are all available, he could be fifth pick.)
Castles: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta
long shots: Christian Rollan
Can play here too: Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson, and Malik Tillman
The midfield looks easy. The three starters – Adams, Musah and McKennie – are obvious. Acosta is Adams’ backup. De la Torre is a backup in one of the other two positions. So does Tillman, Reyna and Aaronson, who as a trio give Berhalter enough flexibility to feel comfortable taking just five true central midfielders.
However, there remains an outside chance he could capitalize on the 26th roster spot in a sixth-place finish that could be Roldan, a popular and versatile veteran who is currently injured – and whose stock may have risen in his absence.
Castles: Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Gio Reyna, and Brenden Aaronson
Probably: Malik Tillman
bladder: Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris
We hesitate to hold on to Tillman simply because his USMNT track record is so short. But Berhalter clearly evaluates him. Speaking ahead of camp, he essentially urged the attacking midfielder, 20, to “up his level” and then said: “He can help this group but he needs to catch up a bit. He’s a guy that the coaching staff was very impressed with and think he has a huge ceiling.”
Berhalter then used Tillman off the bench in both September games, once in midfield and once on the left wing. That he didn’t get noticed isn’t that relevant because nobody did.
With the creativity of this locked-in group of four or five more than taken into account, the conventional wisdom is that Berhalter will pick a more direct winger as the sixth player in this category. It will likely be the one between Arriola and Morris that ends the MLS season in better form.
Castles: Jesus Ferreira
Probably: Josh Sargent
bladder: Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Pefok
Ferreira will be on the plane even if it doesn’t take off. Sargent should be unless he falls back into a rut at Norwich. And then we come to the most controversial decision of all.
Berhalter would do anything to revive Ricardo Pepi in 2021. He called the 19-year-old to the September camp despite eleven months without a goal. (Pepi finally scored the following weekend.) He lavished praise on him in press conferences and gave him a starting spot against Saudi Arabia. He’s dying for Pepi to make up that 26-man squad and be his third striker – or something more.
Whether Pepi ultimately does so will depend on his performances for his new club FC Groningen; but also to Berhalter’s answer to a rarely discussed question: Could he bring four forwards to Qatar?
He sure doesn’t to need four. But he doesn’t to need either a fifth full-back, a fifth centre-back or a sixth central midfielder. The separate scenarios that call Pepi and Pefok into action are far more plausible than those summoning Scally, Vines, McKenzie, or Roldan.
Pefok would play a very specific role as a third striker. He would never start because his profile doesn’t match Berhalter’s system; but he would be the target in the box that Berhalter would turn to if systems went out the window with 15 minutes to go and a goal needed.
Pepi would then be the fourth striker who could represent all three roles and, in the absolute worst-case scenario, would soak up the experience and save it for 2026.