You don’t have to like the facts and don’t kill the messenger.
These are this writer’s cautionary statements ahead of this post, which will assess the five things to watch more closely during the US men’s team’s September friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
[ MORE: Japan vs USMNT preview ]
Surprisingly, with the red-hot Jordan Pefok off this list, the already-breds are threatening to drop the front, so a reminder:
Gregg Berhalter’s decisions are what we’re considering here, not what any individual writer could do (Jordan Pefok, John Brooks, Tim Ream, and Djordje Mihailovic all really want a certain individual’s shots).
So read on, as we take stock of the final two World Cup warm-ups as the precious tournament approaches in full force.
What does Christian Pulisic look like (in shape and face)?
Christian Pulisic is basically too good for CONCACAF. He’s also too good to be a part-time player at the moment, which he is with Chelsea.
The intense USMNT striker has a permanent chip on his shoulder and should feel unleashed as one of the team’s focal points.
The fact that the “one of” modifier is even included in a discussion of a player who was, and perhaps is, the show’s generational talent shows how golden the growth of young players on the show has been; Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson are among the talents that continue to grow but have not peaked.
[ MORE: Ranking the 2022 World Cup kits ]
So who is Pulisic, 24 (as of Sunday), right now and what is his frame of mind? Is his 177 minutes played for Chelsea out of 900 this season due to poor management or has his form in training deserved it?
Pulisic has yet to record a goal or an assist for Chelsea this season, but he hasn’t had such a slump in his USMNT career. He has 21 goals and 12 assists in 51 games and it’s not all CONCACAF dominance even though the new Nations League schedule dictates that the most recent games have been against regional foes; Pulisic had two assists in a 3-0 win over Morocco, scoring in a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland.
The American’s game and body language will be read about as often as his commercial with Roy Kent aired on television, which is fitting as this moment in a World Cup cycle is definitely packed with pressure-pressure-pressure-pressure.
How smart are Matt Turner and the goalkeepers?
Some would say Arsenal’s backup goalkeeper was already No. 1 on the USMNT’s goalkeeping depth chart, but Zack Steffen’s injury woes have made the first jersey on the line if it wasn’t already.
Turner, 28, has 18 caps for the US and, when healthy, was first choice for their last three World Cup qualifiers. He has started every other game since he returned for June international friendlies and goalless Nations League starts against Morocco and Grenada.
He has been Aaron Ramsdale’s second choice since moving from Arsenal, but Turner made his Gunners and Europa League debut with a 2-1 victory over Zurich in Switzerland.
So now Turner enters September camp as a clear No. 1 among the current squads, facing Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and NYCFC’s Sean Johnson.
It’s also an important camp for Horvath, as it feels inevitable that Johnson has secured third-choice status with a steady hand. Johnson is five years older than Turner and six years older than Horvath and Steffen, and Berhalter had plenty of praise for the veteran. Horvath has been good for the Hatters in the Football League Championship, but what if Steffen is healthy and there is only one place left after Turner and Johnson?
— US men’s soccer team (@USMNT) September 20, 2022
Will the drought in Germany and Spain end?
Some will dismiss this query given that the rich state of soccer in the United States surely spawns many games on American soil, giving limited possibilities to play outside of the US.
But the Yankees haven’t won in six straight away games, tying El Salvador, Mexico and Jamaica while losing to Costa Rica, Canada and Panama since a 4-1 victory over Honduras in San Pedro Sula on September 8, 2021.
Add in the fact that this window’s friendlies are against strong and hungry Asian teams preparing for the World Cup, and you have all the ingredients for proper testing.
Japan defeated South Korea in July and Ghana in June. Losses to Brazil and Tunisia show they can be outmatched, but Japan have wins over many of the World Cup contributors in their rear-view mirror. Austria and Saudi Arabia combined to take just three points off the Japanese in World Cup qualifying (the Saudis won 1-0 in Jeddah).
Captain Maya Yoshia isn’t the only familiar name in the Japan squad, as Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Monaco’s Takumi MInamino, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada and Real Sociedad’s Takefuso Kubo sit behind Celtic Kyogo’s dangerous forwards. Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda.
As for Saudi Arabia, they got 13W-4D-1L in qualifying and in the game. much of contests 1-0, including the recent friendly defeats in Spain against Colombia and Venezuela. The team will also feel at home in Murcia, where they played those games and where they will face Ecuador four days before the duel against Berhalter’s team.
Simply put, these are tough tests for the USMNT. Berhalter’s team is the 14th ranked team in FIFA and is ranked 23rd in Elo Ratings.
This is where they set out along with their September opponents and World Cup group stage foes:
- England 5/12
- USMNT 14/23
- Wales 19/22
- Iran 22/25
- Japan 24/29
- Saudi Arabia 53/59
Who, if anyone, can crash the list party?
We’ve got a pretty good read on the definite and extremely likely when it comes to the Qatar roster.
First, let’s use a couple of shallow metrics. Who was used in the official US Soccer jersey presentation video? And who was included in Panini’s collectible trading card book for the 2022 World Cup?
sticker book: Turner, Steffen, Dest, Long, Richards, A. Robinson, Yedlin, Zimmerman, Aaronson, Acosta, Adams, McKennie, Musah, Ferreira, Pepi, Pulisic, Reyna, Weah
Presentation of the shirt: Adams, Aaronson, Pulisic, A. Robinson, Long, McKennie, Zimmerman, Dest, Richards, Weah, Acosta, Ferreira, Musah, Arriola, Reyna, Long, De La Torre, Yedlin, Morris, Carter-Vickers, Tillman.
Who can crash the party?
Josh Sargent, Johnny Cardoso, Joe Scally, Erik Palmer-Brown, Mark McKenzie, Reggie Cannon, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson are all on the list this month and not in the previous categories. McKenzie, Palmer-Brown and Cardoso have only been called up due to injuries, so this is a great opportunity for them.
Where is the forward focus right now?
Barring injuries, we are confident that Pulisic, Aaronson, Arriola, Ferreira, Weah and Reyna are ready for Qatar.
Doesn’t leave room for too many others, does it?
While positional groups are often emptied of players who also ran so close to a tournament, what makes the USMNT small forward ranks so intriguing is that not only is the starting center forward job still up for grabs, but that could come from someone who’s not even in right now
That’s Jordan Pefok, who hangs over the discussions anyway, but will frankly cast his shadow over them if one of the next players fails to seal his own deal.
Ricardo Pepi had a couple of brilliant starts for Groningen, coming into the window alongside Josh Sargent as prospects in form now and ultra-bright at times during his tenure.
Jordan Morris is a proven staple, but Arriola’s apparent favorite status means Berhalter would keep much the same guys on the field. That said, the fact that Aaronson and Morris are in this camp means that the September group plus Weah could very well be the cluster.