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USMNT: Predicting the 2022 World Cup Starting XI

USMNT: Predicting the 2022 World Cup Starting XI

With a winter start date officially announced, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is beginning to feel more and more real, if not equally difficult to rationalize logistically. Operational concerns aside, the World Cup remains the globe’s most anticipated international sports competition, and while both qualification and the tournament itself are quite a ways away, it’s never too early to get excited for soccer’s biggest stage.

This anticipation is especially pervasive for fans of the United States men’s national team (USMNT), many of whom are flushed with excitement over the unprecedented success of American players abroad this past year. Now more than ever, it appears that soccer in the U.S. is approaching a never-before-seen golden age, and the 2022 World Cup represents the first opportunity to herald a new era of American soccer.

An obvious caveat is that qualification for the World Cup is not a guarantee, and the memory of 2018’s disaster for the USMNT persists fresh in the memories of American soccer fans—a pertinent reminder that the team still has a long ways to go before asserting themselves on the world stage. That being said, following a landmark year for American talent, it’s better to look forward than back. Without further ado, here are the players we can expect to see for the U.S. team at the 2022 World Cup:

GK: Zac Steffen | 25 | Manchester City

After several successful years in the MLS and a solid loan spell with Fortuna Düsseldorf, Zac Steffen now officially joins Manchester City as backup goalkeeper to Ederson. While he faces little competition for the starting spot with the US team, he has nonetheless reached a crucial stage in his development, and the next few years will determine if he matches the precedent set by former American keepers Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard.

LB: Sergiño Dest | 19 | Ajax

Sergiño Dest
Sergiño Dest (image courtesy of ESPN)

Named 2020’s Talent of the Year for Ajax, the 19-year-old Sergiño Dest has already become a back line staple at one of Europe’s top clubs. With his exceptional pace, athleticism and awareness, Dest’s ceiling is as high as any other American player, and he’ll look to lead the United States’ defense for years to come.

CB: John Brooks | 27 | VfL Wolfsburg

John Brooks is perhaps best remembered for his heroics in the United States’ last World Cup appearance, with his dramatic game-winning header against Ghana standing as one of the team’s signature World Cup moments. Since then, Brooks has been the country’s best defenders when healthy, but injuries and durability issues have prevented consistent production at the domestic level. At 27, age remains on Brooks’ side, and he still has plenty of years left to justify his record-setting transfer fee in 2018.

CB: Miles Robinson | 23 | Atlanta United

The second overall pick in the 2017 MLS draft, Miles Robinson has excelled in the center back position for Atlanta United. In only his second full professional season in 2019, Robinson was named to the MLS Best XI, announcing himself as one of the league’s top defenders. While Robinson’s inexperience may be an issue going into World Cup qualifying (having made only two international appearances thus far), his aptitude is more than enough to counteract a lack of previous playing time.

RB: DeAndre Yedlin | 27 | Newcastle

Like Brooks, injury issues have been the one thing standing between DeAndre Yedlin and a more substantial impact for club and country. Nonetheless, Yedlin can be a galvanizing defensive force when healthy, whose speed is capable of abating even the most promising attacks. Having participated in the 2014 World Cup, Yedlin would also bring some sorely needed experience to an overwhelmingly unseasoned 2022 squad.

CDM: Tyler Adams | 21 | RB Leipzig

Tyler Adams
Tyler Adams (image courtesy of transfermarkt)

While Tyler Adams is far from the flashiest player on the pitch, he consistently impacts the game in a number of understated ways. With outstanding dispossession abilities and tactical intelligence, Adams has demonstrated skills as a defensive midfielder well beyond his years. Long one of the United States’ most compelling prospects, Adams is finally blossoming into a dependable producer in one of the world’s most demanding leagues. Expect to see him holding down the American midfield for quite some time.

CM: Weston McKennie | 21 | FC Schalke 04

Few American players offer the versatility of Weston McKennie. A defense-focused midfielder, the 21-year-old Texan specializes in breaking down attacks, winning aerial duels and dispossessing opponents. That being said, the high-energy McKennie can be an invaluable influence on the offensive end as well, whose workhorse mentality frequently sees him pushing up the pitch and contributing on the attack, both in his goalscoring and creation abilities. It’s easy to see why McKennie is drawing heavy interest from some of Europe’s top clubs.

CAM: Giovanni Reyna | 17 | Borussia Dortmund

Son of U.S. soccer legend Claudio Reyna, Giovanni Reyna is the youngest of the United States’ next generation of superstars. At 17, few would expect Reyna to find playing time in one of the world’s preeminent domestic football leagues, but the teenager has nonetheless featured frequently for a talented Borussia Dortmund side in the Bundesliga this season. In February, Reyna became the youngest goalscorer in German Cup history, and, only weeks later, he assisted the game-winning goal in his UEFA Champions League debut. Needless to say, Reyna is already years ahead in his development, and is on the right path to becoming one of the country’s best players.

LW: Christian Pulisic | 21 | Chelsea

Christian Pulisic
Christian Pulisic (image courtesy of Premier League)

Currently in the best form of his career since the Premier League restart, the American poster boy has elevated his game to levels unmatched by previous U.S. internationals. No longer is Christian Pulisic being discussed as the United States’ most promising player, but rather one of the best young footballers in the world. The heartbeat of U.S. soccer, the 21-year-old Pulisic has already been the de facto leader of the USMNT for over four years now, and will continue to be for the next decade.

RW: Timothy Weah | 20 | LOSC Lille

Giovanni Reyna isn’t the only U.S. international with soccer prestige in his bloodline. Son of former Ballon d’Or winner and African soccer icon George Weah, Timothy Weah is looking to blaze a trail of his own with the USMNT. Although Weah has yet to make a considerable impact at the club level, his pace, positional sense and finishing abilities provide the necessary tools to develop into an elite goalscorer. For now, Weah presents a serviceable attacking threat at one of the United States’ weaker positions.

ST: Jozy Altidore | 30 | Toronto FC

With over 100 international appearances and three rounds of World Cup qualifying under his belt, Jozy Altidore represents one of the few active veterans for the USMNT. Despite creeping up in the age department, Altidore has remained an effective striker in the MLS over the past several years. Barring any dramatic regression, he should remain a viable option up front come 2022. Missing the 2014 World Cup to injury and the 2018 World Cup to lack of qualification should only provide more motivation for Altidore.

Next Up: Long, Cannon, Ledezma, Bradley, Sargent, Morris

A lot can change for the United States between now and 2022, and a revolving door of new talent provides a wealth of options for head coach Gregg Berhalter’s team. On the defensive side, Aaron Long and Reggie Cannon provide needed injury insurance at the center and right-back positions respectively. Whereas Long offers a more experienced, high-floor alternative for a youthful back four, the 22-year-old Cannon possesses tantalizing upside. In the midfield, Richard Ledezma joins Adams, McKennie, and Reyna as another promising young prospect, while longtime captain Michael Bradley will look to present guidance and leadership to his successors in what will likely be his last World Cup. Finally, at the striker position, Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris provide youthful substitutes to an aging Altidore, although both have areas of improvement to address (despite their undeniable promise).

 

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