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Predicting USMNT World Cup roster

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USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter imploring his team to do something, anything, against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter imploring his team to do something, anything, against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Image: Getty Images

The United States men’s national team has zero minutes of game time remaining before it lines up against Wales at the FIFA World Cup, the country’s first contest on soccer’s biggest showcase in eight years. Tuesday’s scoreless draw against Saudi Arabia gave us one final look at the Yanks before heading to Qatar, but didn’t even come close to getting a needle-moving moment in a nearly empty stadium. Let the rampant speculation begin as to who the 26 men USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will select for the international showcase; squads for the World Cup will be made public on Nov. 9.

Since the start of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying 14 months ago, certain Berhalter personnel decisions have been puzzling, as he prioritized loyalty over skill, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll course-correct for the 270 guaranteed minutes that’ll determine his future as the American’s coach. I’ve done my best to try to get into the massive skull of Greggy-poo, to figure out the double baker’s dozen of footy specialists that’ll wear the red, white, and blue in Qatar. And because I know Berhalter has me on speed dial, I’ll tell you where his selections would be wrong. This is all pending injuries of course, like Gio Reyna being subbed off after 30 minutes against the Saudis.

The easiest position to project out of Berhalter’s brain and my own thoughts is at goalkeeper. It’d be a shock to not call in three — and only four men appear in contention for those spots. New Arsenal signee Matt Turner is a lock and has the best case to start. Berhalter’s affinity for Zack Steffen is obvious and I think he’s a top-three keeper in the USMNT pool. The coin-flip choice between Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson will be where Gregg and I differ. Johnson has more experience and his collective body of work — especially his performance against Uruguay — is stronger than Horvath’s. Take away the penalty save against Andres Guardado last June. What has Horvath done to stake his claim? He’s a solid keeper, but that alone shouldn’t have him on the plane to Qatar. Berhalter chooses to reward the most memorable moment from his tenure.

Let’s jump around the formation a little bit to where Berhalter and I would agree — in the midfield. In terms of balancing out the USMNT best, I believe seven midfielders need to be in Qatar. I see Gregg only bringing six by prioritizing more bodies at less-proven positions. Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Kellyn Acosta, and Luca de la Torre are the five locks. Musah, McKennie, and Adams as the midfield starters is the right call and a safe bet. Bringing the Rangers teammates of Malik Tillman and James Sands, a needed backup to Adams in a defensive midfield role, should be on the plane to Qatar. I see Berhalter only bringing Johnny Cardoso instead.

I’ve split the defense into two groups: Fullback and center-back. Filling in the fullback spots is incredibly similar. The one difference is that I’m bringing five outside backs to Qatar, with the inclusion of Shaq Moore, and I see Berhalter only bringing four. We both will give plane seats to Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, and Reggie Cannon, with Jedi and Dest starting. The decision for Moore to be in the 26 is because of Cannon’s tendencies. Cannon is traditionally an outside back, but loves to play inside as a sort of third center back. It’s the best way to maximize the roster.

The consistent exile of John Brooks has become more egregious with time. The USMNT isn’t blessed with center-back talent, especially with a long-term injury that forced Miles Robinson, the team’s best at the position, to be out of consideration for the World Cup. Brooks should start in Qatar, but I doubt Berhalter will even call him in. I also understand that Tim Ream’s last few appearances for the national team haven’t gone well, but where else are you going to find a captain from a top-five European league?

Ream has worn the armband for Fulham this season and even if you don’t play him in Qatar that much, his veteran presence is needed for the Yanks. Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long are the pair Berhalter and I agree on, and he’s likely to start that MLS duo against Wales on Nov. 21. I see Chris Richards, Joe Scally, and Sam Vines rounding out Gregg’s center-back selections.

The biggest failure of Berhalter’s tenure thus far is finding no true starting striker. Against Saudi Arabia, Gregg started Ricardo Pepi up top. He had 13 total touches in the game, the least for any American starter, including Turner. It appears Jesus Ferreria has the current path to start in Qatar with five goals for the Yanks in 2022, albeit four of those coming against lowly Grenada. The FC Dallas striker should be on the plane but not start. I’d give the true No. 9 role to Jordan Pefok. How do you deny the starting striker for the top team in the Bundesliga? The other striker to suit up for the USA at the World Cup should be Josh Sargent, who’s been in great form at Norwich City. I see Berhalter opting for Pepi and Jordan Morris in addition to Ferreria at striker.

Rounding out the squad in the non-striker forward slots are some of the easiest selections on the team. The quartet of Reyna, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, and Brenden Aaronson all need to be in Qatar with Gregg bringing an eighth forward in Paul Arriola. I gave the outside forward starting spots to Pulisic and Aaronson, with a hopefully healthy Reyna being a consistent super-sub. Reyna and Pulisic start in Berhalter’s lineup. It’s 55 days until the start of the World Cup and 43 days until we find out how many (hopefully all of them) I got right.


Eric’s picks:

GK (3): Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, Sean Johnson

LB/RB (5): Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon, Shaq Moore

CB (4) Walker Zimmerman, John Brooks, Tim Ream, Aaron Long

MID (7): Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Kellyn Acosta, Luca de la Torre, Malik Tillman, James Sands

FWD (7): Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Jordan Pefok, Jesus Ferreria, Josh Sargent

Starting XI
FWD: Pulisic-Pefok-Aaronson
MID: Musah-Adams-McKennie
DEF: Robinson-Zimmerman-Brooks-Dest
GK: Turner

Who Gregg will pick:

GK (3): Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath

LB/RB (4): Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon

CB (5): Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Chris Richards, Joe Scally, Sam Vines

MID (6): Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Kellyn Acosta, Luca de la Torre, Johnny Cardoso

FWD (8): Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Jesus Ferreria, Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola

Starting XI:
FWD: Pulisic-Ferreria-Reyna
MID: Musah-Adams-McKennie
DEF: Robinson–Long-Zimmerman-Dest
GK: Turner



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Pakistan vs England | Day five morning highlights

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Morning session highlights from day five of the first Test between Pakistan and England in Rawalpindi.



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France beats Poland and more in today’s World Cup Daily Diary

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France’s Kylian Mbappé (left) and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski

France’s Kylian Mbappé (left) and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski
Photo: Getty Images

Today was about England and France eyeballing each other over their respective opponents, with the only drama being whether or not they would get caught looking too far ahead. They most certainly did not, engaging in a “Anything you can do..” dance that set them up for a glossy quarterfinal on Friday. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts.

Game of the day – France 3 – 1 Poland

Either choice would have been acceptable, if I’m allowed to give myself an out or an excuse, as both games followed kind of the same pattern. The chatter the past couple days has been around what to do against a team that’s sitting off of you and trying to nullify your space in midfield, thanks to the US’s struggle against such a side. One answer is, “have Kylian Mbappé.” Sadly, that’s only available to one team in this tournament.

It’s obviously more complicated than that, but not by much. Poland did their usual Poland thing, which was to pack five across midfield and hopefully limit Antoine Griezmann’s access to the ball while keeping both Mbappé and Dembele wide. The Poles actually looked a little more aggressive, a low bar for them admittedly, on the rare times they got the ball and might have had the best chances in the first half. Hugo Lloris had to pull off a great save to keep from shockingly going behind, along with a Raphael Varane goal-line clearance in addition.

But that was about it for Poland’s threat, because they’re Poland. And you can plan to keep Mbappé out wide or burden him with extra defenders, and he’s still going to open you up. To open the scoring for France was a matter of him drawing defenders to him just enough to find an alley to slip a through-ball to Olivier Giroud, which is the unheralded part of his game:

Again, it’s beyond easy and cliche to say goals change games, but when the team that’s the favorite and has been facing a low block all night scores first, it flips everything on its head. Poland couldn’t simply hold out and hope anymore. Which means more space for France, which means Mbappé has more space, which means…

The second goal, which is unfair and rude, got most of the plaudits but the first one is high on the stupid level too. You’re not supposed to be able to beat a keeper, especially one having the tournament that Szczesny was until this point, that effortlessly at the near post. Poland probably thought they had this covered, for just an instant, given that it did look like Mbappé waited too long and had his options narrowed. Except he always has an out, he always has an option. I guess any player always has an option if, “Release a Hadoken of a shot with minimal backlift” is in their holster.

If France has a worry, and it’s hard to tell if they do, it’s that Poland was able to get at them occasionally down their right side, where Jules Kounde looked a little out of place as a right-back. England certainly don’t lack options on the left side of their attack. But then, when you have No. 10 in your attack, are you ever all that worried?

Other results: England 3 – 0 Senegal

It’ll be washed away after the final score, but England did not look great before they took the lead, and just like Poland, Senegal had the best chance with the score at 0-0. Both teams will spend a while wondering what would have happened if they could have finished. On such margins…

Much like France, much like Argentina, much like the US even, England was facing a disciplined opponent whose first, second, and third aim was defending and cutting off space. But whereas France and Argentina called upon otherworldly individual brilliance, England went the otherworldly team brilliance route for their first goal:

This is what the US couldn’t do, but the US don’t have Harry Kane or Jude Bellingham. Bellingham shifts out a little wider and drops a little deeper, Kane does his thing where he drops in deeper but behind the opponent’s midfield line. The England defense feeds a ball through the lines to Kane who can then flick a pass to the on-rushing Bellingham, whose touch is so silky soft your knees just disappear and he can control it at full speed and get to running at the Senegal defense. Henderson follows him through the middle, both goal-side of the midfielders that had been tasked with marking them and keeping them from getting passes from the England defense. Kane completely flips the play on them. .

Much like France, the game flips when England take the lead, as Senegal couldn’t wait around. Whereas the US has Jesus Ferreira only occasionally attempting this, and also having a terminal case of “being Jesus Ferreira” and not Harry Kane. The US midfield wasn’t dedicated enough to dropping deeper or wider to try and either lose their markers or provide space for their forwards to dive into. And they simply don’t have this level of talent. That’s how you get what we got here last week (or Saturday, as it were). This is how you get to be England, prancing to the quarters and looking like a genuine favorite for the whole thing.

Senegal haven’t been great when they have to take the initiative in this tournament, as England really only had to focus on Ismaila Sarr. They were pretty easily picked apart for goals two and three:

Life’s easier when you have Jude Bellingham to dribble through an entire midfield.

England-France is almost too good for a quarterfinal, but that’s our treat. England’s strength, the Rice-Bellingham axis in midfield, is exactly where France have suffered some injuries and are a little inexperienced as a result. Griezmann makes them dangerous but he also leaves them a little lightweight in the middle. But they also have Mbappé, which is the punch-the-game-board answer to everything.

Goal of the Day

It’s a tie between England’s first, a symphony of passing and movement, and Mbappé’s third. We already posted both, so you can decide:

Did VAR fuck anything up?

Not today, Satan.

Did FIFA/Qatar fuck anything up?

No, but now feels like a good time that the broadcast of every game does not need a shot of Gianni Infantino in his fucking suite sitting in his fucking plush recliner every goddamn time. It’s a reminder of how we ended up with this hell tournament. Remember, originally FIFA thought they could hold this thing in the summer in Qatar, because all the people voting on it were not only bagging bribes for millions (allegedly) but they didn’t have to concern themselves with the heat. They would go from their air conditioned hotel suites to their air conditioned limos to their air conditioned skybox at the stadium and back again. Seeing Infantino sitting in one every game he attends is just about the starkest image of how such a thing like this ridiculous tournament could happen, because the guys making decisions are only the types to be sitting in that type of a chair at that portion of the stadium, only making considerations for guys who sit in that type of chair in that portion of the stadium.

Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid?

After two weeks it’s getting harder and harder to actually distinguish words Lalas says more than just hearing his voice as a constant drone. It’s aggravating that Fox’s coverage of this has tried to mimic their NFL coverage’s most annoying habit, which is having their analysts not only narrate replays (not their job) but also trying to sound funny and cool while doing it. Lalas’s trick today was while doing postgame highlights of France’s win, attempting to advertise and tease his Power Rankings to follow as if we were waiting for them on the same level of the CFP standings. Power Rankings are a curse upon all sports coverage, and even more so when a dunderhead like Lalas is authoring them and justifying changing them based off one game or one half, and even more so beyond that when he treats them like some final tablet on the state of the game today. NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.



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Raheem Sterling leaves England World Cup camp after armed burglary at Surrey home

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Sterling did not feature in Sunday’s 3-0 win against Senegal and the FA said before the game that the Chelsea forward was “dealing with a family matter”.

Sources have confirmed armed burglars broke into Sterling’s home on Saturday night when his family were in.

Sterling was shaken up by news and, as soon as he learned about the incident, wanted to return home to check on the well-being of his three children.

Sterling has been determined to play a big role for England in Qatar and it is understood only his concern for his children pushed him to leave the squad and return home.

Asked whether he will figure for England again at the World Cup, Southgate said after the Senegal game: “We have got to wait and see.

“At the moment the priority is for him to be with him family and we are going to support that and him to have as much time as he needs.”

Pushed on the likelihood of Sterling returning to the England squad, Southgate said: “I really don’t know.

“At the moment it is a situation he needs time with his family to do deal with and I do not want to put him under any pressure. Sometimes football is not the most important thing and family should come first.”



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