5 USMNT Players to Watch at 2022 FIFA World Cup

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5 USMNT players to watch at 2022 FIFA World Cup originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

We now know who will represent the U.S. at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Following manager Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man squad announcement on Wednesday, the United States men’s national soccer team is now assembled.

Among the notable omissions were Haji Wright over Ricardo Pepi, Ethan Horvath over Zach Steffen and Aaron Long over John Brooks, among others. Some were surprising (Pepi) while others have been foreshadowed from previous roster selections (Long).

Regardless, the roster is named and there are plenty of players to analyze as the U.S. prepares to begin Group B play alongside Wales, England and Iran starting Nov. 21.

With 26 to pick from, here are five stars representing the stripes to keep an eye on in Qatar:

LW Christian Pulisic, Chelsea

Well, you can’t really start with anyone else. If the last few friendlies in the cycle were any indication, there’s a sizable gap in offensive creativity in Berhalter’s system. Having a healthy starting XI will be key as Berhalter likes to utilize a 4-3-3 with a holding No. 6 operating as a single pivot. With Antonee Robinson expected to be in the fold as the starting LB, he’ll provide left-winger Christian Pulisic an overlapping support system on the left flank to be more unpredictable.

Pulisic can either attack his man vertically and send in a cross, cut in with this right and invert with either a shot or a pass or lay it off to Robinson for a cross. As simple as it sounds, you can’t win without goals, but you need creative outlets on the pitch to give you a chance to create opportunities. Pulisic will have to shoulder a much heavier burden here than at Chelsea – let’s see if he’s up to the task in his first World Cup appearance. 

GK Matt Turner, Arsenal

On the opposite end of the field is Matt Turner, the former New England Revolution star who won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2021 prior to transferring to Arsenal this past summer, one of the hottest teams in Europe. Turner has primarily played in the UEFA Europa League but has only conceded one goal in four games, which was a penalty in his club debut. The 28-year-old was brought in by Mikel Arteta’s side for his shot-stopping strengths compared to Aaron Ramsdale’s distribution factor in a possession-based team, but Turner has mightily improved in that regard, too. 

But with the USMNT, the profile of Berhalter’s squad is far different than Arteta’s. Ball-playing center-backs are not present, the fullbacks are attacking-based overlappers instead of tucking into midfield as inverted options to maintain possession and the line-breaking passing in the midfield isn’t as ubiquitous. The U.S. can be at their best when they build up fast, meaning the backline will likely concede more shots since there’s not as much possession involved. If Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long are the two starters in a back four, the pressure will be on Turner to hold up strong as Arsenal’s defenders are vastly contrasting in allowing shots. 

CDM Tyler Adams, Leeds United

The trend of English Premier League players continues, with Tyler Adams now the central focus. The 23-year-old is in his first season in England under American manager Jesse Marsch, and though Leeds has just four wins out of 13 games, Adams has been a revelation in the league. Leeds often operates with a 4-2-3-1 formation that sometimes becomes a 4-3-3 with Adams as a single pivot No. 6 due to Marsch’s press-heavy philosophy. 

That leaves Adams with a large portion of the responsibility to help the build up play on offense with progressive passing and to cut off passing lanes on defense without possession. Not many players can succeed doing both in a single pivot, but Adams has shown he can be a force to reckon with. Compared to all midfielders in Europe’s top-five leagues (England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France), Adams ranks in the 74th percentile in progressive passing (4.41 per game), 93rd in blocks (1.79), 90th in tackles (2.96) and 67th in interceptions (1.29), according to Football Reference. He’s drawn comparisons as the next N’Golo Kanté profile-wise, and it’s hard to dispute that if he develops properly. 

RB Sergiño Dest, AC Milan

The U.S. has a depth issue when it comes to fullbacks, which is why having Sergiño Dest and Robinson healthy at right-back and left-back, respectively, is imperative. Dest is an intriguing one – not because of his talent, but due to his form. Whereas Robinson is thriving in Fulham’s ascension in England, Dest was sent to AC Milan in Italy on loan from Barcelona. Xavi, the Barcelona manager, opted to sign Héctor Bellerín rather than give Dest a chance in his squad after returning from injury. 

While with Milan, Dest has made just four league appearances in 14 games and four UEFA Champions League appearances in six games. It’s clear that the recently-turned 21-year-old is still raw defensively, but his best qualities continue to be bolting up the right-hand flank and putting in crosses into the box. He’s in the 71st percentile compared to all fullbacks in Europe’s top-five leagues, the UCL and Europa League in shot-creating actions (2.41), 87th in dribbles completed (1.24) and 73rd in touches in the attacking penalty area (1.52), according to Football Reference. Expect him to be defensively unaware at times, but it won’t be surprising if he’s at the heart of the USMNT attack.

CM Yunus Musah, Valencia

If there’s one breakout star coming out of the U.S. in Qatar, Yunus Musah has a capital-L loud shout. The 19-year-old will turn 20 on Nov. 29, but you’d think he’s in his prime with how refined and mature he is – and there’s still plenty of room to grow. The 5-foot-10 Musah had spent some time playing on the right flank, but he’s since transitioned to a box-to-box No. 8 with elite speed, dribbling and pressing skills that made him a better fit centrally than out wide since he’s not as agile as star wingers. 

Musah tends to play more advanced, but recent USMNT fixtures highlighted his ability to drop deeper and be just as effective in the build-up phase. His versatility isn’t too surprising given he spent seven years (2012-2019) developing in Arsenal’s youth academy before Valencia offered him more first-team football opportunities. His emergence at such a young age is no coincidence, and Americans should be brimming with confidence that a player of his quality chose this nation when England, Italy and Ghana were all pursuing him because of his family tree. Musah, Adams and Weston McKinnie will all need to be dominant in Qatar.

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