Soccer in the States: U.S. Men’s National Team will have little room for error

The United States Men’s National team can’t seem to catch a break.

In the midst of a grueling World Cup Qualifying campaign, the Americans haven’t been able to field a complete first team (or, rather, the first team I agree with) because of a myriad of injuries and suspensions. It looks like the situation got worse in the lead up to the U.S.’s next three games. Star winger Christian Pulisic has yet to play since suffering an ankle injury against Honduras. On the other side of the attack, winger Gio Reyna is still out with a hamstring injury as well.

So, the USMNT will be missing its two best attackers for three crucial games. Tough luck for a team that already needs a lot to be going its way. Nonetheless, an updated 26-man roster has been released for the next international break, and here are some of the players who jump out to me.

Yunus Musah, midfielder, 19

The highly touted dual-national chose the USMNT over England, Ghana and Italy. In fact, he played over 30 games for England at youth levels before committing to play for the U.S. Ever since then, he’s been on my radar as a guy that needs as much playing time as possible. At his home club Valencia, Musah burst onto the scene as a versatile midfielder who can also run the wings.

The role that best suits him, in my opinion, is the box-to-box midfielder role, as his stamina and awareness are always useful in the middle of the pitch. Weston McKennie already occupies this position for the first team, but I wouldn’t mind them side-by-side in the midfield. Musah would also be able to navigate attacking spaces better with his agility. In this case, Tyler Adams would need to be a lock for the defensive midfield role, creating a midfield trio that the U.S. could roll with for years to come. Musah has loads of potential and can be slotted into wherever manager Gregg Berhalter needs him to be in the upcoming games.

Timothy Weah, forward, 21 

The son of soccer legend George Weah, Timothy has had the attention of the U.S. faithful for some time now. He was the first player born in the 2000s to earn a senior cap for the U.S. He got some needed game time in the CONCACAF Nations League and was one of the biggest bright spots when he came on against Mexico in the 60th minute of the final. His central claim to being involved in the national team is his work at French club Lille, where he was a part of their shock title run in the Ligue 1 last season.

Weah will likely play on the wings, as his combination of pace and agility will pose threats from the outside of the pitch. It’s yet to be determined whether he will develop into a player who can finish goals as well as create them, but I personally see this as a possible outcome for him, with his experience playing striker. I would love for Weah to get more minutes, especially in matches where his pace can be used to get in behind opposition defenses. 

Matthew Hoppe, forward, 20

Hoppe first made his name known by scoring goals for German side Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga last season. This earned him a roster spot on the USMNT Gold Cup team, where he put in top performances on his way to winning the tournament.

Hoppe was one of the names people were throwing out there as a lock for making the preliminary World Cup Qualifying roster, and while he didn’t do that, he’s on the team now and ready to make an impact. I’ve always seen Hoppe as a striker — he can stand his ground and has the pace and finishing ability to make attacking runs — but he was deployed as a left winger in the Gold Cup.

To my surprise, Hoppe made the most of his reps at that position. I wouldn’t be opposed to him playing at left wing in the next few games, especially considering striker Ricardo Pepi has cemented his role as the starting No. 9. 

Zack Steffen, goalkeeper, 26

After missing the last trio of games because of testing positive for the coronavirus, Zack Steffen, the backup goalkeeper for Manchester City, will return to his national team. In his absence, Matt Turner has been effective as USMNT goalkeeper, generating a lot of hype around his performances, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Berhalter rolls with the hot gloves in the next few games.

That being said — and I’ve expressed this sentiment before — nothing can replace experience in training, and Steffen saves shots from some of the best players in the world almost every day. I believe Steffen is the better option for that reason, but I won’t get too upset if Turner gets another chance to prove he’s the No. 1 keeper on the roster. 

Weston McKennie, midfielder, 23

While McKennie was technically on the roster last time around, I’m writing about him since he’ll be returning to the side for the first time since the El Salvador game. McKennie was the talk of the town during the first international break, following up what I believe was his worst performance in a USMNT shirt against El Salvador with poor off-the-field decisions (he spent a night outside the team’s bubble and also brought an unauthorized person into the bubble), which led to him being suspended from the team for the games against Canada and Honduras.

While I still have doubts about McKennie’s commitment to the team after this controversy, I am confident he’s still the best American midfielder on his day. It was clear that the U.S. missed his presence in the midfield in the second and third games, as he brings a unique blend of physicality and mobility so crucial for a box-to-box midfielder. Even though I was highly critical of him after his play in the El Salvador game, I know the kind of player he can be for the team, and I feel confident he can return to his top level. 

The Americans will begin the international break by hosting last-place Jamaica in Austin, Texas. Next is an away game against Panama, who currently has five points and sits just below the U.S. on goals scored. The final fixture will be back at home versus Costa Rica.

Every single game that the USMNT plays in World Cup Qualifying from here on out is crucial. The Americans have a huge chance to separate themselves from the teams below them in the standings. I’m still making sure to reserve my hopes (as always with this team), but a few wins would put the U.S. in a stellar position moving forward.  

Adam Jasper is a sophomore providing updates on the U.S. Men’s National Team and its road to qualifying for the World Cup as well as general soccer news. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan.  His column “Soccer in the States,” runs every Thursday.