After five months, 11 matches and innumerable twists and turns, the U.S. men’s national team is approaching the final stages of its campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
While there’s still work to be done, the Americans stand in strong position heading into their final three matches of the CONCACAF Octagonal in March. One other result would have to fall in their favor, but there’s a solid chance that the U.S. will be able to clinch a spot in Qatar with a win against Panama in Orlando on March 27. That’d be a huge relief — no one in the U.S. camp wants to go down to Costa Rica for the qualifying finale on March 30 needing to draw or win in order to return to the World Cup.
Before qualifying got underway in September, my colleague Paul Tenorio broke the USMNT player pool into four tiers: Locked-in starters, surefire call-ups who are fighting for starting jobs, players closer to the bubble who, if called, will mostly be used as reserves and players who are currently outside the team but have a reasonable shot at breaking in.
As a quick glance at his piece shows (John Brooks! Antonee Robinson! Ricardo Pepi!), quite a bit has changed since the start of the Octagonal. U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter has started 34 players, given playing time to 36 and called 43 during qualifying, with a core group now starting to coalesce as qualifying draws to a close.
Still, there’s still plenty of potential for movement, especially towards the back end of the roster. The picture will surely change even more between now and a potential trip to the World Cup in November.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth evaluating where players stand in the here and now.