USA 2022: Defense, Goalie, Guess Comment Count

Brian July 19th, 2018 at 3:45 PM

Previously: Attackers, Midfielders.


The top end here is slightly wobbly with Brooks's injuries and Miazga's club situation but there are a lot of bullets in the chamber here and thing should be more or less fine.

John Brooks (29), Wolfsburg. Injury-prone but still a first choice starter at a large-ish Bundesliga club and worthy of a big transfer fee. Brooks missed a large majority of last season with a knee injury; even when on the field he is in the mode of a promising defender in almost any sport where he looks spectacular for a while and then turns into a puddle of recriminations. To wit: a rusty Brooks's first appearance post-injury ended just 29 minutes in after one of those games where you're already on a yellow and the ref makes the "no more!" hand signal at you.

Brooks is big and fast and usually good and will hopefully spend the next few years healthy so he can refine the rough spots out of his game.

Matt Miazga (26), Chelsea. Technically still on Chelsea's books but Chelsea does the "I'm playing Football Manager" thing where you buy half the young talent in the world and loan it out annually. Despite his status as a mainstay for a middling club in the Dutch top flight he's unlikely to break through in London just yet, if ever. He's not amongst the 25 players heading to Australia for a friendly. Chelsea's weird coaching limbo doesn't help.

Hopefully he gets a loan to that gets him into one of the top four leagues in Europe. He seems to have earned it, and his time in the Dutch league has made him sort of Dutch:

If the US is going to be a possession team ever they need that ability on their back line.

This year's goal is to get a loan with an option to buy to a team in a good league and GTFO of Chelsea. He's already done enough with Vitesse to be a default starter with the USMNT.

[After THE JUMP: palpbable-ish outside backs]

Tim Parker (29), NYRB. This generation's Jay DeMerit.

Parker was impressive in the recent string of friendlies, starting in the 1-1 tie against France and not looking out of place against some of the best attacking talent in the world. He's an established MLS starter who's been first-choice for Vancouver and NYRB for the past four years after a long college career and is thus a safe bet because he's probably going to be an MLS starter for the duration of his career at this point. Upside? Not so much. Downside? Not so much.

Erik Palmer-Brown (25), Manchester City. Moved for free so this is a low cost swing for Manchester City and not indicative that he's a huge prospect. He's a bit behind Miazga, now just embarking on the same career move with a loan to an Eredvisie team. For all the hype he's barely seen the field with a first team save some injury starts with Sporting KC when he was very young—they did not go well. Did get on a couple Best 11 teams after the most recent U20 World Cup.

Cameron Carter-Vickers (24), Tottenham. CCV has been a mainstay with the youth national teams and started getting full call-ups during this interregnum. Your correspondent thinks he was physically ahead for much of his career and is starting to fall back as he hits his ceiling while others in his cohort continue improving; he was notably ineffectual with the ball at his feet during the recent string of friendlies. On the other hand he's 20 and has 31 appearances in the English second flight, which the US is in no position to turn its nose up.

Justin Glad (25), RSL. Youth national team mainstay and modern-ish defender who's comfortable with the ball at his feet and has the range to play outside in a three-man backline. His main problem is his need to get on the beef machine. Large men can shove him aside too easily, and he had a period early this season with a lot of dorfs. Likely to be another guy with a boatload of starts, and since both of RSL's outside backs are in this post that familiarity might help all three.

OTHERSAuston Trusty (23) and Mark McKenzie (23) are already Philadelphia's starting central defense pairing at 19, and the Union has an average-ish goals allowed mark. Walker Zimmerman (29) will be another guy with an absolute ton of MLS experience by 2022. His former teammate Matt Hedges (32) also had a cup of coffee with the USMNT and defenders do maintain their peak longer than other players; he's been MLS Best 11 a couple times.


As per usual this is the shakiest spot in the pool, give or take striker. There's a reason it took one game for the first gent listed here to be everyone's first choice.

Antonee Robinson (24), Everton. Robinson turned in a couple impressive starts during the pre-World Cup friendlies and is an established starter in the English second flight at 20. Everton's sole left back at the moment is 33-year-old Leighton Baines, so Robinson could break through into an EPL first team. That would make him the most accomplished US left back... ever? Give or take Fabian Johnson's status as a fullback, probably.

Robinson recently got the second half in one of Everton's preseason friendlies and Everton twitter is all about him, for reasons similar to USA fans:

Robinson has speed to burn and would give the US some fast-as-hell fullbacks.

Danilo Acosta (24), RSL. Starting for RSL at 20 isn't quite getting into the rotation in the EPL at 20 but it's not bad either. Acosta is doing that after an odd spell early in the year where he was on the bench while RSL got bombed that was apparently a maturity issue. Acosta is another youth national team veteran who came up more as a defensive midfielder and is still developing at a new position. 

Greg Garza (30), Atlanta. Garza's been on the fringe so far but should have more opportunities going forward as the depth chart clears in front of him, assuming he recovers from shoulder surgery. He seems to be the first option at LB for one of the most ambitious teams in MLS and 30 isn't out of the question at a spot that is, as usual, short of depth. His injury history is starting to get worrisome, and even as a younger player his athleticism was never a calling card.

OTHERS: Jorge Villafana (32) is meh at the international level and will be old but it's left back so the US might end up scrambling, as they do. In a similar vein, Damarcus Beasley (40) is an ageless vampire. It could happen! Brandon Vincent (28) is a slightly younger version of the MLS journeyman. On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Gloster (21) recently moved to Hannover after starting every minute for the U17s in their WC. Marco Farfan (23) is another guy who might break through in MLS; he has 14 Timbers appearances at 19.


Tyler Adams is a possibility here.


Nobody has more hairstyles than Yedlin

Deandre Yedlin (29), Newcastle. As long as Yedlin is an established EPL starter unseating him will be a difficult task. After 34 starts and increasing appreciation from the local fanbase that's likely to be the case as long both he and Rafa Benitez are at Newcastle. Yedlin's offensive prowess hasn't developed as much as you'd hope after his first shockingly marauding appearances with the US; he's still a super-athletic and increasingly savvy outside back.

Brooks Lennon (24), RSL. Lennon is converting from pacy-but-fairly-one-dimensional winger to an outside back with RSL after Liverpool didn't work out and RSL had an injury crisis at RB. He's an excellent crosser...

...and deliverer of set pieces and could push his way into the picture. He's not as blazingly fast as Yedlin but he's not a pylon like late-career right-back-type-substance Graham Zusi. Now he just has to, you know, become a right back. So far so good.

Shaq Moore (25), CF Reus Deportiu. Moore's upward trajectory—six appearances in La Liga at 21, first cap before the WC—is somewhat blunted by Levante's decision to loan him to the second division in Spain. On the bright side, now I know that CF Reus Deportiu is nicknamed "the clockwork hazelnut." Moore should get a bucket of time with the tiny Catalan team, at least.

Julian Gressel (28), Atlanta United. Gressel's a weird one. He's German, for one, and also a four-year college player. He was MLS rookie of the year in 2017 after a five-goal, nine-assist season spent mostly as a winger and was mostly playing a fullback/wingback kind of thing before Nagbe got hurt; in his absence he's been playing as a box to box guy in a 4-2-3-1. Citizenship is the issue. Gressel's been here for five years but doesn't have a green card yet, apparently, and it takes three years to become a citizen even if you've married one. So the best case scenario is a Nagbe-esque cycle where he gets eligible a year or so before the World Cup. Get this guy a green card last year please.

OTHERS: Timmy Chandler (32) says he wants to get called in again, which no. GTFO. For the US Chandler is fullback who doesn't track back. Sergino Dest (21) is at Ajax, which is a good place to be, and that's about all that's known about him so far. Matthew Olosunde (24) is at Manchester United but is apparently exploring a move back to MLS.


With no established EPL starters in the pool for the first time in 20 years this is more wide open than usual. Much more wide open.

Zach Steffen (27), Columbus Crew. The USA's most recent U20 WC goalie, Steffen was absurdly good in that tourney and regularly turns in A+ saves in MLS. He's a Friedel-esque penalty stopper, too. 

His distribution kind of sucks—he semi-regularly dorfs it to the other team—but he'll grow out of that, right? USA fans should be rooting that he stays put since he's currently at a team that really wants to play it out of the back. FWIW, Championship side Bristol City reportedly just put in a $4 million bid for him, which is a large number for an MLS goalie. Tim Howard moved for about that much to Man U, albeit in 2003 when transfer numbers were less silly.

Tim Melia (36), Sporting KC. Okay yes this is a 32-year-old uncapped MLS goalie but he is the reigning goalie of the year in the league and has had a weird career in which he only got off the bench four years ago. If everyone except the next guy is in MLS, and Melia is still one of the best goalies in MLS... you see where I'm going with this.

Ethan Horvath (27), Club Brugge. Horvath moved to Belgium after four successful years at Molde in Norway, started a number of games, and then got benched. Shortly after Horvath's second cap saw, uh, this:

Brugge imported a Russian guy in January and Horvath didn't make another appearance until the playoffs, which is a weird time for your first appearance in six months. So Horvath has some work to do. He's still 6'5", talented when not doing... that, and has some time to reclaim a starting job in Europe.

Brad Guzan (37), Atlanta. 37 is fine-ish for a goalie, so Guzan's extensive familiarity with the USMNT will probably see him get regular call-ups as long as he's starting for Atlanta. I've never been a huge fan of Guzan and hope that one of the young guns ends up passing him, but someone's going to be the third goalie and since regulations demand that the US has a bald guy in gloves it'll probably be him.

OTHERS: Jonathan Klinsmann (25) is at Hertha Berlin but got bombed by his goalie coach a few months ago as "too American," so that's going well. He's third string if he beats out three other guys. Bill Hamid (31) is locked on the bench in Denmark and was pretty terrible in a recent friendly against Ireland. Jesse Gonzalez (27) made a one-time switch to the US from Mexico but fell to FC Dallas's bench recently. Alex Bono (28) was rumored to be Horvath's replacement until signing an extension with Toronto last month.


This is super young but there's a leaden generation between the old guard that just aged out and the new wave of poached academy products that should lead to a youth movement that's unprecedented in recent US history.

Forward: Josh Sargent (22), Gyasi Zardes (30), Bobby Wood(29).

My beautiful perfect son. Also two other guys! Like it or not there's going to be a guy who scores a lot of MLS goals because there always is and Zardes is the only guy who fits the bill; Wood will probably still be a Bundesliga level player at 29.

Wing: Christian Pulisic (24), Jonathan Amon (23), Paul Arriola (27), Kenny Saief(28).

Jonathan Amon

Amon is so wee I love him and want to hug him

One obvious pick and three potentially controversial ones. Amon has all of ten appearances in a Scandinavian league but I'm ready to anoint him based on a two minute highlight video. Arriola is probably not very exciting to folks but he has started producing for DC after a switch to a #10 role, surprisingly, and is the kind of guy who gets callups because he'll be going full blast in stoppage time in a road CONCACAF swamp. Saief is left-sided and will be one of the old hands in this group.

Central Midfield: Weston McKinnie(23), Darlington Nagbe(31), Tyler Adams(23), Chris Durkin(22), Kellyn Acosta(26), Keaton Parks (24).

Hopefully this group of players has two established starters at high-end Bundesliga clubs and one at a Portuguese powerhouse plus fave-rave Nagbe and two destroyer types we're currently projecting as Durkin and Acosta. Adams's projected versatility allows us to cram in a third forward on this roster but could be used for a #10 like Carleton if one of the young guns makes a Pulisic-like splash.

Fullback: DeAndre Yedlin(29), Antonee Robinson(24), Danilo Acosta(24), Adams.

Yedlin's the second guy on the teamsheet after Pulisic at the moment; Robinson and Acosta are fairly good bets to be highly athletic and established guys at some level or another. In Robinson's case we're hoping that's a mid-to-upper table EPL side. Brooks Lennon (24) got left home for Wood if you're wondering.

Central D: John Brooks(29), Matt Miazga(26), Tim Parker(29), Erik Palmer-Brown (25)

Brooks will be in the heart of his prime and is likely to be the first choice guy. Of all the young guys I think Miazga has the highest upside and is closest to it. Parker is your traditional rough and tumble Jay Demerit guy; he too will be in the heart of his prime in 2022. EPB is a total guess.

Goalie: Zach Steffen (27), Tim Melia (36), Ethan Horvath (27)

I fully expect Steffen to be the no-doubt first choice goalie for the next decade. His backups are anyone's guess.


Pretty good? The iffiest part is projecting an 18-year-old Sargent as the #1 striker in the pool, but the talent level here is on another level from last cycle. This roster includes six guys in the Bundesliga pending Adams's move, (probably) two in the EPL, one at Benfica, and has the potential to have several more guys move up since almost nobody on the above list is on the downside.

The biggest issues are a lack of #10s, which is survivable, and depth at the outside back spots. This is a whole different level of problem than starting journeymen MLS guys on the outside.

I mean, it's a group that should make the World Cup, and if things fall right could be expected to make a quarterfinal. Now go hire an MLS coach.



July 19th, 2018 at 5:03 PM ^

I would guess they would look at a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 depending on the development of the younger players. If anyone develops into a true #10 or Pulisic plus to other wingers are the best options a 4-2-3-1 would be optimal with a holding CM and a box to box in the other spot. If no one else develops into a #10 or you have more quality CMs than wingers you can play a 4-3-3 with Pulisic wide on one side and a deep lying CM and two more further up the field.

USA really needs the next coach with the tactical flexibility to play the style that best suits the team as it progresses and morphs in the next 4-8 years. I could even see a scenario where USA ends up playing a 3-4-3 if the talent develops in a specific way.

Ron Utah

July 19th, 2018 at 5:36 PM ^

I really don't think the US can defend with seven.  The 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2 are possibilities, but the boring 4-4-1-1 or 4-1-4-1 seem far more likely.  The right coach might be able to build around a 3-5-2, but I can't see the US being defensively sound with only seven players naturally positioned to defend.  

I hope I'm wrong.

Shop Smart Sho…

July 19th, 2018 at 4:19 PM ^

I'd be surprised if a healthy Carter-Vickers doesn't make the squad if he's able to stay at Tottenham, which is looking possible because there doesn't seem like there is any chance Toby Alderweireld won't be sold.  Tottenham are going to have to run a 3 man back line because Trippier and Davies are good wingbacks, but not really suited to playing fullback like Rose and Walker were.

So, based on the makeup of the team, Carter-Vickers would slot in nicely with Vertonghen and Sanchez across the back. I don't know that anyone else on the US squad is going to have that kind of learning experience or competition level. To add to that, it has always seemed as though Pochettino really wants to make it work with him, and I don't know that one of his projects at Spurs has failed yet.


July 19th, 2018 at 4:56 PM ^

CCV will not get any regular time at Tottenham this year unless disaster strikes. He is number 5 on their CB list even if Toby is sold and no replacement is purchased to replace him, which is highly unlikely. They will use Vert, Sanchez, Dier, and Juan Foyth for sure in front of CCV this year. I would even bet Ben Davies would deputize as a LCB in a back three before CCV gets any time, as he plays in a back three for his country.

CCV will be loaned back out to the Championship as soon as the team gets back from the USA and all the World Cup players return from their extended break. Tottenham had 9 players participate in the semi-finals for the WC and are very short on 1st team players for the US trip.

My biggest fear with CCV is similar to Brian's in that he maxed out his potential early. He is short for a CB and while he has strength and good straight line speed. He seems to lack the ball skills and quickness to ever be a high level CB in the EPL and to play regularly for Spurs you have to be at or near elite in the world.

Shop Smart Sho…

July 19th, 2018 at 5:26 PM ^

He's listed as being the same height as the rest of the central defenders at Tottenham except for Foyth, who is listed at 5"10 while everyone else is 6'1" & 6'2", and I've seen him on the field in and in enough pictures with the team to say that's accurate.

Dier might break Poch in half if he tries to make him play CB all year, because he's not going to make the England team in that position. Pretty sure it's been explicitly stated Vickers isn't behind Foyth after their respective seasons this year. Foyth seems to be incapable of putting on the weight that Tottenham needs him to so he can handle physical strikers.

I just can't see Davies getting moved into a middle 3. He's not a great defender, and Spurs really don't have a ton of options for wingback/fullback, especially if they're going to challenge at home, in cups, and on the continent.

As for his speed and quickness, he's faster and quicker than both Vertonghen and Alderweireld, so I don't think that is an issue.


July 23rd, 2018 at 4:06 PM ^

Sean Johnson > Zach Steffen

Can't believe my guy doesn't even get a mention.  Have seen these two head to head in person three times.  Zach is a tremendous shot blocker but so is Johnson.  And Johnson is now in a system that forces him to be noticeably better with his feet and distribution.  I think its SJ, then Zach then a vet like Hamid to anchor bench (or Gonzalez).


July 19th, 2018 at 4:42 PM ^

I say another iffy part is projecting how someone like Weah develops. If he continues to develop I can see him on the team over someone like Saief.


July 20th, 2018 at 3:12 PM ^

Weah was definitely one who I thought I'd include, but it'd be Arriola I'd replace, not Saief. (Of course that relies on Saief remaining healthy, which he hasn't for a little while now). I think you could also drop one of the more offense-minded central midfielders (cough cough Nagbe) for an additional winger, given the versatility of a guy like Pulisic to play multiple roles.


July 23rd, 2018 at 4:11 PM ^

To me, Weah is easily "projectable" on the 2022 roster.  Albeit scrub time, we was on PSG's first team fergodsake.  I do like Saif on the left side and think he is created.  I like Paul A coming off bench and in practice pushing folks.  Talent wise though, he is nowhere near what Weah projects to be by 2022.

I think its interesting also how fast Kellyn Acosta has fallen off the map.  Now a Rockie, I wonder if he can make a come back into the conversation.  Our mids are so strong...I am thinking no (good problem to have).


July 19th, 2018 at 4:45 PM ^

First of all, thanks for the awesome write-ups about the USMNT!

I think we might be better served in a 5-3-1-1 or 5-3-2 where the second striker plays off the shoulder of the guy up front.  With all the speed on the outside at wingback and outside mid I think we could stay solid defensively and counter the hell out of other teams.



                                                  Pulisic                                    Saief


         Robinson                                                                                                        Yedlin

                                        EPB                          Brooks                  Miazga


Just a guess on the names, but the formation isn't bad.  Hoping that maybe we can emulate how Belgium played at this past WC with the formation (obviously not quite as talented).

Ron Utah

July 19th, 2018 at 5:41 PM ^

This could work.  What made it work for Belgium, though, is that Lukaku, Hazard, and De Bruyne can all create their own space.  Even Mertens and Chadli would be full-time starters for the USMNT, and I'm not certain we'll have enough players that can create opportunities on their own to play the Belgium style.  Trying to replicate Croatia makes much more sense to me.


July 20th, 2018 at 4:50 PM ^

I agree with you on the talent up front.  The USMNT is light years away from having three world class players like Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne.  I certainly wouldn't expect the USMNT to make anything close to a run to third place in Qatar in 2022.  I even think emulating Croatia will be hard given that we don't have a dominant on ball player in the mold of Modric, or even wingers on the outside like Perisic and Rebic.  I think with five in the back we can get back to finishing top two in CONCACAF and maybe make a run at the quarter finals in 2022.


July 19th, 2018 at 5:04 PM ^

Did you forget Tim Ream? Fulham’s player of the year in their promotion from the Championship back to the Premier League and can play both CB and LB. He’ll be 34 but I could still see him making the squad depending on injuries and...lack of other options

Ron Utah

July 19th, 2018 at 5:27 PM ^

I think omitting Tim Ream is a bit presumptuous.  He'll be 34 at the next WC, but players at his spot can still be effective at that age.  Don't get me wrong--I hope more of the young talent pops and there are better options, but he's a guy that could really be a valuable piece.

Very much share your glee about the youth movement and its likelihood of success.  There are probably 2-3 guys not on your list or posts that will emerge in the next two years as well.

The next generation will be the first to have quality coaching through their entire youth experiences and should be the beginning of the US consistently being comparable to a mid-tier European country.

FWIW, I believe the US has the talent to play very much like Croatia did in this WC cycle--physical, hard-working, simple tactics with a high volume of crosses and a minimal emphasis on 1-v-1 soccer.  Many will argue that we can't replicate Rakitic and Modric, and while this is true those two players were mostly facilitating crosses instead making final passes or runs themselves.  There is very little that Croatia did technically that our pool could not replicate.


July 19th, 2018 at 11:26 PM ^

"There is very little that Croatia did technically that our pool could not replicate."


Watching a veteran Croatian team control the ball against an incredibly talented French team was remarkable. In comparison watching the USMNT, at least this past cycle and frankly in general, has been like watching a bull in a china shop. Sloppy first and second touches, poor clearances by defenders, poor movement and spacing, etc. And this was against teams like Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, much less France and Belgium.

If you're making the argument that all these young guys are all going to be much more technically proficient with the ball at their feet, I'm very skeptical. I hope I'm wrong as I think that's the key to actually improving the results of US soccer.


July 19th, 2018 at 7:56 PM ^

Uhh....Tim Weah?   Yeah-a?  or something like that....I hope.....please God yes.

Can we please have a nice soccer team to play in the game everyone else calls futbol?


July 20th, 2018 at 5:08 AM ^

“it takes three years to become a citizen even if you've married one.”

FYI - if you are married to a us citizen, technically the earliest you can actually apply for naturalization is 2 years and 9 months post obtainment of permanent resident status (green card).  In non marriage situations the earliest is 4 years and 9 months post obtainment.   That’s just to apply, as processing time with USCIS can take roughly 6-9 months.   

For gresselmania, the good news is that Atlanta United has a habit of sponsoring their players who use up international slots for green cards.  The bad news is that he doesn’t currently use up one of those slots since he is an Atlanta United draft pick. 


July 20th, 2018 at 9:26 AM ^

John Brooks getting hurt was probably the biggest single reason that the US didn't qualify, as it exposed the extreme shallowness in the player pool at CB and led to lots of time for Gonzalez, who was clearly not up for it.


July 20th, 2018 at 3:16 PM ^

I'd say the compounding of what was indeed a problem by an idiot coach who played Omar Gonzalez instead of Geoff Cameron, Matt Miazga, a trash can with legs, etc. was the more direct reason. Obviously the Brooks injury (which, let's not kid ourselves, is just a state of being nowadays) opened up the opportunity for that to happen.


July 23rd, 2018 at 4:17 PM ^

Dude, he played Beasler and Beasley....Gonzo was not great...but the combination of those retreads was add insult to injury in the Trini game he made one switch presuming if we won the last game with that roster "why change"...ugh...ahh...flashback...I promised myself I would stop thinking about it.

Number 7

July 20th, 2018 at 10:43 AM ^

Seems young, although that may accurately reflect due disappointment with the current lets-finish-5th-in-the-Hex generation.

Questions, though: When is the CONCACAF Gold Cup and/or is there an earlier opportunity where we might see some of this come to fruition?


July 20th, 2018 at 2:11 PM ^

Friendlies are exhibitions. A chance to tinker with lineups and such. I put very very little credence into those results as team motivations can be vastly different.

We won't know much more until the middle of 2019, but this new Nations League event should provide more opportunities for matches that count (albeit against mostly weak CONCACAF teams) than the typical friendly schedule would.



July 20th, 2018 at 3:18 PM ^

It will not be an A-team roster, though it will have plenty of first-team regulars. No purpose in pulling guys away from Europe for a long-ass flight for two games when they're right at the beginning of their club seasons.

Pulisic almost certainly won't be there (barring a change in plans, obviously), and you'd likely only see a few others who play regularly for European clubs.