This is the first of a series of position by position analysis of the USMNT player pool now that we have all of the data from World Cup Qualifying (WCQ). I will analyze each position within the context of the USMNT system (4-3-3). Within this series I will look at the health and storylines to track for each position between now and the World Cup, along with my way too early squad predictions for the World Cup.
As of right now the squad sizes for the World Cup is 23, but there are discussions of it being expanded to 26 and I am expecting that they will make the decision to expand to 26.
Players have eight months to improve their stock in the eyes of the USMNT decision making circles, more specifically, Gregg Berhalter. It’s inevitable that between now and then, players will emerge, fade away and while we hope that they don’t, injuries could happen. There won’t be a ton of opportunities for players to impress at the International level, but still lots to show at the club level. Here is a high level overview of what will be going on from now until December:
Now – May
End of 2021 – 2022 season for players in Europe
Now – October
2022 season for players in Americas
May 30 – June 14
Two friendlies + Two Concacaf Nations League group stage matches
June – July
U20 Concacaf Tournament – Players born in 2003 or later compete in a Concacaf tournament that can be as many as seven matches if the US makes it to the final. This tournament serves as the qualifier for the U20 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics
July – November
Start of 2022 – 2023 European club seasons
September 19 – 27
Two friendlies, one rumored to be Argentina.
Let’s start with the guys between the pipes.
The USMNT went into World Cup Qualifiers (WCQ) with what seemed like an open competition for the #1 jersey after an impressive debut summer by Matt Turner. In reality, it’s clear that Gregg’s first choice keeper is still Zack Steffen, but because of nagging back issues, Matt Turner did get his chances. I am starting to get concerned by Gregg’s dedication to Zack. Zack continues to make too many mental errors that create chances. Yes, he’s a better distributor of the ball, but I think the data shows that Matt Turner is clearly the better shot stopper, and that that skill is going to be pivotal in the World Cup. I really hope Matt gets a fair shot at taking the #1 job. The third keeper spot remains open between Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson and there is a young start approaching fast on their heels.
The three Nation’s League matches in June can be approached in a couple of ways by Gregg Berhalter. It can be a platform for Steffen and Turner to compete, or it could be a platform for Horvath and Johnson to compete. Maybe it can be both? Johnson will be in the middle of his club season, so I think this will be a big opportunity for Horvath to lock down the final keeper spot.
Look Like Locks
Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
Zack has continued to be a steady #1 for USMNT. He’s had too many shaky moments in my opinion, but he’s also made some big saves when he’s needed to, specifically in both matches against Mexico. He’s the #2 at Manchester City and that doesn’t look to be changing before WC2022, so he’ll need to make the most of his time with club and country to retain the upper hand.
0.78 Goals Conceded / 90
0.87 Expected Goals Conceded / 90
5.46 Long passes / 90
62.9& Long pass accuracy
Matt Turner (New England Revolution / Arsenal)
Matt Turner has a very big summer ahead! He’s moving from Boston to North London at the beginning of July to join Arsenal. What does this mean for USMNT? It remains to be seen, but Nation’s League is in June, before the move, so it will be interesting to see if the Revs release him to USMNT in what might be his last chance to make an impression on Gregg and the staff before WC2022.
Once he arrives at Arsenal, the assumption is that Matt will be in a similar position as Zack, a #2 keeper at a top club in the Premier League where he’ll be called on in cup matches and if the #1 goes down.
0.59 Goals Conceded / 90
0.75 Expected Goals Conceded / 90
5.29 Long passes / 90
62.2% Long pass accuracy
In the Mix
Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest)
What a roller coaster of a career Ethan Horvath has had. The talent is unquestionable, but his last two clubs, Club Brugge in Belgium and his current club, Nottingham Forest in the English Championship, have been challenging places to get playing time. The good news is that the narrative might be changing. Ethan has started the last 6 matches for Forest and he’s playing at a very high level. It’s possible that he is the only keeper that is consistently playing in Europe going into the World Cup and with his combination of shot stopping and distribution, he could have an outside chance of overtaking the two incumbents above, though not likely given Gregg’s trust in Zack.
What could make this story even more intriguing is if Forest make it to the Premiership and Horvath in the toughest league in the world. We’ll see. What is clear is that if things go well for Ethan, it will be very hard for any other keeper to overtake him as the 2nd or 3rd keeper.
Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
After last summer where Ethan Horvath became a Nation’s League hero and Matt Turner had a great Gold Cup, it seemed like Sean was out of the picture for USMNT. Additionally, early in the summer, it seemed that David Ochoa was considered the keeper of the future. Instead, Ochoa chose ElTri and Horvath’s move to England did not initially pan out, while Sean had another stellar MLS campaign on his way to the MLS Super Cup victory. During that playoff push Sean outperformed Matt Turner to win a penalty shoot out in the quarterfinals. All of this to stay, Sean became a consistent #3 keeper for USMNT through qualifying and keeps his name in the hat for WC2022. It’s an uphill battle, but he’s definitely still “in the mix”.
Keep An Eye On…
Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire)
There is a lot of hype around Gaga and rightfully so. Some are calling him the best young goalkeeper prospect in the world, so yeah, a lot of hype. Let’s remind ourselves that he is 17 and there is a long way to go, but the improvement from last year to this year has been evident and that’s all you want to see from a young talent, improvement and increased consistency. It’s going to be challenging for Gaga to make the World Cup roster, but it’s not inconceivable if he continues to grow at the rate he’s at. His primary International focus this summer is leading the U20s to the U20 World Cup and Olympics.
My way too early prediction: Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath