US National Team Embraces youth movement for World Cup

Zachary Brandwein, Staff Writer

Manager Gregg Berhalter has called a young squad to represent the US. (Matthew Tate)

It’s been a long eight years for the United States Men’s National Team. After last qualifying for the World Cup in 2014, the U.S. missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. The last time the US played in the World Cup, Tim Howard made a record breaking 16 saves in a 2-1 loss to Belgium.  

This time around, it seems that the U.S. took a fresh start. Of the 26 players called up, 25 of them are making their first World Cup appearance, with right back DeAndre Yedlin being the only remnant of that 2014 team. Through the qualifiers, the U.S. had the lowest average age of a starting eleven at 23.82 years old. 

Chelsea FC winger, Christian Pulisic and the versatile Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie headline this year’s team. When he represents the national team, Pulisic averages slightly over half a goal per game — .543 — with 19 goals in 35 games. Pulisic is also not heavily reliant on penalty kicks for goals, scoring only three of his 19 from the spot. 

McKennie brings less offense than Pulisic, but McKennie’s versatility makes him a huge asset. At FC Schalke 04, McKennie has played at center back, defensive midfield, central midfield and striker. McKennie spent four years in the Bundesliga and has spent the past three years in Series A with Juventus. Since the 2017-2018 season, McKennie has always started at least 20 games. His experience playing against top competition should be valuable, especially to such a young team. 

Although many positives have come out of the roster reveal, like always, there have been some snubs from the roster as well. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who was previously considered a lock for the starting goalkeeper position, was left off the roster entirely. Steffen has been the starting keeper for the USMNT, where he started in the 2019 Gold Cup, as well as some of the qualifying matches for the World Cup. 

Recently, Steffen has missed some time, due to family matters and injury, but this cannot explain his complete omission from the roster. Since coming back from injury, Steffen has been shaky in goal, only winning four of his 11 games for Middlesbrough, as well as having shaky performances and obvious mistakes for the USMNT. Gregg Berhalter, the manager of the USMNT, has said “In some of the cases it’s more about what we have than what we don’t have

At forward, Ricardo Pepi has been one of the bigger snubs, especially with how he has been playing recently — six goals in eight games for Groningen in the Dutch league. Berhalter chose to include forward Haji Wright instead, but it was never an easy decision.  Bernhalter expressed how difficult of a choice this was, saying, “It’s always difficult when a guy helps you get to the World Cup, he scores three goals in World Cup qualifying, and isn’t going to be a part of the program.

Similar to Pepi, forward Jordan Pefok has been a streaky scorer. For the Young Boys in the Swiss Super League, Pefok scored 34 goals in 64 games, as well as winning a championship in the 2020-2021 season. He is now at Union Berlin in the Bundesliga where he has three goals in 13 games played.

Lastly, defender John Brooks has been omitted from the roster as well. After shaky performances against Canada and Honduras during the September 2021 qualifiers, Berhalter has taken him off the roster, and he has been since. 

Berhalter gave a reason for the omission: “We want to play with a very high line, right? So ideally, if he went into a team that plays with a high line, and we can see that every week, how he’s dealing with space behind him, it would really help us get a picture of what he can do for our team. So, he hadn’t been doing that with Wolfsburg”

This year, the U.S. has been placed in Group B, with England, Iran and Wales. According to Draftkings, the U.S. and Wales are tied for the second best odds to come first place in the group with (+500), but the U.S. has much better odds of advancing in general (-105) than Wales (+100). The USMNT will have their first World Cup match on Nov. 21 against Wales, which is an important game and a likely predictor of who will advance between the two. 

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