Scrambling for spots on the USMNT

By Dylan Butler | Posted 2 years ago

For the first time since clinching a berth in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in March, the U.S. Men’s National Team returns to the field this week. A pair of international friendly matches against fellow World Cup participants Morocco (June 1) and Uruguay (June 5) before opening Concacaf Nations League play against Grenada (June 10) and El Salvador (June 14). 

There are two more windows — in the late summer and early fall — for the team to play matches before heading to Qatar, which places significant value on the upcoming matches as manager Gregg Berhalter looks to figure out what his squad will look like for the World Cup. 

Judging by the qualifying matches, we know of the sure things, barring injuries, to go to Qatar, players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna and Sergino Dest, among others. 

But USMNT fans are keen to figure out what fringe players make the cut, who could play their way on the roster over the next few months. 

Here are a few of those contenders who are looking to either make the roster or who could play their way into the starting XI.

Djordje MihailovicCF Montreal 

Mihailovic’s career took a serious upswing when he arrived at CF Montreal in a trade with the Chicago Fire ahead of the 2021 season. Last year, the 23-year-old midfielder opened eyes by finishing the year as one of the league’s leaders in assists. That earned him a look in the USMNT January camp where Berhalter said he’d like to see Mihailovic broaden his skillset and become more of a consistent scorer. 

Considering the source and this being a World Cup year, Mihailovic headed that advice. A year after scoring four goals on 59 shots — 15 on frame — Mihailovic has seven goals already in 14 matches. That includes 14 of his 22 shots on frame. He’s gotten himself into better scoring positions and has dramatically increased his shooting percentage from 6.8 in 2021 to a career-best 31.8 percent. 


That also put him in early consideration for MLS MVP heading into the June international window and earned him a spot on Berhalter’s roster for the upcoming matches. 

However, in his last match before joining the USMNT, Mihailovic was subbed off after 17 minutes Saturday. He collided with FC Cincinnati’s Junior Moreno in the fourth minute, initially continued before leaving the match after looking to have rolled his ankle. 

Mihailovic has six caps for the US men’s national team, his last appearance came in a 6-0 win over El Salvador in Dec. 2020. 

Aaron LongNew York Red Bulls 

Long’s spot on the World Cup roster should be secure. He was a regular starter at center back, even wearing the captain’s armband five times, under Berhalter before a ruptured Achilles injury suffered in a match against the Philadelphia Union shelved Long for the remainder of the 2021 season. 

Surgery was required and Long missed critical Nations League, Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. In his stead, Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson worked his way into Berhalter’s starting XI. But the 25-year-old, who played a key role in the USMNT’s successful World Cup qualification, ironically also suffered a ruptured Achilles in a match against the Chicago Fire on May 7, had surgery and will be out long-term.

“We are devastated for Miles,” Berhalter said at the time. “He had established himself as a top performer throughout last year and World Cup Qualifying. We will be thinking of him and wishing him a successful recovery process.”

This puts Long back into a position to regain his starting role with solid performances during the June window. He made two substitute appearances for the USMNT in World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Panama in May. His last 90-minute performance for country came back on Feb. 1, a 7-0 rout of Trinidad & Tobago, a match where he scored one of his three goals for the USA

This season, Long, who was named the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year, has started 13 matches for the resurgent Red Bulls, scoring a pair of goals. Certainly, his current club form and his history under Berhalter has earned Long a spot. But will he be a starter in Qatar come November? 

Haji Wright, Antalyaspor

The forward position, understandably, is the one that gets the most attention among USMNT fans and is a spot that is still wide open. At first it appeared Ricardo Pepi was going to be the guy, but his red-hot form with FC Dallas has cooled since the 19-year-old’s big-ticket move to FC Augsburg in the German Bundesliga. 

The current favorite is Jesus Ferreira, who took over Pepi’s position at FC Dallas and is having similar success. The 21-year-old, who has three goals in nine USMNT appearances, leads MLS with nine goals in 14 matches. 

Wright has had a bit of a nomadic existence as a professional, but the 24-year-old is coming off a sensational season with Antalyaspor in Turkey’s Super Lig, scoring 14 goals in 32 appearances this year. That includes eight in his final nine matches of the season. 

“We always talk about form and trying to capitalize on guys' form and I think now is the perfect time to get him back into the group,” Berhalter said. “He was with us in 2019 in a training camp and it will be nice to see him two years later.”

Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach

There’s also an open competition at right back, or at least at right back depth. Inter Miami’s DeAndre Yedlin, at 28, is the veteran on a young roster and has valuable World Cup experience. And Shaq Moore started in that position in a breakout 5-1 win over Panama all but booked the USMNT’s ticket to Qatar. 

There were many US fans who were calling for Scally’sinclusion during March World Cup qualifying — he was called into the squad, but didn’t play for qualifying matches against Mexico and Jamaica in November — and now the 19-year-old will get another look. Scally made 30 appearances, starting Monchengladbach’s first 17 matches of the Bundesliga season, but came off the bench in five of the last seven matches of the season. 

“He was a guy we had in camp and unfortunately didn’t get to play, didn’t get his opportunity in qualifying and he’s an interesting player,” Berhalter said. “To be that young and to be playing in the Bundesliga, scoring goals in the Bundesliga, part of a team that beats Bayern Munich 5-0, he’s done a good enough job to get an opportunity and that’s what this is. He will get game time in these four games, I’m not sure exactly how much, but he will get an opportunity. 

Get updates on the launch of OSDB Plus and sign up for the OSDB Newsletter.