USMNT: Who will join Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest in Qatar 2022?

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is coming into view and it's going to be a battle for players in the USMNT to stake their claim to be in the first lineup of the tournament. But who will be starting?

With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the USMNT's CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers until next September at the earliest, Gregg Berhalter's side will have to wait a little while longer to book their flights to Qatar.

A dismal campaign last time out for the Americans - including a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago, saw them fail to reach the World Cup finals in Russia for the first time since 1990, prompting the imminent resignation of head coach, Bruce Arena.

Three years on from the calamity in Couva and the pessimism surrounding the 'worst defeat in US history' has been partially alleviated by the sudden emergence of world-class talent at Berhalter's disposal.

A plethora of young stars honing their craft throughout Europe's best leagues have put a number of regular starting places up for contention. The likes of Barcelona, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Valencia have all hugely benefited from the arrival of exciting US exports in recent years.

Christian Pulisic and co. are determined to right the wrongs of 2018, and if they do indeed secure qualification, here are some of the emerging and already established players who could very well make the cut.

GOALKEEPER - Zack Steffen

Club: Manchester City

Age: 25

Zack Steffen is learning under one of the best keepers in the world at Manchester City
Zack Steffen is learning under one of the best keepers in the world at Manchester City

An almost certain choice for the 'number 1' jersey in Qatar is Manchester City's second-choice goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Making his international debut in a friendly against Bosnia in January 2018, Steffen went on to cement his place as the main man between the US sticks later that year.

A superb league campaign with Columbus Crew saw him chosen as an MLS All Star after keeping ten clean sheets.

The 25-year-old's six appearances for the national team in his debut year is the joint most for a goalkeeper in US soccer history. With this in mind, it came as no surprise when he was deservedly voted the 2018 US Male Soccer Player of the Year.

Steffen's illustrious performances for club and country were rewarded when he caught the attention of Pep Guardiola, switching over to the blue side of Manchester in July 2020 for a £7million fee, making him the most expensive MLS goalkeeper of all time.

Being an understudy to one of the world's best keepers in Ederson means Steffen has only featured three times for City since his historic move. Despite this however, Guardiola has lauded the keeper for his 'calm and safe' approach, recently handing him his Champions League debut in a 3-0 win over Marseille.

Under the watchful eye of one of the world's best managers at club level, very few would bet against the shot-stopper continuing his international triumph for the next two years at least.

RIGHT BACK - Sergino Dest

Club: FC Barcelona

Age: 20

Sergino Dest has been making waves at Barcelona
Sergino Dest has been making waves at Barcelona

A star student of the world-renowned Ajax academy, Dutch-born Dest plied his trade in the club's youth system for more than seven years, familiarising himself with the acclaimed philosophy of Johan Cruyff.

Just over a year after making his first team debut, the skilful right back had followed in the footsteps of his adored compatriot; agreeing terms on a meteoric switch to Catalonia - signing a five-year deal with La Liga giants Barcelona in 2019.

Continuing his remarkable rise through European soccer, the skilful 20-year-old has already set a number of club records for Ronald Koeman's side.

Dest's resume lists him as the first American in the club's history to feature in La Liga, El Clasico and Champions League matches, with his strike against Dynamo Kyiv in November also making him the first US international to score for Barca in the competition.

Qualifying for dual citizenship through his father's Surinamese-American heritage, he has successfully represented the US national team in U-17 and U-20 World Cups respectively, with six first-team caps to his name.

With the ability to play on the left or right, Dest's explosive pace, dazzling footwork and pinpoint crossing makes him both a crucial defensive and attacking asset to Berhalter's side.

CENTER BACK - John Brooks

Club: Wolfsburg

Age: 27

John Brooks is enjoying a good run of form at Wolfsburg
John Brooks is enjoying a good run of form at Wolfsburg

When an inexperienced John Brooks stepped onto the field in the second half of the USA's 2014 World Cup group game with Ghana, very few people would have expected him to influence the game.

With the tie all square at one apiece in the dying moments, both countries were crying out for a hero to snatch a late winner for their nation and secure three vital points.

Brooks did just that, leaping high to emphatically slam a header past a helpless Larsen Kwarasey in the 86th minute to the delight and disbelief of his fellow countrymen.

The goal solidified Brooks' place in USMNT folklore, making him the first substitute in 84 years to score for the States at a World Cup.

Since that famous night in Brazil, 6'4" German-born Brooks has emerged as an impenetrable stalwart at club level too, featuring in every Bundesliga game for Wolfsburg so far this season, keeping three clean sheets.

Aside from his commanding aerial presence, tough tackling and intense physicality, the 27-year-old has also received great praise from club director, Marcel Schafer for his meticulous left-footed passing and faultless first touches from defence.

Combining these traits with Brooks' international experience makes him one of the most well-rounded and reliable players at the US' disposal.

CENTER BACK - Chris Richards

Club: Bayern Munich

Age: 20

For any player in world football, very few instances signify elite footballing ability more than when the Bavarian giants of the Bundesliga come calling for you.

Sensationally, not only was Chris Richards 18 years old when he joined Bayern Munich from FC Dallas, but had also never played in a competitive match for the Texas side.

In an agreement between the two clubs, a number of Dallas' young prospects were sent for trials with the Munich outfit. After impressing in his initial 10-day spell with the club, Richards signed on the dotted line and like many young Americans before him, packed his bags and headed for Europe.

The youngster took to Germany like a duck to water, dazzling for the club's 3. Liga winning reserve team throughout the 2019/20 season, recording 30 appearances and notching an impressive four goals from defence, earning him a deserved call-up to the main squad.

Despite being on the first-team fringes, Richards has featured three times for Hansi Flick's side in all competitions this season, even providing an assist for Polish talisman, Robert Lewandowski in a 4-3 league win over Hertha Berlin. Certainly one way to make an impression.

Tipped as 'the next Jerome Boateng' by US youth coach Dave van den Bergh, Richards is brimming with natural talent, his scintillating speed, astute soccer acumen and positional versatility means the Alabama native can also adaptably champion the full back position if needed.

WIth only two first team caps to his name and stiff competition from the likes of established center halves in Aaron Long, Matt Miazga and Tim Ream, Richards will continue to fight for his chance to start for his country as well as his club.

LEFT BACK - Antonee Robinson

Club: Fulham

Age: 23

Antonee Robinson raised eyebrows across Europe and is playing in the Premier League
Antonee Robinson raised eyebrows across Europe and is playing in the Premier League

To be approached by AC Milan, with the approval of Paolo Maldini, whilst playing for Wigan in a Championship relegation scrap, you have to be a special player.

This is exactly the bizarre situation that Fulham left back Antonee Robinson found himself in back in January.

The 23-year-old was all set to sensationally swap the DW Stadium for the bright lights of San Siro when he failed his medical due to concerns over an irregular heartbeat, taking transfer talks way past the allotted deadline.

Following Wigan's relegation from the second tier, Robinson joined fellow countryman Tim Ream at Fulham in the summer and has featured regularly for Scott Parker's side since his switch to Craven Cottage.

Much like his opposite number, Robinson is a pacy, attack-minded full back with a desire to overlap when his team are in possession, something he has demonstrated many times for both club and country.

Born in Milton Keynes to an English mother and a father from the States, the defender has eight caps for the USMNT, despite only playing a total of three times across all youth levels.

Famously nicknamed 'Jedi' for his love of the popular Star Wars film franchise, don't be surprised to see Robinson use all his force to be a starting defender in Qatar.

CENTER MIDFIELDER - Weston McKennie

Club: Juventus (On loan from Schalke)

Age: 22

Weston McKennie has enjoyed significant progress at Juventus
Weston McKennie has enjoyed significant progress at Juventus

Playing for Juventus in the Champions League whilst receiving the seal of approval from Cristiano Ronaldo should be a terrific benchmark for any player in world soccer to hit. Weston McKennie had achieved both of these things before his 23rd birthday.

McKennie lit up Matchday 6 of the European competition's group stage, scoring an effortless acrobatic volley past a helpless Marc Andre ter Stegen as Juve thrashed Barcelona 3-0 in their own backyard. The 22-year-old's goal and all-round play that night only further helped to solidify his reputation as one of the best young players in Europe.

Currently on loan at the Turin club, the Texan native has already hugely impressed manager Andrea Pirlo and the board will almost certainly look to make his move from Schalke a permanent one in the summer.

Making his professional debut in 2017, it took McKennie no time to immediately establish himself as a defensive focal point in the Schalke midfield, frequently enduring great success in the air and in one-on-one battles to provide exquisite cover for the backline.

McKennie was also able to develop the attacking side of his game at the German club, providing a threat through long range passes and bursting runs from deep within his own half. These attributes make him the perfect player to spearhead the USMNT's midfield three.

His healthy return of six goals for his country in 21 starts has added yet another string to his ever-growing bow of capabilities.

Amongst critics and fans alike, there is very little doubt that McKennie has all the makings of one of the world's best and if he continues on his unplayable run of form, the 22-year-old can become one of the best midfield assets that the national team has had in a long while.

CENTER MIDFIELDER - Tyler Adams

Club: Red Bull Leipzig

Age: 21

Tyler Adams is making significant progress at RB Leipzig
Tyler Adams is making significant progress at RB Leipzig

August 13, 2020 marked a momentous day in the 11-year history of Red Bull Leipzig when Julian Nagelsmann's side emphatically defeated Spanish titans Atletico Madrid, seeing them advance to the Champions League semifinals for the first time ever.

Leipzig had found themselves ahead five minutes into the second half but were nullified by a penalty from Portugese wonderkid, Joao Felix as the game roared onto its dying embers.

Much to their delight, the Germans were able to fight fire with fire, summoning a precocious hero of their own, whose 20-yard strike in the 88th minute was enough to euphorically catapult them through to the final four.

The hero in question? A 21-year-old kid from a small town near New York City.

A product of the Red Bull system, Adams mastered his art in the US at the franchise's New York team for six years before making his professional debut in 2016.

One thing that became very apparent throughout the midfielder's three-year stint in the MLS was that his tireless work rate, shrewd defensive judgement and diversified range of passing enabled him to thrive in various positions across the pitch.

Deployable as a disruptive number six, a tempo-dictating box-to-box number eight, a reliable full back or a tricky winger, Adams' stellar performances in each of these roles amassed great debate throughout the MLS on where he best belongs on the pitch.

His all-rounder playing style immediately caught the attention of Leipzig coach Nagelsmann, who tempted him across the pond to light up the Bundesliga last January, describing him as 'the most sought-after player in the MLS.'

Admired by the tactician for his 'quarterback-like' qualities, he was even chosen at center back for a full 90 minutes against Nuremberg back in September, despite the availability of out-and-out center halves in Willi Orban and Nordi Mukiele.

Excelling in yet another position, he was impressively named Man of the Match for his formidable defensive display in the 3-0 win.

Tyler Adams is a player who has always gone from strength to strength, adapting his game and his mindset to best suit a particular system or formation. With 24 appearances for his country already, the USA have seen the best from him in his preferred central midfield role and it is imperative that Berhalter continues to allow him to flourish there.

CENTER MIDFIELDER - Yunus Musah

Club: Valencia

Age: 18

Yunus Musah is already making his name in La Liga
Yunus Musah is already making his name in La Liga

Another young prospect in the next generation of American talent is Valencia CF's Yunus Musah.

Having been a hot prospect in the Arsenal academy for seven years, New York-born Musah made the decision to swap North London for the sunny coast of Valencia - much to the discontent of Unai Emery.

With 17 appearances under his belt in the Segunda Division B in the club's reserves, he was brought into the first team setup by newly-appointed manager Javi Gracia. By the turn of November, Musah had already made his mark as the youngest ever non-Spaniard to score for the team, finding the net in a 2-2 draw with Getafe.

Musah has been a diamond in the rough so far in a somewhat turbulent league campaign for the Valencians, his high-quality performances have made him a favorite amongst loyal supporters of Los Che.

Initially breaking through on the right side of midfield, his robust physicality and calmness on the ball make him a reliable choice in the center of the park for the Spanish side, a position he has featured in during both of his games for the national side.

Despite featuring in the USA's recent games with Wales and Panama, the 18-year-old has previously represented England at a number of levels, including in the U-18 team which he would go on to captain.

With Gareth Southgate and his coaching staff said to be considering Musah for future England camps, regular game time for his country will be pivotal for the midfielder in ensuring that he continues to represent them for years to come.

LEFT WING - Christian Pulisic

Club: Chelsea

Age: 22

Christian Pulisic will be one of the first names on the teamsheet in Qatar
Christian Pulisic will be one of the first names on the teamsheet in Qatar

No prizes for predicting this inclusion.

A two-time USMNT Player of the Year, the youngest-ever captain of his country, over 80 appearances for Borussia Dortmund and a valued Premier League player for Chelsea at just 22 years of age - who else but Captain America himself?

With these accolades to his name and an outstanding 34 international caps so far, the adoration shared for Christian Pulisic by his teammates and millions of fans worldwide is undeniable.

Joining Dortmund in 2015, Pulisic's impact was almost instantaneous, after dominating the club's youth ranks where he returned 10 goals and eight assists, he inevitably caught the eye of Thomas Tuchel, who promoted him to the first team without hesitation.

Thrust under the spotlight as one of the hottest young talents in the game, his deadly attacking instinct and consummate professionalism quickly propelled him to become one of the best players at the club.

By the turn of his 19th birthday, Pulisic had played over 60 times for his club and 18 for his country respectively, having broken a multitude of records along the way.

Pulisic's unmatched brilliance in the German league sealed him a prestigious transfer to the Blue side of London in the 2019 January transfer window.

The £57.6million fee agreed between the two clubs made the 22-year-old the most expensive American of all time, providing him with a golden opportunity to chance his arm in the world's best league.

Although a persistent hamstring injury coupled with frequent rehabilitation sessions has withheld his prominence in Lampard's side at times, the forward provided an impressive 14 goal contributions in his first 30 Premier League games. His 10 goals for the Blues in that time have made him the quickest American player in history to hit that landmark in the competition.

Captain America has already cemented his place as the first name on the USA team sheet and barring any more bad luck with injury, this doesn't look set to change any time soon.

RIGHT WING - Giovanni Reyna

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Age: 18

Gio Reyna is another young talent making his way in Europe
Gio Reyna is another young talent making his way in Europe

As the son of former USMNT captain and Manchester City midfielder Claudio Reyna and US Women's veteran Danielle Egan, Giovanni Reyna's esteemed football heritage is deep-rooted in his DNA.

Named as a tribute to his father's distinguished and deeply revered ex-Rangers teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst, he seemed destined for a career in the sport from a very young age, starting his first scholarship with New York City at the age of 13.

Immediately, an adolescent Reyna emerged as a dazzling talent throughout NYC's youth ranks, earning him numerous call ups to his national team at U-15, U-16 and U-17 level, where he captained the team in both an U-17 World Cup and a CONCACAF Trophy.

After signing his first professional contract with Borussia Dortmund last year, the 18-year-old has broken a number of international records in just 24 appearances for the club; usurping fellow countryman, Christian Pulisic on more than one occasion.

These honours included the youngest American to play in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League; pipping Pulisic to the post by just 12 days.

An attacking midfielder by trade, Reyna's lightning pace and dynamic flair has seen him double up as a winger on multiple occasions, providing a series of goal contributions from either position for Dortmund.

This raw attacking prowess came to fruition in a 4-0 victory against Freiburg in October, when he became the first 17-year-old to record three assists in a single Bundesliga game for the first time ever.

Earning his first official national team call-up the day before his 18th birthday, Reyna has featured on the right wing twice for the USMNT. His debut goal came in a 6-2 drubbing of Panama from an exquisite low-driven free kick on the edge of the box.

With the world at his feet, Reyna's exquisite footwork, fast-thinking distribution and dangerous set-piece play will make it very difficult for coach Berhalter not to choose him in the foreseeable future.

STRIKER - Josh Sargent

Club: Werder Bremen

Age: 20

Josh Sargent of USMNT
Josh Sargent of USMNT

It was just two minutes into his Bundesliga debut for Werder Bremen and Josh Sargent had already made his mark in Die Werdenarers' history books as the fastest debutant to score in the club's 119-year history.

Entering the pitch as a late substitute in the 76th minute against Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2018, Sargent's first touch was to head into an empty goal, securing both the game for his team and a sensational first runout for himself.

It's been a mixed bag for the 20-year-old prospect since then, a hamstring injury and a recent near-relegation scare for Bremen has seen him return just seven goals across all competitions for his club.

Now a regular starter under manager Florian Kohfeldt, Sargent has featured in nearly every game for the club this season, only missing out in the defeat to Wolfsburg due to a minor ankle injury. With over 750 minutes already under his belt, the striker offers something much more to the team than his finishing.

Alongside his two goals and two assists in 10 games so far, his strength and immaculate hold-up play have made him one of the first names on the Bremen team sheet, with Kohfeldt confessing that he hasn't envisioned one starting lineup this season that doesn't include Sargent.

These performances have caught the eye of Bremen legend Claudio Pizarro who tipped the red-headed finisher to have his best season yet, brandishing him a 'natural born goalscorer'.

There have been no qualms whatsoever about Sargent's goal scoring on the international stage, not only is his 30 goals at U-20 level one of the highest tallies ever but he has also managed a promising five-goal return in 12 games in the first team.

As a player in the form of his career at club level, Sargent looks well on his way to fulfilling his prophecy as the next prolific US number 9, with the World Cup being the quintessential tournament for him to prove his doubters wrong.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  • GOALKEEPER - Bill Hamid, DC United
  • CENTER BACK - Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls
  • CENTER BACK - Matt Miazga, Anderlecht
  • FULL BACK - Reggie Cannon, Boavista FC
  • FULL BACK - Deandre Yedlin, Newcastle United
  • FULL BACK - Chris Gloster, PSV Eindhoven
  • CENTER MIDFIELDER - Richie Ledezma, PSV Eindhoven
  • CENTER MIDFIELDER - Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy
  • CENTER MIDFIELDER - Alex Mendez, Ajax
  • WINGER - Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
  • WINGER - Konrad De La Fuente, Barcelona
  • WINGER - Tim Weah, Lille
  • STRIKER - Sebastian Soto, SC Telstar (On loan from Norwich)
  • STRIKER - Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC

By Owen Thompson