By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 27, 2023) US Soccer Players – With the 2022-23 Concacaf Nations League and 2023 Gold Cup in the rearview mirror, the USMNT will soon train its focus on a busy autumn schedule. These final six games of the year lead into important matches in 2024, including the final phase of the next Nations League, the Copa America on US soil, and the 2024 Summer Olympics.
After half a year under the interim leadership of Anthony Hudson and BJ Callaghan, the program also welcomes back head coach Gregg Berhalter this fall. His return is one storyline to watch among many as the team gathers in the September, October, and November international windows. Here’s a rundown.
The United States will play in the Midwest for the September window, which runs from Monday the 4th through Tuesday the 12th. The Yanks host Uzbekistan at CityPark in St Louis for a friendly on Saturday the 9th. It’s their second visit of the year to the home of MLS expansion side St Louis City SC, having defeated St. Kitts and Nevis 6-0 there in the Gold Cup group stage in June before a crowd of 21,216.
Currently 74th in the FIFA World Rankings, one slot ahead of El Salvador, Uzbekistan has never before faced the USMNT. The former Soviet republic has been an active member of the Asian confederation since independence in 1991, though has yet to qualify for a World Cup. Most recently the “White Wolves” finished second to Iran in the 2023 CAFA Nations Cup, a new tournament organized by the Central Asian Football Association and co-hosted by Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Then it’s north to Minnesota to face Oman, also for the first time, at Allianz Field in St Paul on September 12th. FIFA ranks the Omanis one spot ahead of Uzbekistan at 73rd, though they finished third at the same CAFA Nations Cup in June. Oman has yet to qualify for a World Cup but has been contenders in their region. Due to congested schedules, these two games are being framed as the USMNT’s best and possibly only chance to play Asian opposition before the 2026 World Cup, with the exception of Qatar’s participation in the Gold Cup as a guest team.
The 9-17 October window features two much more familiar foes. Germany travels to East Hartford, Connecticut to meet the USMNT for the first time since 2015 on Saturday, October 14th. Then it’s on to Nashville, where the US will play Ghana at Geodis Park the following Tuesday. Germany and Ghana have been World Cup antagonists more than once over the past quarter-century and are currently ranked 15th and 60th, respectively.
In November, the USMNT will play an opponent still to be determined in a two-legged, home-and-away quarterfinal tie in the Concacaf Nations League, a new tweak to that competition’s format. The four winners of the quarterfinal series will advance to the CNL finals, which will retain the previous format and take place in March. With the US, Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico paired with teams advancing from the CNL group stage via seeding based on Concacaf’s October rankings, the four fall friendlies carry some extra weight, given their potential effect on those placements. The USMNT is currently 2nd to Mexico in Concacaf’s table.
Stability, change or evolution?
Returning coach Gregg Berhalter is a familiar figure with a well-defined way of working, which holds appeal to players and staff. That said, his second cycle in charge has begun under unconventional circumstances. Having two assistants run the program while federation officials plotted the path forward has given everyone a glimpse of some subtle tweaks within the same established system.
Hudson and Callaghan emphasized stability while making some adjustments based on player availability and opponents. Most notably, flipping the central-midfield triangle shifted Berhalter’s preferred 4-3-3 formation into more of a 4-2-3-1. This provided freedom for Gio Reyna to roam and create as a pure attacking midfielder. A double pivot behind him, mostly manned by Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie, eased the challenge of replacing the range and bite of the injured Tyler Adams.
What has Berhalter learned from watching the USMNT from a different perspective these last months? Which of his previous ideas will carry over, and which get adapted or replaced?
The to-do list
Player identification and evaluation remain paramount at this stage of the process and will likely be key in September and October. By that point the depth chart could look quite different from what it was when Berhalter’s previous contract expired at the end of December.
Since then, Folarin Balogun committed his future to the USMNT and Ricardo Pepi transferred to PSV Eindhoven. Where do those two rank for the #9 role along with Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira, Daryl Dike, Haji Wright, Brandon Vazquez and others? Some of those might even land at new clubs between now and the close of the current transfer window.
Similarly, wingers Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah moved to new destinations with Pulisic joinin AC Milan and Weah signing with Juventus. The speed with which they settle into life in Italy and Serie A will affect their outlook come call-up time. McKennie is back at Juve after his loan to Leeds United and may have a chance to build further chemistry with Weah. It might make for a useful comparison that given Liga MX’s schedule, Alejandro Zendejas would arrive at these two fall camps in rhythm from Club America’s usual stretch-run pursuit of hardware.
In Germany, Reyna will be aiming to stay healthy and log regular minutes in the opening weeks of Borussia Dortmund’s season. Brenden Aaronson is charged with finding his feet quickly on loan at Union Berlin, who will take part in UEFA Champions League in 23-24. Paxten Aaronson could be part of Eintracht Frankfurt’s regular rotation by then, and Joe Scally could be a key defensive starter at Gladbach.
Beyond the ranking of known contributors like these, Berhalter and his staff will need to determine which members of the ’23 Gold Cup squad are in a position to contribute to the full group. Standouts like Ferreira, James Sands, and DeJuan Jones made their cases. Then there are Europe-based contenders like Cameron Carter-Vickers, Sam Vines, and Mark McKenzie, who will have had a month or more of club action in which to prove they’re deserving of a call.
With no qualifying process for 2026 as co-hosts, next summer’s two big tournaments represent massive opportunities for evaluation and experience before the World Cup. Copa America and Paris 2024 may seem distant now, but the ensuing months will fly by. That may imbue this fall’s friendlies with a particular sense of urgency for Berhalter and his players.
More from Charles Boehm:
- MLS, Liga MX step into new territory with 2023 Leagues Cup
- Rundown of European-based USMNT players’ 2023/24 season outlooks
- The USMNT handles Saint Kitts and Nevis as Gold Cup Group A plays out
- Preview: USMNT opens Gold Cup defense against Reggae Boyz
Photo by Inter Miami