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Pulisic, Reyna, Weah or Aaronson? Berhalter's USMNT World Cup lineup decisions as players fight for starting spots

21:44 EAT 29/09/2022
Pulisic Reyna Weah Aaronson splitt
Several key battles could determine how the U.S. fares in Qatar.

By and large, Gregg Berhalter knows what the U.S. men's national team will look like at the World Cup.

He, generally, has his starting XI picked out, even if several of those starters were absent during September friendlies. And he's said that, at this moment, there are only a few final spots up for grabs for a spot in Qatar.

From choosing a starter in goal to deciding who starts up top, several key positions remain in flux just weeks before the U.S. arrives at the world's biggest tournament.

But those final few spots may be vital and those last few battles to be in the starting XI could be the difference between success and failure at the World Cup.

Below, GOAL runs through the USMNT's toughest starting lineup battles.

  • Turner USMNT 2022

    Matt Turner vs Zack Steffen

    It's been about a year since the goalkeeper battle began.

    Matt Turner's run at the 2021 Gold Cup pushed him right into a competition with Zack Steffen, and the Arsenal goalkeeper hasn't looked back as the two have gone head-to-head for the last 12 months.

    But, as Qatar edges closer, it appears that Turner should have an advantage in that competition.

    Turner is the better shot-stopper of the two, Steffen the better with his feet. And, for most of the last 12 months, Berhalter has gone with Steffen when forced to choose between them.

    He hasn't been forced often, though, as Steffen's availability has been an issue. He missed out on September camp due to injury, allowing Turner to play all 180 minutes of the final two pre-World Cup friendlies.

    Turner wasn't perfect, but he was good enough to show that he should start in Qatar. He makes all of the big saves, knows his limitations with the ball and keeps his team in games. It's all you can ask of him.

    With Turner likely to get more minutes in cup competitions for Arsenal in the coming weeks, it seems the job is now his to lose.

    As it stands: Turner

  • Chris Richards USMNT 2022

    Aaron Long vs Cameron Carter-Vickers vs Chris Richards vs Mark McKenzie vs Erik Palmer-Brown

    We know one of the USMNT's starting centerbacks: Walker ZImmerman. His partner, though, is anyone's guess.

    Long got the bulk of the minutes in September, but the New York Red Bulls captain didn't really impress. His passing was way, way off, showing why a partnership between him and Zimmerman probably won't work due to the two's lack of ability on the ball.

    Someone like Richards, meanwhile, seems a better fit, although he's had fitness issues aplenty. He's also hardly played for Crystal Palace, so form is a concern as well.

    Carter-Vickers appears to be next on the list, considering he was called up for camp before pulling out due to injury, with McKenzie and Palmer-Brown facing a fight to make the squad after only joining as injury replacements in September.

    In an ideal world, Richards is probably the guy, giving the U.S. one athletic, quick centerback and one physical leader of a centerback in Zimmerman, but it remains to be seen how ideal the world looks come November.

    As it stands: Richards

  • Ferreira USMNT 2022

    Jesus Ferreira vs Ricardo Pepi vs Josh Sargent vs Jordan Pefok

    There are a few more names we could list here, players like Daryl Dike or Haji Wright or Brandon Vazquez.

    But by and large, the listed four are the players that will almost certianly be competing for three spots in Qatar.

    Ferreira is the front-runner, but his starting role is far from certain. He'll have to keep scoring with FC Dallas to guarantee he holds on just in case one of those behind him surges.

    The most likely to surge? Pefok, who was controversially left out of the September roster. The striker has been scoring for Union Berlin, who have emerged as a Bundesliga contenders, and, if he keps doing so, it'll be impossible to leave him out of the squad.

    As for Pepi and Sargent, both will need to prove that they've reinvented themselves this season. Sargent has done well with Norwich and Pepi has gotten off to a good start with Groningen, but their spots will come down to their form, and goals, over the next few weeks.

    As it stands: Ferreira

  • Pulisic USMNT 2022

    Christian Pulisic vs Tim Weah vs Gio Reyna vs Brenden Aaronson

    The USMNT's four most talented attackers are battling it out for two spots.

    You could make a very good case for all of these guys to start. There's Pulisic's ability on the ball, Weah's speed, Reyna's creativity and Aaronson's energy, just to start.

    But the fact is that, unless Berhalter decides to spring a surprise and move Reyna or Aaronson to the midfield, two of these guys will need to begin on the bench.

    Unfortunately for now, Reyna seems to be the first person to eliminate from the starting XI due to his fitness concerns. The Borussia Dortmund star just can't stay healthy, and it seems using him off the bench as a 30-minute super-sub may be the best way to get the most out of him.

    That leaves Pulisic, Weah and Aaronson. Pulisic will start, that much is clear. He's the face of American soccer and, when on form, the USMNT's most dynamic player.

    Weah and Aaronson, then, are left to fight for one spot. And, if forced to choose, that spot probably goes to Weah, even if he has missed the start of the season. His ability to stretch defenses is vital for the USMNT system, and his goalscoring doesn't hurt for a team lacking a finishing No. 9.

    Aaronson, meanwhile, is certainly in the mix, but could, like Reyna, bring a dose of energy off the bench in a tight spot.

    As it stands: Pulisic and Weah

  • McKennie Pulisic 2022 USMNT

    Projected USMNT Starting XI

    Goalkeeper: Matt Turner

    Defense: Antonee Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Sergino Dest

    Midfield: Weston McKennie, Tyler Adamsi, Yunus Musah

    Attack: Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, Tim Weah