Tillman Ferreira USMNT GFXGetty/GOAL

Tillman's role, another new No.9, and the USMNT's biggest issues ahead of their summer schedule

The U.S. men's national team's eight-year wait is now down to five months.

In five months, the U.S. will arrive in Qatar, ending their World Cup hiatus and looking to reannounce itself to the soccer world with a talented group of young stars.

But much can and will happen in those five months.

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First up, the U.S. has convened for four summer matches in the coming weeks, with the first two being friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay.

After that, the U.S. will turn their focus towards the Nations League for matches against Grenada and El Salvador.

Places are still up for grabs, injuries have already begun to take hold and a few new faces will look to prove themselves, including a new commit from the Bayern Munich setup. The grind of qualifying may be over, but there's still a lot to decide ahead of the World Cup.

GOAL has picked out the five biggest things to watch over the next two-and-a-half weeks of USMNT action:

Another camp, another No. 9 debate

The positional battle that will seemingly never end...

We're just a few months away from the World Cup, and the race to be the USMNT's starting No. 9 will almost certainly depend on what happens in between times.

The spot is completely up for grabs, and will most likely be snatched by whatever player proves themselves to be in the best form when the wheels go up on the plane to Qatar.

Ricardo Pepi, once seen as the obvious heir apparent, isn't in camp after playing non-stop for 15 months between FC Dallas and Augsburg. The last six or so of those, though, are the concerning part, as Pepi has yet to score since the start of 2022.

The main candidates set to make their case in the coming weeks are Jesus Ferreira and Haji Wright, with the latter joining USMNT camp for the first time since 2019.

Wright, once a highly-touted prospect at Schalke, has truly found himself at Antalyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig, scoring 14 goals in 2021-22, including a run of goals in seven consecutive games.

Haji Wright Antalyaspor GFXGetty Images

Ferriera, meanwhile, remains a candidate to start, having done well during his appearances in World Cup qualifying. He's still not quite a true No.9, as he has played as more of a playmaker or second striker during the early years of his career, but the early returns have been good for FC Dallas.

Both Wright and Ferreira will be put in a position to succeed, with all of the team's star wingers involved in the attack this summer.

But this debate will - almost certainly - continue on into the fall.

Close to full strength

If you had to narrow down the USMNT to four key stars, the choices would be pretty simple: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna.

All four are proven at the top level of European soccer, all Champions League players, all winners.

But, over the course of their national team careers, we've hardly ever seen that foursome on the field together. This summer, and hopefully in Qatar, we'll finally get that chance.

By and large, most of the USMNT's key players are here. The above quartet are joined by Brenden Aaronson and Timothy Weah in attack, as well as Yunus Musah in midfield.

Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson, both starters, are also here too. So even if centerback and striker are still up in the air, Gregg Berhalter will, theoretically, have nine of his 11 positions with the go-to starter in camp.

Gregg Berhalter USMNT GFXGetty Images

That's great news for Berhalter as this set of games can be used for a variety of things. The most likely route is that he uses them as a chance to get his best players on the field together as much as possible, giving them the reps together that are so precious on the international stage.

Or he can use them to try things. He can roll out a slightly different system with, say, Reyna or Pulisic as a No.10, or Weah as a No.9, or Pulisic as a false nine like Chelsea has tried.

He can try three at the back, a 4-4-2 or whatever other formation his heart desires. World Cups call for adaptations, and friendlies are a good time to test those out.

That makes this camp valuable. There are only so many minutes left on the field for this group before arriving in Qatar, so Berhalter will have to figure out how to maximize those minutes in whatever way he sees fit.

Tillman's choice

If you're a seasoned follower of the USMNT, this story will sound familiar.

In the run-up to the World Cup, a German-American Bayern Munich starlet makes the switch, giving himself a chance to go to a World Cup.

But Malik Tillman's story is very different than Julian Green's, and the USMNT is in a much different place than it was eight years ago.

Malik Tillman Bayern Munich GFXGetty Images

Tillman, a highly-touted striker-turned-midfielder at Bayern who has been compared to Paul Pogba, recently made his decision to represent the U.S., having starred for Germany at the youth level. That decision left Germany frustrated, as they did have actual plans for the teenager going forward.

"We regret Malik's decision -- it surprised us a lot," Germany Under-21s coach Antonio Di Salvo told Kicker. "We promoted him as a young player in the U21s, we placed a lot of trust in him and gave him match practice. In addition, we were in intensive talks regarding his prospects in the senior national team."

That quote says it all about Tillman, a player that looks strong on the ball and has shown glimpses for Bayern and Germany's youth teams.

He's a long way from becoming Pogba and still probably a ways away from Bayern's senior team, but there's a reason that Germany wanted him to stay in-house.

The reasoning behind Tillman's decision is something only he knows. We don't know what guarantees he was or wasn't given, what feelings led to this choice. But now we'll get to see what that decision means and how he fits with the U.S. squad.

“I think he’s an attacking midfielder in a 3-4-2-1, he could be a pocket winger in a 4-3-3, could be a center mid in a 4-3-3, depending on if he can get his defensive work up to it,” Berhalter said of the 20-year-old. “But he’s really talented between the lines, really natural with scoring goals, good and calm around the penalty box.

"Good technique, good with both feet, so a really interesting player.”

That description makes Tillman sound like an intriguing wild card. He can play multiple positions in Berhalter's trusted 4-3-3, even if he isn't necessarily a natural fit in any of them. He could also play a big role if the U.S. do opt to change formations, which very well could be vital in a World Cup format.

For now, though, there are more questions than answers around Tillman, who could prove to be a game-changer for the U.S. this year and beyond.

Robinson's replacement

Miles Robinson's injury is a backbreaker for the USMNT. For the better part of the last year, he has been virtually perfect for Berhalter, establishing himself as undroppable at the Gold Cup and during World Cup qualifying.

Now, the centerback position is in flux. Well, at least one-half of it. You can still pencil in Walker Zimmerman, but who goes next to him?

Miles Robinson USMNT GFXGetty Images

The most obvious answer is Chris Richards who, unfortunately, isn't in camp due to injury. Richards is still a bit raw but he's a player with crazy upside that does have Bundesliga experience under his belt.

If the World Cup started today and Richards was healthy, he's probably the guy.

John Brooks, though, isn't the guy, as he was once again left out of U.S. camp. Berhalter has said in the past to never say never and to avoid writing Brooks off. This time around, he attributed Brooks' absence to "moving clubs", but the point remains: the veteran is running out of time to reclaim a spot.

That leaves those in this camp - Aaron Long, Erik Palmer-Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers - as the players with the chance to make their case this time around.

Of the three, Long is likely the favorite now that he's healthy. Before his injury last year, Long was undroppable, but his lay-off opened the door for Robinson.

And, in a cruel twist of fate, Robinson's injury may just open the door for the New York Red Bulls star to reclaim a starting spot next to Zimmerman.

Palmer-Brown is an interesting option, having taken a step forward with Troyes in Ligue 1 this season.

“We've been watching EPB playing in France, he was Player of the Month at his club this last month and they secured their place in Ligue 1,” Berhalter said.

“He's been doing a good job, he plays in the three-back system, looks comfortable distributing, he's playing against guys like Mbappe and Messi and Neymar, doing a good job. So for us it's been really interesting watching, watching his progress.

And as for Carter-Vickers...

Who can make a late run?

Carter-Vickers is one of several players that could make a late push for a World Cup spot despite not featuring in qualifying.

It seems every cycle has one or two of those individuals that seemingly come out of nowhere to make that leap. Think DeAndre Yedlin in 2014, who went from a speedy young right back in MLS to marking Eden Hazard in a World Cup knockout game in a matter of months.

Carter-Vickers' road, obviously, isn't as drastic. He last played for the U.S. in 2019 and made eight appearances for the national team over the two years prior.

He's a familiar face, but one in an entirely different situation after finally locking down consistent minutes at the heart of Celtic's title triumph in Scotland.

Cameron Carter-Vickers Celtic GFXGetty Images

There's also Haji Wright, a late entry to the striker race and, of course, Mailk Tillman, who will be introducing himself to the program entirely in the coming weeks.

You can also add in Djordje Mihailovic, who has established himself as one of the better midfielders in MLS since moving to Montreal and will now have a chance to do what Luca de la Torre just did a few months ago by playing his way into the picture.

Finally there's Joe Scally, a player fans of the USMNT have been clamoring for. A talented fullback that can play on either side, Scally seems like an ideal Swiss Army Knife for a World Cup squad, but a drop in form at Borussia Monchengladbach previously kept him out of the qualifying picture.

Can Scally, Carter-Vickers, Mihailovic, Wright or Tillman seize a spot? Could someone like Gabriel Slonina or Paxton Pomkal, both not in this camp, play their way onto the squad? Are there mystery contenders still yet to reveal themselves?

We'll find out in the coming months as the World Cup clock continues to tick on.