USMNT Big Board: Who’s primed for 2024 Copa America roster?

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The Summer of Soccer is over for the United States men’s national team, the Qatar World Cup is but only a fading memory and coach Gregg Berhalter will soon return after a months-long hiatus. When he’s back around the team in September for friendlies against Uzbekistan and Oman, it will unofficially mark the beginning of the team’s preparation for the 2026 World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

As pivotal as 1994 was, when the tournament was first held in the United States, the version three years from now will be even more significant for the sport in America. That will be true regardless of how the U.S. performs, but as this team’s unprecedented collection of talent enters their prime years, expectations will never have been higher.

There isn’t a black-and-white way to define what success would look like yet, however improving upon past performances is a logical barometer. So, after bowing out in the round of 16 in 2022, a trip to the quarterfinals — which would equal the team’s best-ever finish in the modern era — feels like a good place to start.

There’s lots of work to do, and before the World Cup becomes the primary focus, the U.S.-hosted Copa America next summer promises to be an incredible dress rehearsal. Unlike this summer’s Gold Cup and the invented-from-thin-air Nations League, the Copa America carries real prestige. It will feature all 10 CONMEBOL teams — hello, World Cup champions Argentina — and six Concacaf teams to create a rare high-stakes tournament for the U.S. to compete in.

In this version of the USMNT Big Board, we look at the current state of the depth chart and choose a 26-player roster for the Copa America (it’s unclear what roster size the tournament will use). For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll assume all players are healthy.

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How we’re doing this

As we have in the past, we’re going position by position, from goalkeeper to attacker, and sorting the player pool in four tiers based on recent form and the coaching staff’s perceived preferences. Those tiers:

  • Tier 1: Projected starter. Roster locks and players who are clear starters at their positions.

  • Tier 2: Contributor. Expected to be on the roster and contribute on the field, either as a sub or as a possible starter.

  • Tier 3: On the bubble. In contention to be on the 26-man squad and provide roster depth.

  • Tier 4: Out of the picture. Whether they are locks who are injured and thus unavailable, or they are players who have been around the team but likely won’t receive much of a look for inclusion, this group is not in consideration right now.


Goalkeepers

Turner’s rise over the past couple of years has been remarkable and there is no question he’s entrenched as the U.S. No. 1. It’s hard to envision a realistic scenario where he loses that job, but the same might have been said about Steffen when he made his move to Man City from MLS. As things stand, Turner is the No. 2 at Arsenal and his standing with the Premier League runners-up also doesn’t figure to change this season. It’s not ideal to go another full campaign without a steady run of games, but Turner improved at Arsenal — particularly with his feet — so perhaps another year there can continue that trend.

After Turner, it’s all up for grabs. Horvath helped Luton Town get promoted to the Premier League while on loan, Johnson is a welcome veteran presence, Steffen was the No. 1 through much of qualifying and Slonina is the high-potential prospect. Any of those options for the second and third spots are justifiable, so we won’t waste any time pretending otherwise.

Selections right now: Turner, Horvath, Slonina


Full-backs

Dest and Robinson are the obvious choices to start on both sides, and neither face any real threat to be unseated any time soon. They’ve both been subject to transfer rumors, but there’s real value, from a U.S. perspective, for Robinson to remain at Fulham, where he gets to play next to U.S. teammate Tim Ream. Dest said he wants to remain at Barca, but he can’t afford a consecutive season with a bit role.

Scally’s ability to play on both sides makes him a key asset and should probably be considered the primary back-up to both Dest and Robinson. He ranked No. 7 among all American players in minutes in Europe’s top five leagues last year (2,212) and is still just 20 years old.

All the players listed in Tier 3 are viable roster options. Jones and Reynolds both had solid Gold Cups and are on the ascent; Vines is naturally left-sided and the trio of Cannon, Moore and Yedlin have all been somewhat interchangable at right-back.

Selections right now: Dest, Robinson, Scally, Reynolds


Center-backs

Coming off an incredible season at Fulham and in the World Cup, where he was one of the best American players, Ream remains the starting left-sided center-back. At 35, it’s fair to have concern about how long he’ll be able to maintain his recent level of play, but that’s not an issue in the short term. There also doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite for who should start next to him.

Zimmerman gets an undue amount of flack for being in MLS, but he’s mostly been solid for the U.S. (his performance against Iran in the World Cup was massive) and is in group with Richards, Carter-Vickers and Robinson probably competing for the starting job. McKenzie and Palmer-Brown are right there, too, but they feel more like depth options than potential starters. Trusty is currently with Arsenal in preseason after a strong season on loan with Birmingham City and I like him as the primary backup to Ream as a left-sided center-back.

Neal is also worth a shout here not because he’s Copa America-ready, but he more than held his own in the Gold Cup at 19 years old, which bodes well for his future.

Selections right now: Carter-Vickers, Ream, Richards, Trusty, Zimmerman


Midfielders

The tiers might be a bit deceiving here because McKennie, Musah, Reyna and Adams are all roster locks. It’s just a question of what combination of those three should play in midfield. After seeing Reyna play centrally in the Nations League, it should be clear that’s where he makes the biggest difference for this team. It’s possible Berhalter still views him as a winger, but the team is significantly less dynamic when he’s out wide.

So, if Reyna is playing advanced centrally, that leaves only two spots for Adams, Musah and McKennie. A tough decision! But that’s the sign of a good team. Musah is the most complete player of the three, so I’d go with him in one spot. The other is probably a decision based on matchup, but Adams — the team’s World Cup captain — deserves the benefit of the doubt (again, assuming full health).

The depth pieces all have important seasons ahead of them. De la Torre is the default “next man up” — he was a major contributor at Celta Vigo after the World Cup — and is better suited to help chase a goal rather than lock up a game. Malik Tillman had a breakout season on loan at Rangers playing mostly in an attacking midfielder role. Sands’ loan spell at Rangers didn’t go as well and is now back at NYCFC, but was reliable in the Gold Cup.

Tessmann is one to keep an eye on. He made significant strides at Venezia last season — where he was a more important player than Busio — and would have been on the Gold Cup roster had it not been for his wedding this summer.

Selections right now: Reyna, Adams, McKennie, Musah, De la Torre, Malik Tillman


Wingers

With Reyna slotted into the midfield, Weah is the starting right winger by default, playing on the opposite side from Pulisic. Aaronson is a good fit as a super-sub with the versatility to play in the midfield. (Malik Tillman is listed in midfield, but can also play on the wing).

There’s a fairly steep drop-off after that. Booth showed some encouraging flashes in the Nations League group stages, albeit against El Salvador and Grenada, and is probably best positioned to make a hypothetical final cut. This is especially true after Zendejas struggled in the Gold Cup, despite expectations to be one of the team’s best players at the tournaments.

Paredes appeared 22 times in the Bundesliga last year for Wolfsburg, but has yet to make his USMNT debut. Whether that comes as a left-sided winger or a left-back remains to be seen. Either way, he’s got a bright future and should be called in soon. Cowell is high on potential, too, but his lack of end product will make it hard to get called in when the rest of the first-choice guys are available.

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Selections right now: Pulisic, Weah, Aaronson, Booth, Paredes


Strikers

Balogun’s arrival represents the biggest source of optimism surrounding the team right now. After scoring 21 goals for Reims last season, he steps right into the starting role and the team’s starting XI looks a whole lot more dangerous. He’s with Arsenal right now on their European tour, but the expectation is that he’ll be transferred before the end of the summer window. Wherever he lands, it won’t impact his standing with the U.S., which has never had a pure striker in a top European league play at the level Balogun showed last season.

Pepi is the obvious backup. His 12 goals for Groningen helped secure a move to PSV, where he’ll have a chance to pile up a large goal tally this season.

The No. 3 spot is up for grabs. Sargent has had his ups and downs before reclaiming the starting job as the World Cup began and his 13-goal season for Norwich City in the English Championship was his most productive in his career. If he builds on that, the depth chart would look like a position of strength.

Ferreira and Vazquez both had a number of good moments at the Gold Cup and should be considered in the mix for No. 3, but it’s hard to see how they can climb higher than that until they prove they can score consistently at a higher level.

Selections right now: Balogun, Pepi, Sargent

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