A pivotal USMNT summer begins with a roster full of European experience

The U.S. men's national team will kick off a pivotal summer with a roster short on consequential decisions and long on European experience.

It is not quite the USMNT's Copa América roster. That will be announced on or around June 14, after friendlies against Colombia (June 8) and Brazil (June 12), before a June 15 deadline.

But it's close. The 27-player squad announced Monday is a clear window into head coach Gregg Berhalter's thinking as the pan-American tournament nears.

Berhalter avoided his trickiest decision, at striker, by selecting all four of the players — Folarin Balogun, Haji Wright, Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi — who could play crucial roles at the position.

Speaking via Zoom, he justified the selections by explaining that he now sees Wright "more fulfilling the winger role" — which is where Wright has been playing, and scoring, for his English Championship club, Coventry City; and where the USMNT lacks depth behind Tim Weah and Christian Pulisic.

A few months ago, speaking to reporters in a Maryland hotel conference room, Berhalter said he'd "probably" take "two or three" pure strikers to the Copa América. But with rosters expanding from 23 to 26 players — a change that CONMEBOL, the tournament's organizer, confirmed last week — he will almost surely take three strikers, plus Wright, who can also play centrally.

And he can do this, in part, because the rest of his roster is now stocked with known quantities, some of whom are coming off their best European seasons to date.

On the wings, Pulisic set personal bests — 15 goals and 9 assists — in his first 10 months at AC Milan; and Weah just won a trophy, the Coppa Italia, at Juventus.

In midfield, also at Juve, after being nudged toward exit doors last summer, Weston McKennie delivered the strongest season of his pro career.

In Spain, Luca de la Torre settled at Celta Vigo; and Johnny Cardoso impressed at Real Betis.

Tyler Adams, on the other hand, struggled with injuries; Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah struggled for playing time. But all three have proven themselves with the national team.

A seven-man midfield — rounded out by Malik Tillman, who just won the Dutch Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven; and supplemented by the versatile Brenden Aaronson, who played critical Bundesliga minutes for Union Berlin — seems all but set.

(The training camp roster includes an eighth midfielder, Timmy Tillman, Malik's brother. But he could be the odd man out when the roster is trimmed to 26 for the Copa América.)

Even in defense, Chris Richards battled admirably for, and won, a regular place at Crystal Palace. Cameron Carter-Vickers won another Scottish title at Celtic. They could be the USMNT's first-choice center back pairing this summer — especially with Tim Ream having lost his starting spot at Fulham.

On the left side of defense, also at Fulham, Antonee Robinson was a near-ironman in the Premier League.

The only question mark, then, is at right back, where Sergiño Dest typically dazzles. Dest tore his ACL this spring. "Obviously," Berhalter said Monday, "with Sergiño going down, we have to figure out the right back situation. And there's a couple different options we can look at."

Dest's injury left Joe Scally as the natural replacement. Behind them, depth has dried up. Berhalter's backup choice appears to be Shaq Moore, the third-stringer from the 2022 World Cup, and one of only four MLS players on this 27-player roster. (The others: center back Miles Robinson, third-string goalkeeper Sean Johnson, and Timmy Tillman.)

Berhalter, though, indicated that there were less natural options being considered. "We have like for like, with Joe Scally and Shaq Moore. We have a winger that can play there, with Timothy Weah, who's played that for his club," Berhalter said. "We have center midfielders who can play there, with Weston and Yunus. And then we have center backs that we're looking at; can they play there?

"Some of [the solution] may revolve around a back three," Berhalter said, in response to a question about that possibility. In that scenario, Weah could play right wing back; Antonee Robinson could play left wing back; and Pulisic could partner one of the strikers up front, with Reyna behind them.

"But the first objective is to see how we're going to fill that right back position, because we know that we're going to be missing Sergiño," Berhalter concluded.

Moore was perhaps the most controversial inclusion on the 27-player roster. Other mild surprises were Johnson and Mark McKenzie. That they were the headliners, though, says a lot about the state of the USMNT. Of these 27 players, 18 are holdovers from the 2022 World Cup. The roster is largely settled.

The challenge, now, is for the top 20-ish players to grow into a unit that can compete with elite teamsthe type they'll have to beat to hit lofty 2026 World Cup ambitions.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Cardiff City), Sean Johnson (Toronto), Matt Turner (Nottingham Forest)

DEFENDERS (9): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Kristoffer Lund (Palermo), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Shaq Moore (Nashville), Tim Ream (Fulham), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Cincinnati), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Tyler Adams (Bournemouth), Johnny Cardoso (Real Betis), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (AC Milan), Gio Reyna (Nottingham Forest), Malik Tillman (PSV Eindhoven), Timmy Tillman (LAFC)

FORWARDS (7): Brenden Aaronson (Union Berlin), Folarin Balogun (Monaco), Ricardo Pepi (PSV Eindhoven), Christian Pulisic (AC Milan), Josh Sargent (Norwich City), Tim Weah (Juventus), Haji Wright (Coventry City)

The USMNT's most likely starting lineup for its Copa América opener — June 23 vs. Bolivia in Arlington, Texas — is:

Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
Defenders: Joe Scally, Chris Richards, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson
Midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna
Forwards: Tim Weah, Folarin Balogun, Christian Pulisic

The USMNT's preparations for a busy summer, and its two-year runway toward the 2026 World Cup, will begin next week in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Players begin reporting to camp May 28. All will arrive by June 2.

They'll play Colombia June 8 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. They'll then travel to Orlando for a June 12 friendly against Brazil.

They'll then buckle up for Copa América. Their group stage schedule is:

  • Sunday, June 23 vs. Bolivia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

  • Thursday, June 27 vs. Panama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

  • Monday, July 1 vs. Uruguay at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City

Their quarterfinal would be July 6. The final is July 14.

A week after that, a U.S. Olympic team will travel to France. There will be very little overlap between the Copa América and Olympic squads. The latter is a mostly under-23 squad, with only three overage players allowed.

So it is clearly a secondary event. "The priority is Copa América," Berhalter said in February. The Olympics, though, will be an opportunity for fringe players who might've snuck onto the Copa América roster, but will get more out of starting games at the Olympics.

Berhalter has already identified some of those U-23 players: winger Kevin Paredes, midfielder Aidan Morris, and fullback Bryan Reynolds, "potentially," were the ones he mentioned by name on Monday.

Others include goalkeepers Patrick Schulte, Chris Brady and Gaga Slonina; midfielder Tanner Tessmann; and attack Paxten Aaronson.

Center back Walker Zimmerman is a strong candidate for one of the three overage slots. Striker Brandon Vazquez and center back Auston Trusty are among the many others also in the conversation, Berhalter said Monday. So are players who'll be on the Copa América roster, but might not play heavy minutes.

"There are a number of players we're considering for both the Olympics and Copa America," Berhalter confirmed. "It's about the conversations with the clubs, and really evaluating the load in Copa América, the load in this whole training camp, and really figuring out what makes sense for the players."

The U.S. men kick off their Olympic slate against the hosts, France, on July 24, the very first day of competition, at 3 p.m. ET (9 p.m. local time in Marseille).