This question was submitted by Jeff R.
I feel mostly okay about the latest USMNT roster, but let’s start with a major argument I’ve been seeing online about it: the “MLS players are deadweight” crowd vs. the perceived “MLS journo” class.
There’s a lot of fan-facing accounts that are set against almost all of the MLS players on this roster. Then there’s also been backlash to those people by some writers (several of whom I count as friends). And while I think that some of the complaints against the MLS players are overblown, I do think several of these fan accounts have a point.
Jordan Morris is 27 years old and it feels like we’re still expecting him to become something more than what he is currently, which is a pretty good player in MLS. He hasn’t come close to troubling the rotation of first-choice USMNT wingers since returning from his second ACL tear. Paul Arriola is Paul Arriola, and he’s never going to be an incredibly exciting choice for a roster. I think Cristian Roldan has been excellent for his club, but wasn’t inspiring for the U.S. in his very limited minutes in qualifying. Jesus Ferreira is hot right now, but I have serious doubts about him as the USMNT striker of choice.
There’s only one more FIFA window before the World Cup. And while there are going to be several MLS players that make that World Cup squad, this would have been a great time to find out some more things about some of the players who we haven’t seen ad nauseum with the U.S. over the past couple years.
Because, realistically, if Arriola or Morris scores a hat trick against Grenada, what does that tell us?
This is a small annoyance, because I think the gulf between what players like Morris will potentially offer the U.S. at the World Cup compared to players like Malik Tillman won’t be that large. But you actually have to see some of those players playing with your squad to know that for certain, right?
As it stands, we will get to see Tillman and we will get to see Haji Wright, which is great.
We should be seeing every possible striker that the USMNT could play at this moment (which is part of the reason I was sad to not see Brandon Vazquez included). And there are a bunch of players that are either injured, have just come back from injury, or have been playing through injury that obviously are not here. Players like Richy Ledezma, Daryl Dike, Josh Sargent, and several others.
Will any of those players crack the first choice USMNT XI if everyone is healthy come November? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s just difficult to tell when some of the space is being taken up on the roster by players whose ceilings and floors are already well-established.
If there’s one thing on the roster to be annoyed about, it’s that.
June is one of the last really good opportunities to get a prolonged look at which players could break into the team and instead it’s filled with several known-quantities from MLS. Those MLS players might end up being the best options for the World Cup (and I think a few of them will be)! But if Berhalter’s not going to look at any other options in a camp, it feels like comfort picks from MLS whose ceiling won’t make them competitive against better competition than Concacaf are sort of just walking onto the World Cup roster.
As an addendum, I would like to note that while an extremely vocal contingent of fans gives Berhalter grief for calling up MLS players that don’t excite them, he has been extremely good at giving opportunities to young talent. It’s also important to note that the majority of this roster does not play in MLS.
And, if we’re looking at a “first choice” USMNT starting lineup, there’s probably only going to be one or two MLS players that make that lineup (pour one out for Miles Robinson’s tendons). Both MLS and Berhalter are easy punching bags for people to hit when they want to blame the USMNT underperforming on something other than the players that play for huge clubs. Sometimes those arguments are valid. But I think there’s also plenty of room for optimism heading into the World Cup.
The annoyance I feel about the players called to this camp is largely dwarfed by the sheer amount of young talent the USMNT has in big leagues all over the world and by how Berhalter has already given so much of that talent a shot with the senior team.