The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar has begun, which means the United States of America are finally playing soccer on the global stage after failing to qualify in 2018. Tyler Adams has been awarded the captain's armband by player vote. Weston McKennie has played well for Juventus. Yunus Musah is making a splash in Spain. This strong midfield is what will ultimately help this team to move to the knockout stages. Let's get to know them and the rest of the crew.
Key: PLAYER NAME (CLUB/COUNTRY; CAPS/GOALS; HOMETOWN) KIT NUMBER
Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 32/1; Wappingers Falls, N.Y.) #4
Along with Chrsitian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams is one of the faces of this generation of United States soccer players, and like those other two, is doing so by making a name for himself internationally. Adams was a product of the New York Red Bulls Academy in his youth, making his senior debut in a friendly against Chelsea FC at age 16. Oh, and he scored a goal in that debut. He would eventually stay in the Red Bull system and transfer to RB Leipzig in Germany to play for American coach Jesse Marsch.
This past summer he completed a transfer to Premier League team Leeds United, again playing for Jesse Marsch. Through the first half of this Premier League season, Tyler has been one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. In all honesty, Tyler Adams might be the most important, and most irreplaceable member of the World Cup roster. Pure number 6's are a rare commodity, and Adams is a pure holding midfielder. He's just as adept as providing cover for the center backs as he is setting up an attacking move. He's the USMNT's Casemiro, N'golo Kante, or Kimmich, which is to say he makes the whole thing go.
Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 19/0; London, England) #6
When Yunus Musah committed to joining the USMNT in early 2021, the official US Soccer social media accounts made an entire large campaign around "You Can't Spell Musah Without USA." Such was the excitement around the then 18-year old with eligibility for England, Ghana, Italy, and the USA, that more was made of him deciding to play for the US despite Gareth Southgate's best efforts to recruit him to England, then of any of the friendlies being played at that time. Currently playing in La Liga for Valenica, Yunus has been playing a bit out of position lately.
But for the USMNT he plays at his natural position, the one he played at in Arsenal's youth academy, and the one that many Premier League clubs hope to recruit him to play this next summer. Musah has near-unrivaled dribbling ability, and top notch passing for a midfielder, and uses these pure talents to be a near lock to start in Qatar. With 19 caps already under his belt, Musah has yet to score. But his 20th birthday is the same day as the USA vs Iran match to close the group stage and I can't think of a better birthday present that a game clinching goal, can you?
Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 37/9; Little Elm, Texas) #8
If there was any player on the World Cup roster I would want with me in a fight, it would be Weston McKennie. Wes is to the USMNT what Draymond Green is to the Golden State Warriors. It's no real coincidence he's currently playing his club ball in Italy for Juventus. McKennie isn't afraid to make the necessary tackle, pick up a necessary yellow card, or go toe to toe with opposing defenders to set up his teammates. Along with Tyler Adams, McKennie is a key piece of the US midfield. While Tyler holds down the defensive midfield area, Wes is a true box-to-box mid.
The perennial jokester off the pitch, Wes is nothing but business on it, being named the 2020 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and the 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Player of the Tournament. He has scored the second most goals by an American in the Champions League with 4, behind only Christian Pulisic. The real only worry with McKennie is if he can stay healthy throughout the World Cup, as he has had a bit of an in and out season thus far with a few minor setbacks in regards to his health. But as long as he is healthy, he is one of the trio that makes the USMNT a team to watch out for.
Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 24/6; Medford, N.J.) #11
The Premier League is regarded as the toughest league in the world, and Brenden Aaronson has played nearly every minute since joining Leeds United this past summer. In his first 5 games he had already scored a goal and assisted another. These are not easy feats. But they are why Leeds United spent the money to bring the 22-year-old American to England from Red Bull Salzburg. Along with Tyler Adams and coach Jesse Marsch, Aaronson has helped to turn Leeds United into "America's Team" in the Premier League.
Brenden is listed amongst the midfielders on the official US Roster, and thus is included with the midfielders here, but we are more likely to see Aaronson in a forward attacking role, possibly even as a False 9, in Qatar. His playing style and birthplace once earned him the nickname, "Medford Messi." With Gregg Berhalter's squad struggling at center forward recently, Aaronson could find himself with opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net up top with Pulisic and Reyna.
Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 12/0; San Diego, Calif.) #14
Luca de la Torre is something of a surprise inclusion on the 26 man World Cup roster, mostly because he has been dealing with a leg injury over the last few weeks. While it appears he has made a recovery and will be healthy by the time the USMNT kicksoff against Wales on November 21st. De la Torre signed with La Liga club Celta de Vigo this past July, but has mostly featured as a late game substitute.
This isn't too concerning, as this will be what he does for the USMNT as well. In his time with Eredivisie club Heracles last year he showed himself to be great at keeping possession in the midfield and making the correct forward passes. He was named to the Eredivisie Team of the Month in both March 2021 and January 2022, partially responsible for Celta de Vigo wanting to bring him to Spain. As a late game sub, Luca has the ability to hold onto the ball in instances of needing to hold a lead, and can also facilitate scoring a needed goal if behind.
Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 32/0; Pico Rivera, Calif.) #17
Sometimes a player brings more to a team than just their contributions on the pitch. According to Gregg Berhalter this seems to definitely be the case when it comes to Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. Berhalter has alluded to Roldan raising the level in training and being a fantastic locker room presence. And indeed many of his teammates speak highly of him. And that is one of the reasons it wasn't entirely surprising to see his inclusion amongst the 26 men team.
While Roldan underwent groin surgery back in August, he had made a full recovery in time to play the last few matches of the Sounders season. And he has been a part of nearly all of Berhalter's rosters in his time in charge of the USMNT. Roldan's biggest strength is that he can slot in in many different positions. This is a valuable asset to have on a bench, and should tragedy befall the team in the form of multiple injuries to a single position, a do anything type of player could be the difference between weathering the storm and not.
Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 53/2; Plano, Texas) #23
There was only one man to start both the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final and the 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Final. That man was Kellyn Acosta. The 27 year old midfielder is coming fresh off an MLS season that saw his LAFC team win both the Supporter's Shield and the MLS Cup. A lot has been made of how Gareth Bale successfully used LAFC to get in World Cup shape for Wales, so the same must also be true of his Texas born teammate. After Christian Pulisic, Acosta was likely one of the young players to miss out on their first World Cup when the USMNT failed to qualify for 2018 in Russia.
While Kellyn will likely not find himself on the starting roster in Qatar, he will be one of Gregg Berhalter's key reserves, and might be the closest thing the United States has to a Super Sub. The natural number 2 to Tyler Adams, Acosta is a natural defensive mid, who can anchor the entire team in the absence of Adams. It's also notable that he spent the last season playing alongside one of the biggest threats the US will face in the Group Stage in Gareth Bale. Though a word of caution to anyone thinking that gives the US an edge in that matchup: according to Kellyn, the only way to stop Bale is to kick him.
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