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CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers

USMNT squad depth takes center stage in last qualifying window

USMNT squad depth

The USMNT squad depth is a hot talking point, only put further under the microscope recently.

With the United States on the verge of qualifying got the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, major names are missing from the team sheet. Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest and Matt Turner, who all played major roles throughout World Cup Qualifying thus far, are out during this window.

With games against the three sides directly beneath them in the final qualifying window, the U.S. is by no means a lock to qualify considering the loss of four potential starters. However, U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter prepared for situations like this.

It would be ludicrous to prepare the same XI players for each game. After all, overuse often leads to injury. However, the range of players deployed by Berhalter over the last year allows players to feel more confident going into three major games.

Not only are these challenging opponents, but they are road games in places where the U.S. lacks success. The USMNT has no wins in Mexico or Costa Rica when it comes to CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, putting extra emphasis on getting a result out of those games.

Now, the USMNT squad depth, something much-criticizes about Gregg Berhalter’s team selection, has the chance to prove itself. Three games with a spot in Qatar on the line against the side’s three biggest challengers. Fortunately, the players that Berhalter and the U.S. called to camp have experience playing against Mexico.

USMNT squad depth

The last calendar year featured three games and three wins against the U.S.’s biggest rival. Over that time, Gregg Berhalter used an impressive 38 different players.

Now, breaking down the USMNT’s available players against Mexico on Thursday night, 20 of the 27 players called up played against Mexico last year in those three wins.

Squad depth is not the be-all end-all of World Cup qualification. Star power and consistency among squads helps bring players together in a way that produces.

However, despite the best efforts of medical and training staff, injuries occur. Such is the consequence of the growth of Americans in European soccer. Sergiño Dest picked up an injury just before El Clásico. Similarly, Brenden Aaronson got hurt in pregame warmups before Sunday’s RB Salzburg game. It’s the nature of the game.

Regardless, the schedule and qualifying move on. A number of the main faces for the USMNT will be featuring for the squad over the next week. Namely, Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah and Miles Robinson dot the XI. However, the players around them should feel strong enough to compete despite the mounting pressure.

READ MORE: USA on verge of World Cup 2022 qualification

Options across the field

The 2021 wins against Mexico are in the past, yes. Still, those games provide an insight into what may appear in Mexico City, Orlando and San José.

Ethan Horvath could start in goal for the first time in a World Cup qualifier. While Zack Steffen has more experience in World Cup qualifying games, Horvath replaced Steffen after an injury in the 2021 Nations League Final. Horvath saved what could have been a game-tying penalty in extra time.

Elsewhere on the field, Yunas Musah, who featured sparingly up until now, could be the key replacement for Weston McKennie. Musah started alongside the Juventus midfielder when the U.S. defeated Mexico in Cincinnati, 2-0. Similarly, Brenden Aaronson’s unforeseen absence could provide someone like Jesús Ferreira the chance to break through. Ferreira made a substitute appearance in that previous World Cup qualifier against the Mexicans.

The fact remains that despite some USMNT fans holding a gripe with Gregg Berhalter’s decisions to not play what could be his ‘best starting XI’, that tactic could pay dividends over the next three games.

Experience, especially when it comes to CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, can prove essential. This applies even more when playing at the Estadio Azteca in a major fixture. Most of the players called up by Berhalter may not be able to say they played at the Estadio Azteca. Yet, they still likely hold some confidence due to previous results.

Confidence on foreign soil

The Estadio Azteca is one of the more challenging grounds to play in across the world. Take away the fact that it is 7,200 feet above sea level, and it is still a daunting stadium. The 87,000-seat stadium hosted a pair of World Cup Finals, where Maradona and Pele each won a World Cup. It is drenched in history, a history that the United States has not won a competitive game in.

Even though the majority of the USMNT players featuring in this window have yet to see the bright lights of the Azteca, confidence still abounds. That is key for Gregg Berhalter entering this game. The stadium will not be full capacity, but Mexico and the U.S. issued 50,000 tickets for this game. This is a similar number to the CONCACAF Nations League Final and Gold Cup Final in Denver and Las Vegas, respectively. Although, the atmosphere will likely be more fiery.

Having so many options that have winning experience against a Mexico side that has been comparatively consistent in terms of team selection bodes well for the U.S.

Of course, the mantra for this team is taking things one game at a time. However, the stress is likely mounting with the deep memory of the failure of 2017 in the back of some players’ minds.

However, as seen with the celebrations after each of the three wins against Mexico in 2021, this is a new squad. That USMNT squad depth could prove crucial to make it four wins in four games against Mexico. Additionally, it could bump the U.S. ever close to Qatar.

IMAGE: John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

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