By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
Given the flurry of club-switching that members of the U.S. men’s national team have already undertaken this summer, it’s hard to believe Europe’s transfer window won’t slam shut until Sept. 1.
By and large, though, we know where the overwhelming majority of the USMNT’s World Cup roster and lineup hopefuls will be playing between now and the squad’s Nov. 21 opener against Wales at Qatar 2022.
Few of the transfers we’ve seen so far figure to have a huge impact on a player’s standing within Gregg Berhalter’s squad.
Matt Turner will probably remain Berhalter’s second-choice goalkeeper despite joining Premier League mainstay Arsenal. Luca de la Torre is probably still going to be a World Cup reserve despite swapping the Dutch Eredivisie for La Liga. Malik Tillman’s loan from Bayern Munich to Scottish club Rangers probably won’t be quite enough to propel him onto Berhalter’s 26-man squad.
Several deals, on the other hand, could be hugely consequential to how the U.S. performs at the World Cup.
For the players listed below, their summer moves could well determine whether they start in Qatar, what sort of form they’ll be in when they get there or, in one particular case, if they make the trip at all.
Let’s dive in.
If Christian Pulisic is entrenched as Berhalter’s top option on the left wing, who’s the starter on the right? With two excellent attacking options in Aaronson and Tim Weah (and possibly Gio Reyna, who has missed most of the last year with hamstring issues), it’s hard to say.
Aaronson’s $30 million move in May could change that.
The Philadelphia Union product has been excellent on the right flank for Leeds during the preseason, especially in Monday’s 6-2 victory over Italy’s Cagliari. Aaronson had three assists in United’s final tune-up before the new Premier League campaign kicks off this weekend, including this one with the outside of his right foot.
Berhalter experimented with Aaronson in the midfield in June, so it’s possible Berhalter will find a place for the 21-year-old in the lineup at the World Cup no matter what. If Aaronson, Reyna and Weah all end up vying for one spot on the field, though, a quick start to life in the Prem could tip the odds in Aaronson’s favor.
The Americans’ most capable and experienced defensive midfielder is a lock to start in Qatar. That would’ve been the case had Adams stayed in Germany despite the fact he fell out of favor with Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco after Tedesco replaced Jesse Marsch midway through last season.
Now Adams is reunited with his former Leipzig and New York Red Bulls boss at Leeds. Not only does that mean he’s going to play a ton, he’s also going to be challenged every week at a higher level against many of the same players he’ll come up against when the U.S. takes on Wales and England in their first two group stage games. That’s an ideal situation for both Adams and the USMNT.
Pefok won the Golden Boot in the Swiss league last season with 22 goals, earning a move up to the Bundesliga. Now the 26-year-old, who has just one goal in nine appearances for the USMNT, needs to prove he can continue scoring regularly in the top-five European circuit.
If Pefok can begin 2022-23 by finding the target more regularly than Augsburg’s Ricardo Pepi or English Championship-based pair Daryl Dike and Josh Sargent, he’ll become the favorite to make Berhalter’s 26-man World Cup roster as the squad’s other central striker after Jesús Ferreira.
So far, so good; Pefok opened his account for Union on Monday with an acrobatic finish in German Cup play.
As with Aaronson and Adams, competing in the planet’s toughest domestic league is a significant step up for Richards, who spent most of the last two seasons on loan from Bayern to midtable Bundesliga side Hoffenheim.
Under Palace coach Patrick Vieira, the Alabama-born center back will get every chance to prove that he belongs in the Premier League.
“He’s a solid defender who loves to defend, especially in a 1v1 situation,” Vieira said after Richards’ debuted last Saturday in a friendly against French club Montpellier. “He’s really comfortable with the ball.”
If Richards, 22, adapts to the pace and physicality of the English game quickly, he’ll create separation between himself and Aaron Long, who is also vying to partner Walker Zimmerman in central defense at the World Cup.
The only guy on this list who didn’t go up a level, Steffen dropped to the second-tier Championship to secure playing time. It’s a shrewd decision. The 27-year-old has started the biggest U.S. games played under Berhalter, his former coach with the Columbus Crew in MLS.
But with Sean Johnson a regular in MLS and Ethan Horvath off to a strong start with Luton Town, Steffen needed to be a week-in, week-out starter to secure his status as the coach’s No. 1 at the World Cup. Now he is; Steffen earned rave reviews after making four saves in Boro’s 1-1, season-opening tie with West Brom last weekend.
Meantime, Steffen’s main competitor throughout World Cup qualifying, Turner, is expected to back up Aaron Ramsdale with the Gunners this season.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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