Which USMNT lineup spots are up for grabs as Copa América approaches?


More than five years into the Gregg Berhalter era, much of the U.S. men’s national team coach’s preferred starting lineup is obvious. 

Most of Berhalter’s in-pen choices pick themselves. Standout USMNT attacker Christian Pulisic is almost certainly among the first on the team sheet and would be whoever was doing the selecting. The same goes for central midfielders Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, right back Sergino Dest, and right wing Tim Weah.

Left back Antonee “Jedi” Robinson is another lock. Coming off a career-best season with Crystal Palace in England’s Premier League, center back Chris Richards has played himself into an automatic spot, too. Finally, a worrying lack of options in goal — for decades the USMNT’s deepest position by far — leaves Matt Turner as the incumbent keeper even after the 2022 World Cup No. 1 lost his job in the Prem midway through Nottingham Forest’s season.

That’s eight of 11 spots. And it’s not even counting Gio Reyna, whose CONCACAF Nations League-winning performances against Jamaica and Mexico in March make him almost impossible to leave on the bench.

Still, several lineup places remain very much up for grabs ahead of the star-laden 2024 Copa América, which kicks off in 13 cities across the U.S. later this month.

Dest is out until 2025 with a torn ACL. Adams, the American captain at the last World Cup, missed almost the entire European season because of hamstring and back ailments and might not be match fit enough to play every minute at Copa like he did in Qatar. Take those two out, and there are now at least four open jobs ahead of the USMNT’s first pre-Copa tuneup, on Saturday against Colombia in Landover, Maryland.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Ultimately, it’s always good when there’s competition for places,” Cameron Carter-Vickers, one of four center backs on Berhalter’s trading camp roster who is vying to partner Richards against Los Cafeteros and beyond, told FOX Sports Monday during a Zoom conference with reporters. “You push each other.”

Carter-Vickers started the Americans’ final two matches of 2023 but missed the March games with a minor injury. Miles Robinson got the nod alongside Richards versus the Reggae Boyz, while 36-year-old veteran Tim Ream started the dos-a-cero victory over El Tri in the finale. (Mark McKenzie is the other central defender in the current camp.)

The biggest question is who replaces Dest, in part because of the domino effect it could have across the field.

Backup right back Joe Scally struggled mightily against Jamaica, and he doesn’t boast Dest’s attacking flair. Weah does, and he served as an outside defender often last season with Italian giants Juventus. Same for club teammate McKennie. Moving either would require Berhalter to plug another hole elsewhere.  The coach raised eyebrows after announcing the squad when he said that Haji Wright, usually a striker for the U.S., would compete for time on the left wing. Pulisic mans the right side for AC Milan and could potentially switch from his normal place on the left if Weah drops back.

Then there’s Yunus Musah.

A consistent starter in central midfield since before the 2022 World Cup, Musah can no longer be considered a shoo-in. Berhalter sat him in favor of Reyna in that March win over Mexico, and Reyna rewarded Berhalter handsomely.

“We’re expecting something similar this summer,” Berhalter said of Reyna. “Our job as coaches is to put him in the best possible position to perform.”

Where that leaves Musah isn’t clear. Even with Adams’ status uncertain, there’s more competition in the heart of the midfield than ever. Besides Reyna, there’s Johnny Cardoso, who was superb in his first half-season with Real Betis in Spain and is pushing for a bigger role with the U.S.

Meantime, Musah had an up and down season, his first with Milan. The 21-year-old began the campaign as a regular for then Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli before a muscle injury sent him to the sidelines. Getting back into Pioli’s go-to XI took longer than he expected.

“Things happen. You have to adjust,” Musah said. “Toward the end of the season, I started to be involved in some really important games again.”

One was a marquee April contest against McKennie, Weah and Juve in which Musah logged 82 minutes — as a right back. How open would Musah be to lining up there for the U.S. this summer if called upon? “It’s a position where, if I was asked to play there, I’d be more than happy to,” Musah said on Monday. “I’m looking forward to seeing where I’ll be playing.”

He’s far from alone.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him at @ByDougMcIntyre.


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