The stretch run of the MLS season carries with it its own sense of urgency. Who will make the playoffs? Who will stay home? Which individuals can finish standout seasons on a high? This time around, there is a whopper of a twist added with the 2022 World Cup looming on the horizon.
So as it stands, there are around a dozen or so players coping with the added stress of trying to make the United States men's national team's World Cup roster. Some have been ensconced for some time now; others are still battling to worm their way onto the roster.
While much of the team will be made up of European-based stars like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest, around a third of the 26-man squad will come from MLS. With the just-concluded international window offering some not necessarily pretty data points, the jockeying for positions in the team is still ongoing in some cases.
Locks for Qatar
Zimmerman is about as solid of a lock as there is. He has been a steady contributor and consistent starter since October 2021, when he was initially left off the squad. His tackling, dominance in the air, ability on set pieces and steady passing -- the Japan game notwithstanding -- make him a certainty to be in Qatar.
Ferreira has had an outstanding season with FC Dallas, tallying 18 goals with five assists. Goals at the international level have been harder to come by -- four of his seven goals came in one game against minnows Grenada -- but his willingness to initiate the press and mobility are prized by manager Gregg Berhalter, meaning he'll be spending the late fall in the Middle East.
Even with a 26-player roster, versatility is a prized attribute, and Acosta fits the bill there, filling in either at holding midfielder or at one of the No. 8 spots. He's also capable of making accurate set-piece deliveries, which could be a key element for the U.S. if it is to make it to the knockout rounds.
Long didn't impress with his performances in the two recent friendlies, but with injuries striking several other center backs, the Red Bulls defender seems almost certain to go. With the U.S. likely to utilize a high line against opponents, Long's ability to cover the space in behind is highly valued by Berhalter.
In a team that skews heavily toward youth, Yedlin is one of the few players still around with World Cup experience. His ability to cover either full-back position is valuable as well, although he'll likely be exclusively a right back on this team. Reggie Cannon's recent injury is to Yedlin's benefit.
Morris hasn't quite hit the heights he reached prior to his knee injury in February 2021 when he was on loan at Swansea City, but he has scored seven goals along with four assists for Seattle this season, and he gives the U.S. a speed option off the bench that is badly needed given that Timothy Weah is the only other burner on the roster.
On the bubble
Paul Arriola | Winger | FC Dallas
Arriola has been outstanding this season for Dallas, with a career-high nine goals to go along with six assists. Given that end product has long been an issue for the Chula Vista, California, native, that is a significant development to go along with his undeniable work rate. But winger is probably the deepest position on the roster, meaning he could just miss out.
Johnson hasn't done anything wrong to put himself out of the running for a World Cup spot. His performance in a June friendly against Uruguay showed he can perform at this level, but with Zack Steffen and Matt Turner vying for the No. 1 spot, and Ethan Horvath playing regularly for Luton Town, Johnson could be the odd man out.
Cristian Roldan | Midfielder | Seattle Sounders FC
Just how valuable is a "glue guy"? That will ultimately determine if Roldan makes it. The Seattle midfielder is hugely respected in the locker room, but the six games he missed recently due to hernia surgery didn't help his cause at all, and the needs elsewhere on the roster at forward and center back will probably preclude Roldan getting selected.
Some untimely injuries have meant that Williamson hasn't gotten as much time with the USMNT as he otherwise might have, but his ability to carry the ball out of midfield combined with an eye for telling passes means he can't be completely written off just yet. Much will depend on if Berhalter views Luca de la Torre's recent performances as a blip or something of greater concern.
Shaq Moore | Right back | Nashville SC
Right back is one of the deeper positions for the U.S., and that kind of numbers game means Moore will likely miss out despite some solid performances for Nashville since arriving in the summer.
Another player hampered by untimely injuries, Mihailovic hasn't quite been the same since he was sidelined by an ankle injury just prior to the May/June training camp. At this stage he will certainly find it difficult to make the roster, despite an overall impressive season in Montreal, where his goal scoring and creativity have been raised a notch or two.
There was once a time when Zardes going to Qatar seemed inevitable, especially given his prior working relationship with Berhalter. But while he has scored nine goals since an April trade to the Rapids from the Columbus Crew, the fact remains that he has been passed by several Europe-based strikers, as well as Ferreira.