Who Didn’t Suck? USMNT Player (And Coach) Ratings For First World Cup Qualifying Window
Whew. That was a close one. Facing the prospect of two points from its opening three World Cup qualifiers, the USMNT rallied for a big 4-1 win on Wednesday night in Honduras, salvaging a decent showing over the September international window. It wasn’t great, but the Americans avoided disaster, which makes our USMNT player ratings (and coach rating) all the spicier.
From a tepid performance in San Salvador to a roaring comeback in San Pedro Sula, there was an interesting mix of good and bad to take away from the start of World Cup qualifying. Drawing El Salvador 0-0 wasn’t the end of the world until a 1-1 draw with Canada put the U.S. behind the pace. Down 1-0 at halftime in Honduras, Gregg Berhalter made some halftime changes that may have saved his job and almost certainly saved the USMNT from another disappointing result.
Here are our USMNT player ratings, coach Berhalter included. These ratings will include everything over the international break, from goal contributions to off-field issues (looking at you, Wes). These are listed in no particular order, from back to front.
USMNT Player Ratings — September World Cup Qualifiers
Matt Turner — 5/10
Coming off a stellar Gold Cup and fun MLS-Liga MX All-Star Game, Berhalter stuck with the hot hand by putting Turner in goal for all three matches. Turner was fine; in three matches, the New England Revolution man made four saves and allowed one goal.
Turner’s best moment came when he got down to his left to deny a header from Marcelo Pereira in the 64th minute of a 1-1 game with Honduras. Christian Pulisic had just gone off injured and it looked like the match could teeter either way, and his save kept the Americans from going behind, setting the stage for the three late goals.
It wasn’t all good. Turner’s distribution continues to be a major question mark. I felt nervous every time the ball was played back to him, and he seems incapable of being the guy who starts the attack from the back.
Ethan Horvath — 1/10
It’s hard to give a rating to a guy who didn’t even play, but I’ll try. I think Horvath is an excellent keeper, but, while I’m not really one to talk, he’s got resting terrified face. Seeing him warm up for these qualifiers on the road did not instill confidence, even though I know if he had been in these games he’d have been just as good as Turner.
Still, he’s got to be frustrated to not have received any playing time over this break, especially given what happened to the next fellow on this list.
Zack Steffen — Covid/19
The Manchester City keeper was called in with expectations he was still the No. 1 keeper in Berhalter’s eyes. Unfortunately, he didn’t play a single game, testing positive for Covid-19 and returning to Manchester City — where he could actually start this weekend because Ederson is ineligible.
Steffen was hurt in the Nations League final against Mexico and he doesn’t get a ton of playing time in England, so it would’ve been nice to see him play this window, but it didn’t work out that way.
Sean Johnson — n/a
Johnson was a late replacement for Steffen but did not play. He’s got nine senior USMNT caps, but at 32 it’s hard to see him getting any closer to the pitch for the USMNT.
Sergiño Dest — 3/10
There were moments against El Salvador and Canada where Dest looked like the best offensive weapon on the field. Unfortunately, there weren’t many of those moments, and the Barcelona fullback remains a defensive liability.
Dest was injured against Canada and missed the Honduras game. It didn’t feel like the USMNT missed him too much in that final match, though it would’ve been nice to have him for depth considering Tyler Adams looks much better in midfield than right back.
DeAndre Yedlin — 4/10
Torched by Alphonso Davies on Canada’s equalizer, it’s hard to give Yedlin a high score here. But he helped turn the game around in San Pedro Sula, supplying the cross that Ricardo Pepi headed in for the winner moments after the Galatasaray fullback came on.
Yedlin continues to be an enigma — at times superb on both ends, other times constantly out of position. USMNT fans will hope for more of the former as World Cup qualifying continues.
Walker Zimmerman — Made up the numbers/Unused sub
Zimmerman is a decent enough MLS center back, but Berhalter found no use for him in back-to-back-to-back games.
Antonee Robinson — 7/10
The Fulham fullback was one of the USMNT’s best players over this window. His equalizer against Honduras was massive and set the stage for the much-needed comeback.
Robinson replaced Dest with 25 minutes left against El Salvador and was, honestly, an upgrade. Getting the start against Canada, there were times when he looked a bit out of sorts. One of Berhalter’s halftime subs against Honduras, he likely clinched his claim to starting left back for all future World Cup qualifiers.
And his celebration after scoring the equalizer against Honduras was 14/10.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) September 9, 2021
John Brooks — oof/10
There was a time when I thought John Brooks was by far the best USMNT defender. The Bundesliga veteran is a towering, physical presence with one of the best passing ranges on the entire roster. None of those traits were on display during this window.
Brooks didn’t play against El Salvador but started the next two games. Against Canada, he completely lost track of Cyle Larin on the equalizer. Against Honduras, he was at fault for racing out to get the ball, completely missing and failing to get back to stop Los Catrachos from scoring the opener.
Brooks was yanked at halftime against Honduras and the mantle of best CB on the squad now belongs to the next man on this list.
Miles Robinson — 9/10
Robinson wasn’t chosen to join the supposed first-choice USMNT for the Nations League at the start of the summer. Now he’s probably the best defender on the entire team, and it’s easy to see why he’s one of just two field players who played every single minute of the three qualifiers.
Like Turner, Robinson had a superb Gold Cup, scoring the winner in the final against Mexico. The Atlanta United center back turned that into a roster spot for these qualifiers and won’t let it go anytime soon.
While not impeccable in all three games, his consistency overall was superb; he was often the last line of defense when the rest of his fellow defenders fell down on the job. He’s not as polished a passer as Brooks, but at 24 he’s got a bright future, one that probably will include Europe once word gets out about how good he’s become.
Tim Ream — 10/100
Ream started at center back against El Salvador. He didn’t play again.
There are certainly worse center backs available to Gregg Berhalter than Ream, an experienced 33-year-old who has more than 200 appearances with Fulham. But lately, Ream seems like one of the worst choices for the starting lineup. He gives attackers way too much space, he’s slow to react to danger and his manbun isn’t making him look any younger.
Ream’s passing abilities cannot mask his defensive liabilities in games where the U.S. needs him to put out a fire or two each game.
Mark McKenzie — 5/10
McKenzie wasn’t used until the Honduras match when Berhalter decided to go with a back three. The Genk center back performed well for the most part, though he perhaps could have communicated with George Bello a bit better on the goal.
In my opinion, McKenzie and Robinson look like they’d make a great center-back duo, and indeed that’s what was employed in the excellent second half against Honduras. Berhalter would be wise to keep those two together, though I wouldn’t mind seeing new shithouse king Henry Kessler get in the mix as a third center back late in matches, just to stir the pot.
James Sands — A for Effort
Sands made his World Cup qualifying debut with a start against Honduras, playing as a defensive midfielder in a 5-2-3 formation. He flew around the pitch, jumping into challenges and trying to make himself useful — key word: trying.
For some reason, Sands could not stay on his feet, looking like the next coming of Phil Jones. His distribution and possession were poor, though some of that was because of the trouble he was put in by the defenders behind him.
Sands survived the halftime changes before eventually coming off for Yedlin, which allowed Adams to move more centrally, which changed the game.
George Bello — 3/10
I think Bello, 19, has a bright future. Unfortunately, his World Cup qualifying career got off to a rocky start.
I want to give Bello a decent score because he has a lot to offer the USMNT, but he wasn’t exactly put in a great position against Honduras, starting as a left wingback in a system that left him a bit lost. Bello occasionally was able to fly forward to help the attack but was too often negligent of his defensive duties. It was his man who ghosted into the box unmarked to score the opener.
I hope Bello keeps getting chances, but he’ll need to do better with them.
Tyler Adams — 9/10 at CDM, 3/10 at RB
When deployed as a midfielder, Adams was marvelous. He was covering the wings when fullbacks were caught too far forward, he was pushing the ball forward after receiving lazy passes from the defense and he showed the fire and leadership you want from a USMNT captain. He repeatedly stopped Alphonso Davies after Yedlin or Dest failed to do so and was a major reason why the U.S. allowed just two goals over the three matches, playing all 270 minutes.
When deployed as a right back for an hour against Honduras, Adams suddenly forgot how to defend, couldn’t get involved in the attack and was unable to impact the game like he is capable.
Hopefully Berhalter recognizes he needs Adams as a No. 6, not a fullback, especially with a wealth of options at the position.
Weston McKennie — Chipotle/10
The best part about this international break being over is that I no longer have to watch McKennie talk about how great Chipotle is. Paramount+ must only have a handful of commercials because that one was on repeat on Wednesday night, when CBSSN decided it would rather show auto racing reruns than major international soccer.
McKennie was pretty good against El Salvador, though he didn’t quite do enough in my opinion. Still, he’s clearly one of the top two midfielders (with Adams) in the USMNT player pool.
Unfortunately, he was kicked off the team for violating Covid-19 protocols and did not play the final two matches. Making such a selfish mistake — reports said he went out after curfew/outside of quarantine and invited someone to his hotel room — during massive World Cup qualifiers won’t endear himself to his teammates.
I’d say I hope he learns his lesson, but he got in trouble for hosting a party during lockdown in Italy with Juventus teammates already, so instead we just have to hope for everyone in the world to get the Covid-19 vaccine so he no longer breaks the rules when he wants to have some extracurricular fun.
Kellyn Acosta — 6/10
The other Texan midfielder was at least able to stay on the field longer, appearing in all three matches, starting the final two in McKennie’s place. Acosta was excellent at the Gold Cup but didn’t quite match that form in these qualifiers. Still, he didn’t fuck up, so there’s that.
Acosta probably isn’t a starter for a full-strength USMNT (I’d love to see Adams, McKennie and Yunus Musah play together more), but he’s a solid option either off the bench or to rest legs.
Sebastian Lletget — 4/10
I want to hate Lletget so much, and not just for using a homophobic slur earlier this year. Every time the LA Galaxy midfielder takes the pitch for the U.S., I think there’s gotta be someone better to take his place. Usually, he proves me wrong and scores or assists.
Lletget played in all three qualifiers, starting against Canada. He scored the final goal in the Honduras victory. He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t awful and he wasn’t great. He was adequate. He should’ve done more against Canada, but so should have the entire team.
Lletget is a classic example of an MLS player who probably won’t ever be first choice but is nice to have to fill out the numbers, especially in a midfield that was incredibly light this window.
Cristian Roldan — 1/2 Roldans
The highlight of the week for Cristian Roldan was going head-to-head against his brother, El Salvador fullback Alex Roldan. Alex won.
Cristian Roldan came on as a sub in all three matches, and it’s a role he usually fulfills well, though this week he was more indifferent.
Against El Salvador, he was unable to get the better of his younger brother, who probably would have played for the USMNT if he were better. Against Canada, he failed to make a difference, but that wasn’t really his fault — Berhalter waited way too long to make any changes and seven minutes weren’t enough for Roldan to make an impact. Roldan was better when given more of an opportunity with nearly 30 minutes against Honduras; his biggest contribution was forcing the turnover that led to Brenden Aaronson’s important insurance goal in the 86th minute.
Jackson Yueill — Pass
A great MLS midfielder, Yueill is fairly far down the list of USMNT midfielders right now. He only made the roster as a late replacement for McKennie, but he didn’t make it into the Honduras match.
Christian Pulisic — 6/10
The great American hope tore up World Cup qualifying as a teenager four years ago. Now the go-to attacking option, he’s off to a rough start.
Pulisic missed the El Salvador match as he returned to fitness after testing positive for Covid-19. He somewhat surprisingly played all 90 minutes against Canada then lasted 62 minutes before having to hobble off with an injury against Honduras.
In his time on the pitch, no one was better at taking on defenders and trying to make something happen. But nothing ever did happen, as Pulisic’s attacks almost always failed to produce any end product. He does deserve credit for getting fouled to spark the goal against Canada (thanks to a good advantage call by the referee), and his driving run early in the second half led to the opener against Honduras. However, I think even he’d admit he’d like a bit more from himself in these vital matches.
Gio Reyna — I for incomplete
After going the full 90 against El Salvador, Reyna picked up an injury and missed the final two matches. One of the most talented attacking options available to Berhalter, you have to think he could’ve made a difference against Canada, when the U.S. often ran out of ideas offensively. Then again, he was on the field against El Salvador, when the U.S. looked even more clueless in attack.
Josh Sargent — 2/10
When is Sargent finally going to live up to the unrealistic expectations that have been improperly heaped upon him? The 21-year-old Norwich City striker at times looks great with his pressing, passing and overall forward play but usually lacks the one quality you want most in a striker: finishing ability.
Sargent was unable to produce in a start against El Salvador and late substitute appearance against Canada. He somewhat surprisingly still got the start against Honduras, but he was yanked at halftime as part of crucial tactical changes that allowed the U.S. to rally for the win.
Jordan Pefok — 3/10
Like Sargent, Pefok had his chances but couldn’t come up with the goods. He was involved in the buildup to the goal against Canada in his lone start, but wasn’t able to impose himself on the match like he’s shown in the past (like scoring the late winner over Honduras in the Nations League).
Though new to the national team — he made his USMNT debut earlier this year — Pefok is already 25, meaning he must make more of his opportunities. Like Sargent, he was left on the bench against Honduras and could find himself behind in the pecking order for the October qualifiers.
Brenden Aaronson — 6/8.4oz Red Bull
The Red Bull Salzburg attacking midfielder was primarily deployed on the wings but was one of the USMNT’s most consistent attacking threats throughout all three matches.
Aaronson scored the opener against Canada with one of his trademark runs into the box. In the 86th minute against Honduras, he made a 50-yard sprint to make himself available to Pepi for the third goal, which allowed USMNT fans to finally exhale.
The can of Red Bull wasn’t completely full for Aaronson, but it was a pretty good start to World Cup qualifying for the 20-year-old, who only received his first cap last year.
Konrad — 3/10
Konrad de la Fuente showed some sauciness in his somewhat-surprising start against El Salvador, but he lacked any real meat to his play. The Marseille winger is off to a good start in Ligue 1 but wasn’t able to provide much of a spark with the USMNT.
The former Barcelona man tried to get things going early against El Salvador but quickly ran out of ideas. His seven-minute cameo against Canada wasn’t enough time to make an impression — Berhalter really should’ve used his subs earlier — and Konrad didn’t appear against Honduras.
With forwards like Tim Weah, Daryl Dike, Nicholas Gioacchini, Matthew Hoppe, Cade Cowell and more also available for selection, Konrad will need to do more to maintain his place on Berhalter’s roster.
Ricardo Pepi — 10/10
We’re saving the best performer for last. After riding the bench for the first two matches, Pepi finally got his chance with a start against Honduras. While he didn’t do much in the first half (no one for the U.S. did) he excelled in the second, playing a key role in all four goals of the 4-1 comeback victory.
The 18-year-old Texan recently chose to represent the U.S. over Mexico, and fans are hopeful he can be the striker this squad needs to bring it all together. He showed that he might just be that guy in the second 45 on Wednesday, recording an assist and scoring the eventual winner.
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 9, 2021
You just hope he continues that second-half form instead of what he showed in the first half, when he was nearly invisible.
Gregg Berhalter — 2.5/10
Figuring out how to line up your squad for three vital games over seven days with just a couple of training sessions prior is a herculean task. I don’t envy Berhalter, but I do think he could have done much, much better.
The U.S. quickly ran out of ideas against El Salvador despite fielding a team that looked ideal for breaking down a compact defense. Berhalter waited way too long to make any substitutions against Canada (aside from a forced changed for Dest’s injury), and it probably cost the U.S. the win. And Berhalter’s 5-2-3 formation against Honduras was an absolute disaster.
To his credit, Berhalter made halftime adjustments on Wednesday and saved some face. His three moves at the break — plus bringing on Yedlin for Sands 18 minutes later — were vital to the USMNT’s comeback win.
Unlike most of r/ussoccer, I don’t think Gregg with two Gs needs to be fired/replaced immediately. He showed this summer what he can get his teams to do. He does need to do better in these all-important qualifiers.
In the end, Berhalter’s outlook mirrors that of the outlook for the entire squad. It wasn’t a great international window, but it was just good enough. There were mistakes made, but hopefully enough to learn from so that next time the USMNT gets together in October the players and coaches are all on the same page ready to play like the second half against Honduras.