Are Haji Wright, Ethan Horvath & Co. worthy of World Cup consideration?
2: 35 PM ET
Kyle BonaguraESPN Staff Writer
- Covers the Pac-12.
- Joined ESPN in 2014.
- Attended Washington State University.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — With roughly five months until his team will assemble for the World Cup, United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter is about to set off into uncharted territory.
Under normal circumstances, the tournament might already be going on, but Qatar’s unbearable summer heat pushed the 2022 edition to the winter for the first time in the competition’s history. It will be a bizarre and likely problematic event. Eight years ago, the United States met at Stanford University to prepare for the World Cup in Brazil. This was a month before the tournament started. The team had two weeks together before it played three domestic friendlies in the span of 11 days, which was followed by a nine-day layoff before its opener against Ghana.
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The schedule was conducive to adequate preparation. It allowed the team to get together, be healthy, and work on tactics, as well as compete for the final roster spots. It is still a matter of debate whether Jurgen Klinsmann, the former coach, took full advantage of this opportunity. )
Berhalter will get none of those luxuries.
Instead, the final extended period he’ll get with the players is almost over. And while the pair of friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay were valuable, the same can’t be said of team’s mandated CONCACAF Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador to close out this window. At the very least, not to the same extent. It is unlikely that you will have the same impact playing against non-World Cup-caliber players more than five months prior to the World Cup.
This is however the reality.
The United States will play El Salvador at Estadio Cuscatlan on Tuesday. This will be the team’s last game before a pair European-based friendlies in September. Berhalter indicated that he will return to a more first-choice lineup after the team played a heavily rotated team against Grenada on Friday. This is the same site where it began World Cup qualifying in September with a 0-0 draw.
” It’s a balancing act,” Berhalter stated. “Part of it was giving the group an extended period in each of the first two games, then we rotated and let other boys have the chance to see how we were evaluating players in this camp. We keep playing, we keep going. “
After Jesus Ferreira scored four goals against Grenada, Berhalter said Haji Wright will get a turn to start at striker as part of a planned rotation. Wright replaced Ferreira in the first two games of this window, scoring a penalty against Morocco.
For Berhalter to properly evaluate how Wright could help the team at the World Cup, it makes sense he would want to see him playing as part of a front three that includes Christian Pulisic on the left and Timothy Weah on the right — the two players who project as starters in Qatar. Ferreira’s four goals against the No. 170-ranked team in the world while playing between Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola — two players on the fringe of the World Cup roster — it wasn’t exactly an instructive exercise for World Cup purposes. Wright’s chance against El Salvador is different. His chances against El Salvador are different because there is less information about him with the national team. However, a positive showing could have a significant impact on his place on the striker depth charts.
The other player with the most to gain is goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, who will get his first start with the U.S. since keeping a clean sheet in a friendly against Costa Rica last year. After moving to Nottingham Forest prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, Horvath started just 10 games for the club and has never started a competitive international match. The start against Costa Rica was his only appearance for the U.S. since coming on for an injured Zack Steffen in the Nations League final last summer, where he saved an Andres Guardado penalty in extra time to preserve a 3-2 win. It will be interesting to see which lineup Berhalter chooses. Does midfielder Luca de la Torre get another start after his impressive performance against Grenada? Although the level of competition is not high enough to warrant praise, De la Torre’s performance against Grenada was a worthy one. He’s looking for a new club and a start with two of the Weston McKennie–Tyler Adams–Yunus Musah trio would beneficial both in terms of evaluating the combination and building chemistry. There are many other questions, such as center-back, right back depth, etc. These questions will not be answered for months. Just a week remains before the European club schedule is paused in preparation for the World Cup. This means injuries, form, and other factors will all play major roles.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.