USMNT Big Board: How friendly form shapes Copa America squad

Why Pepi is ahead of Balogun in the battle for USMNT's number 9 spot (0:42)

Hercules Gomez discusses why Ricardo Pepi could replace Folarin Balogun as starting striker for USMNT. (0:42)

Gregg Berhalter is back as U.S. men's national team boss, the September international window is over and next summer's Copa America has come closer into focus.

Unlike when Berhalter first took over at the beginning of the 2022 World Cup cycle, there is no foundation to be laid. The bulk of the players who will be relied on in the coming years are known, and while there inevitably will be players to break through, the path to doing so is much more difficult.

This is all bodes well for the team as its aspirations climb.

It's always tempting to discuss the national team with the World Cup as the primary objective, but a Copa America on home soil next year is the next best thing. This is a high-stakes competition -- unlike the Gold Cup and Nations League -- that has the potential resonate broadly in the United States and a strong performance would be a nice table-setter for when the world trains its eyes on America in 2026.

In this version of the USMNT Big Board, we again look at the current state of the depth chart and choose a 26-player roster for the Copa America (it's unclear what roster size the tournament will use). For the purpose of this exercise, we'll assume all players are healthy.

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How we're doing this

As we have in the past, we're going position by position, from goalkeeper to attacker, and sorting the player pool in four tiers based on recent form and the coaching staff's perceived preferences. Those tiers:

  • Tier 1: Projected starter. Roster locks and players who are clear starters at their positions.

  • Tier 2: Contributor. Expected to be on the roster and contribute on the field, either as a sub or as a possible starter.

  • Tier 3: On the bubble. In contention to be on the 26-man squad and provide roster depth.

  • Tier 4: Out of the picture. Whether they are locks who are injured and thus unavailable, or they are players who have been around the team but likely won't receive much of a look for inclusion, this group is not in consideration right now.


The good news for the United States' goalkeeping situation over the summer was that Turner is no longer a backup and will be getting regular minutes in the Premier League with Nottingham Forest. The bad news is that he is now club teammates with Horvath, which obviously makes it impossible for both to play regularly.

That is going to make it tough for Horvath to prove his worth as the U.S. No. 2, among a group that features a mixture of young (Slonina and Callender) and veteran (Steffen and Johnson) options.

Selections right now: Turner, Horvath, Slonina


With Dest immediately slotting into a starting role at PSV and Robinson having signed a long-term contract with Fulham this summer, both starting full-backs are in great situations at the club level.

Scally didn't appear this window (he left early for family reasons), but starting for Monchengladbach to begin the Bundesliga season suggests his career continues to trend in a promising direction. For now, he looks like the best option to serve as the primary backup for both Dest and Robinson.

The most newsworthy development recently is the addition of Lund, who was granted a one-time switch from Denmark and is an option at left-back. It's still too early to say with any confidence how significantly he'll factor with the U.S., but added depth is always welcome. Jones and Reynolds both had strong Gold Cups and should be viewed as strong roster candidates.

Selections right now: Dest, Robinson, Scally, Reynolds


After captaining the side against Uzbekistan, Ream remains the clear front-runner to start as the left-sided center-back. He'll turn 36 prior to the next window, though, and while his age isn't an immediate concern, it will factor into long-term planning.

The spot next to him is up for grabs among mostly the five-man group of Richards, Carter-Vickers, Zimmerman, McKenzie and Robinson (with Palmer-Brown also an option.)

Trusty got a Premier League move to Sheffield United, but he has yet to appear. If he's able to carve out a role there, he might be able to push Ream on the left side.

Selections right now: Carter-Vickers, Ream, Richards, Zimmerman, Robinson


Here is where personal preference might not necessarily line up with reality. The last time we saw Reyna playing with the U.S. -- in the Nations League this summer -- he was deployed in central midfield and was a game-changer. For a team that has struggled to consistently create chances, having Reyna play there feels like the best solution.

However, that came when B.J. Callaghan was serving as the interim coach, when Berhalter was still away from the team. Callaghan and Berhalter seem to be mostly aligned and were in touch during that period, but considering Berhalter never used Reyna in central midfield, it's unclear what his plans are when Reyna returns from injury. That, of course, runs parallel to the reality that Berhalter and Reyna still have not communicated -- as of the start of this window -- following the public feud between their families related to Reyna's playing time at the World Cup that contributed to Berhalter's monthslong absence from the team.

That this continues to drag on months after Berhalter was rehired is bizarre.

Back to the depth chart. With Reyna slotted in here, that means either he or one of Musah, Adams and McKennie will sit. That any of those players won't start is a testament to the improved quality of the team, but there's also the reality that the team shouldn't bank on having all four healthy given recent history.

Behind them, De la torre and Malik Tillman are next up, with Tillman better suited to play in an advance role.

Selections right now: Reyna, Adams, McKennie, Musah, De la Torre, Malik Tillman


Unless Reyna slots back in at winger, this one is straightforward with Pulisic and Weah the entrenched starters. Pulisic is off to a great start in Milan, and Weah is starting for Juventus (at wing-back). Aaronson's energy is a great asset off the bench and players such as Booth and Paredes have a chance to work their way into the mix.

Selections right now: Pulisic, Weah, Aaronson, Booth, Paredes


It's remarkable how quickly striker went from a glaring weakness to a position of strength. Balogun's arrival has a lot to do with that, but Pepi's form with the U.S. has been excellent, too (he scored off the bench against Uzbekistan and Oman). As long as those two stay healthy, Berhalter should feel confident the team will be able to capitalize in front of net.

Sargent was off to a great start in the Championship with Norwich City before suffering an ankle injury that will reportedly keep him out months. Ferreira scored seven goals in the Gold Cup, which warrants further call-ups, and has a goal and five assists in five games with FC Dallas since the tournaments ended. Vazquez hasn't been nearly as prolific, scoring just five goals in 22 games this year for Cincinnati.

Selections right now: Balogun, Pepi, Ferreira