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Picking the USMNT’s 23-man roster 100 days out from the 2024 Copa America

Should USMNT call up a Burnley winger to stop him from representing Italy, Canada or Nigeria?

How much should the Olympics be a factor in who Gregg Berhalter picks for the Copa America?

Does Mark McKenzie deserve a call-up after his impressive season at Genk?

The Copa America is just 100 days away, so six of our writers have done the hard work for Berhalter and chosen the 23 players they would pick for this summer’s tournament on home soil…

Paul Tenorio’s USMNT squad for Copa America

My split looks odd because of the small number of “forwards” listed here, but dropping from a 26-man to a roster of 23 means versatility is going to be crucial in how Berhalter thinks about his squad. There are multiple players here who provide that sort of positional flexibility and protection.

Kevin Paredes is listed as a defender because that’s how he was registered on the USMNT’s 60-man preliminary roster for the Nations League, but he is capable — and has mostly played — as a left winger for his country. Joe Scally can play as both a left and right back, as can Sergiño Dest. Gio Reyna and Malik Tillman are both listed here as midfielders, but both can play as a winger and have for the USMNT in the past.

Realistically for a 23-man roster, it isn’t sensible to bring three No. 9s, but I’m not sure there’s a winger who deserves a roster spot over any of the three strikers. If Berhalter opts to take just two strikers, it makes the most sense to play Ricardo Pepi or Folarin Balogun in the Olympics because they’re age-eligible (The Olympics are a U-23 tournament on the men’s side). Neither striker has lit up their respective leagues (the Eredivisie in the Netherlands and Ligue 1 in France), while Josh Sargent has been very good for Norwich City in England’s second tier since returning from injury in December. Pepi was the final cut from the 2022 World Cup roster and that was a mistake. You wonder whether that decision will weigh into the Copa choices, as well.

For now, I’ll cop out by bringing all three strikers and one fewer winger because Paredes, Reyna and Tillman give plenty of cover.

(Broer van den Boom/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

The rest of the squad essentially picks itself. I took Drake Callender over Patrick Schulte as the third goalkeeper, Paredes over Kristoffer Lund due to his ability to play on the wing and Luca de la Torre over Brenden Aaronson due to form and function.

Jeff Rueter’s USMNT squad for Copa America

Generally, this roster is built to have minimal overlap with the Olympic squad playing later in the summer — if any at all.

These are the three most in-form goalkeepers, with Patrick Schulte being better in line for the Olympics.

Mark McKenzie is quietly putting together a very strong season with Genk in Belgium, and could offer a more mobile and long-range passing alternative at the back.

I’m using two roster slots on midfield cover given Tyler Adams’ lack of playing time over the past year; Johnny Cardoso has played himself into must-select status with Spain’s Real Betis, while Lennard Maloney has been dependable for German club Heidenheim. Malik Tillman could factor for minutes along the forward line, while Reyna (who I almost talked myself into making the Olympic roster headliner) could tuck into an advanced midfield role.

(Howard Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Players I left off with an eye on the latter tournament include Pepi, Taylor Booth, Diego Luna, Schulte, Paredes, and Jordan Morris, who I’d tap for an over-age slot.

John Muller’s USMNT squad for Copa America

For the first time in the Berhalter era, the USMNT squad feels set — we pretty much know who’s in, who’s out and who’s a starter when fit. So let’s have a little fun with the depth spots, yeah?

Luca Koleosho is not a USMNT player, but he’s also not yet cap-tied to Italy, Canada or Nigeria, all of which would very much like to have the gifted young Burnley winger. Berhalter has been talking to Koleosho for a while about bringing him into the fold and a Copa America invite is the best recruiting tool he’s got.

(James Gill/Getty Images)

Same deal with the highly touted 17-year-old Barcelona goalkeeper Diego Kochen, who’s being courted by several countries. Callender hasn’t shown many signs that he is America’s goalkeeper of the future. Schulte can start in the Olympics. Berhalter should use the third goalkeeper spot at the Copa — which never really matters anyway — to make Kochen an offer he can’t refuse.

Of the other picks here, only Jesus Ferreira is controversial. He shouldn’t be. The USMNT’s 13th-highest goalscorer of all time remains weirdly underappreciated despite years of being one of the most consistent strikers in MLS and for the national team. He’s also got a different profile than Balogun, which gives Berhalter the flexibility to switch up his striker tactics or even play both guys together.

Elias Burke’s USMNT squad for Copa America

It will be interesting to see who Berhalter opts for in goal against Jamaica this month, given Matt Turner’s loss of form at Nottingham Forest of the Premier League and Ethan Horvath’s strong displays for Cardiff City since joining the Championship club on loan in January. Cardiff is on a four-match winning streak at the time of writing, with Horvath a significant contributor. Could he displace the previously undisputed No. 1 between now and the start of the tournament? Probably not, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Six of the eight defenders pick themselves, but I’ve gone with Auston Trusty and Paredes to round out the selection. Trusty can play as an outside center back and Paredes is comfortable at wingback, giving Berhalter the option to play five in defense against more formidable opponents.

Of the seven midfielders selected, only four may expect to start. You’d imagine Berhalter to be pragmatic with an Adams-Yunus Musah-Weston McKennie trio for the final group game against Uruguay, but Reyna’s creativity may be called upon for games against Bolivia and Panama, in which the USMNT is favored. Watch out for Cardoso, who has adapted to life in La Liga with Real Betis well and can play as a No. 6 or further forward, and could deputize for Adams if his fitness struggles continue. His excellent side-footed finish from outside the box in a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao last month exemplifies his quality.

(DAX Images/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In attack, you’d expect Tim Weah and Christian Pulisic to flank one of Balogun, Pepi and Sargent, who all have decent claims to the starting role. Pepi has fared best in a USMNT shirt of late, and Balogun has the most pedigree, but Sargent is in the best form with 12 goals in 17 appearances in this season’s Championship. Malik Tillman and Reyna can cover in wide positions if Weah and Pulisic struggle.

Tom Bogert’s USMNT squad for Copa America

With the Olympics on the back of Copa, many younger players who could challenge for bottom of the roster squad spots should prioritize playing time in Paris. The likes of John Tolkin, Gabriel Slonina, Diego Luna, Chris Brady, Cade Cowell and others come to mind as players who maybe could make the squad but wouldn’t get much game time.

It probably would make the most sense to suggest Pepi is better served playing every minute at the Olympics instead of being maybe third-choice at the Copa America, but that would take convincing both Pepi to skip the Copa and also PSV Eindhoven to release the forward for the Olympics, with the tournament ending on the same August the new Dutch league season starts. I don’t think that will happen.

One of the forwards who miss out on Copa (likely one of Brandon Vazquez and Haji Wright) should be an over-age addition to the Olympic squad.

The toughest overage omissions from this group are Cameron Carter-Vickers, Trusty and Brenden Aaronson. Berhalter has almost seemed to prefer Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman when available, hence my lean there.

Greg O’Keeffe’s USMNT squad for Copa America

The first two goalkeepers pick themselves but it was tough deciding between Slonina, who has been building hard experience at KAS Eupen in Belgium, and Callender. Ultimately the latter gets the nod because of his performances and the level of training he’ll have been experiencing with the Lionel Messi/Luis Suarez super-charged Inter Miami.

My defense leans on Premier League performers but Bundesliga duo Scally and Paredes, who has performed well since winning the USMNT young player of the year for 2023, offer versatility. In midfield, I wanted to find room for Maloney but in the end de la Torre’s extra creativity pushed me his way, with the more defensive roles well covered.

The attacking options are solid. Pepi can be a real game-changer from the bench, and Sargent’s injury-truncated season may be peaking by July. Pulisic walks into the team and can provide mastery out wide, Weah’s impact is clear and it’s the gifted Balogun who surprisingly has the most to prove in order to get more minutes than Sargent or Pepi.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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