State of the USMNT: Goalkeepers
The first in a multi-part USMNT series breaking down anything and everything leading up to the World Cup
Despite being one of the deeper positions for the United States Men's National Team, goalkeeper has some of the largest speculation ahead of this year's World Cup. Up to four keepers could be in consideration, a situation that is made dramatic by the club situations for each player.
Playing time and team fit seems to be the biggest factors in who receives the starting nod, but fans are well aware that Berhalter's top three are all presently set to be Premier League backups when that season starts in five weeks, although Zack Steffen looks like he has something to say about that.
A look at each option, what they bring to the team and what to keep an eye on throughout the 2022 season and soon to open summer transfer window:
The Manchester City goalkeeper feels like the biggest wildcard in the group. Berhalter seems to favor him, giving Steffen the starting nod in the rare instances both he and Matt Turner are healthy. Steffen is not the greatest shot stopper in the pool, but Berhalter likes Steffen's ability to play with his feet, an important aspect of the USMNT's tactical approach.
There is a decent amount of unknown about Steffen's current form. He made just nine club appearances across all competitions last season, comfortably in the backup role behind Ederson. Steffen also missed the September and January World Cup qualifying windows with various ailments and had to withdraw from the recent June friendlies and Nations League matches due to family reasons.
He looked decent in his US performances, but had a shocker in the FA Cup semifinal against Liverpool:
The need to build any sort of positive form is apparently not lost on Steffen, as reports indicate he is looking for loan opportunities. The latest has him headed to Championship club Middlesbrough, with City's addition of a new backup an indicator a deal is imminent.
The specific landing place never really mattered, so long as Steffen became a regular starter. He trains with some of the best in the world in Manchester, but being a starter should be the first and only priority if he wants to be on the field for the US in November. There is no reason to believe he will not get that opportunity in the Championship as he appeared to have playing time as his number one priority when seeking a move.
A successful stint with Middlesbrough could see Steffen as GK 1 sooner rather than later. Berhalter already likes him, and the added bonus of being the best keeper in the pool playing consistent minutes would solidify his spot.
For every closed door, another opens, right? Matt Turner was the benefactor of Steffen's various closed doors, starting virtually every match in his absence. A successful Gold Cup run last summer propelled Turner to second on the depth chart, and he continued to impress throughout qualifying. He has turned into Twitter's choice to be the starter, and could very well be there on Berhalter's list as well thanks to his shot stopping ability and performance in MLS.
However, Turner just made a move of his own, officially heading to Arsenal last week, where current starter Aaron Ramsdale is just 24 and unlikely to go anywhere soon. This means Turner is the presumed Gunner backup, which brings a slew of questions. The most important inquiry is what form Turner will be in come November. Injuries forced him to just five MLS appearances in 2022, and it will be a surprise if he gets more than that for Arsenal between now and the World Cup.
Berhalter has an interesting decision to make. Turner has played the bulk of USMNT minutes, creating chemistry with the backline. At the same time, form is crucial at any position, and Turner may end up being in the worst form of the group.
But don't count him out yet. Here's a quote he gave MLS Soccer's Charles Boehm in a May 30 article, explaining why he wanted a move to England:
“Being a week in, week out starter in MLS didn't guarantee me to be a starter here for the national team, and going to the World Cup, I obviously want to play games. So I need to shake things up in my club career and I think this is a positive step forward, for me in the long term and in the immediate future.”
Turner certainly believes Berhalter cares more about skills than form and that Arsenal will give him the skills he needs to improve. The question now is if Turner learns those skills in enough time and if his presumed lack of good form does end up costing him.
Just over a year ago Horvath was the Nations League Final hero after his PK save against Mexico:
He has virtually vanished since then. His only two appearances in the last year were in a friendly just three days later and the Nations League mud-match in El Salvador this month. Of course, El Salvador's lone goal came off a presumed Horvath error, as he seem surprised at the apparent cross turned shot. Blame could be assigned anywhere from the mud Horvath was forced to stand in to a blunder on his part, but regardless, the goal was not good for his resume.
Unlike Steffen, Horvath had a fair amount of appearances in Europe last season. He made 10 appearances for Nottingham Forest, with six coming in league play. Forest was recently promoted to the Premier League, and being a starter there would certainly help his case. Brice Samba ended Forest's season as the steady starter, but rumors are flying that he wants out.
In a sign that Samba may be leaving the club, Forest recently acquired Manchester United reserve Dean Henderson on loan. Horvath may have to beat out Henderson (and Samba) if he wants to start, but the club has shown a willingness to play him. The addition of Henderson is not a good sign, unless the plan is for Horvath to start with Henderson as cover when/if Samba leaves.
Horvath could follow Steffen to the loan market in a bid to up his USMNT stock, or he could try and win the Forest starting spot, sending a sign to Berhalter that he is as good as any keeper in the pool. Ultimately, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding Horvath. He has shown flashes of potential but hasn't had enough playing time with the national team to understand how he fits into the picture, which may be a sign Berhalter does not rate him all that highly.
Despite having just nine caps in 10 years, Johnson has a legitimate chance at flying up the depth chart. Before Steffen's loan he was looking at being the only one in the pool with consistent minutes leading up to the World Cup. Plus, he's not just playing at NYCFC, he's one of the best goalies in MLS. Johnson leads the league in clean sheets and would likely be higher up in several other stats if he faced more shots.
While Johnson was not added to the June window until Steffen withdrew, Berhalter gave him the start against the toughest of the four opponents during the Uruguay game. After the match, Berhalter seemed to indicate Johnson's form was the reason for the lineup choice, which very well might be an indicator of how the roster will shape up in November:
"Sean Johnson in goal, who has been really asking for a difficult opportunity or a challenging game, and he got his game and he responded. I thought he played an excellent game.”
It appears Berhalter saw Johnson's recent success, rewarded him accordingly and was pleased with his performance. The next step would be to reward Johnson for that clean sheet while continuing to value his MLS success, which at the very least would see him on the plane to Qatar.
Johnson's biggest strength moving forward is the consistency he and the USMNT staff knows he will have. All he has to do is keep making saves, a luxury the other three don't have, as even if they get minutes their statuses remain uncertain. Johnson's longevity with the USMNT is another bonus, as every roster needs a good teammate in the locker room.
As the year progresses, fans will have to wait and see how the European situations shape up for Steffen, Turner and Horvath. Johnson will be available to watch throughout the summer in MLS play. The USMNT's final two warm-up matches (against two World Cup opponents in September) will be another interesting time to analyze the depth chart, but of course the final answer will likely not come until November.