State of the USMNT: So now what?
Several questions about the U.S. Men's National Team remain a week removed from the close of September camp. With these questions come another question: How will the team's problems get fixed without another camp?
The next time the USMNT meets will be for the World Cup. Given the tournament occurs in the middle of the European season, any limited practice time the squad has will likely be for opponent-specific preparation as opposed to fixing massive tactical holes.
While head coach Gregg Berhalter is facing a near-impossible task to fix his team's issues in time, there are two things that can go right during the next two months for the USMNT that don't need time spent in a camp.
Depth has been an important part of the United States' run through qualifying, especially with the congested schedule necessitated by the pandemic. But matches against Japan and Saudi Arabia showed the U.S. might not be as deep as previously imagined.
The defense looked shaky, especially with the center back position missing Miles Robinson, which has been known for a while, along with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards. Fans have their fingers crossed that Carter-Vickers and Richards will be back for the World Cup, as the job as Robinson's replacement next to Walker Zimmerman has never been claimed. Aaron Long certainly did not do himself any favors in September, leaving the position for Carter-Vickers or Richards if they are healthy.
Antonee Robinson was also out, leading to experimentation at his left back position. Yunus Musah and Tim Weah were gone from the attack, with their absences apparent when the USMNT recorded no shots on goal against Japan. The Americans managed two against Saudi Arabia, ultimately finishing the camp goalless.
Maybe some of the team's bad play goes away if the above list of starters are available. That might not be the case, but it's hard to imagine Musah's ability to open defenses or Weah's speed up top not making a difference.
Between now and November 21, those guys need to get healthy, and no one else needs to get hurt. Having a full-choice roster will at least give the U.S. a shot in Qatar.
Strikers continue to score
The team's lack of offense is my biggest concern entering the World Cup, because you can't win if you don't score, regardless of what happens with your defense. The problem against Japan and Saudi Arabia was a combination of the midfield not generating great opportunities and the roster still not having a reliable No. 9.
The good news is that the striker pool is doing well in club play, something that was less true at the end of the last European season. It remains anyone's guess on if any of those strikers can score national team goals, but continuing to score on a consistent basis in the run-up to the World Cup is the best possible scenario.
Maybe somebody will ride club momentum to World Cup momentum. Or maybe somebody will ride club momentum to a spot watching matches on their couch at home. Obviously the biggest question at this position is the potential selection - or lack thereof - of Jordan Pefok, the most in-form American striker.
Pefok has seven appearances (all starts) for Union Berlin, who sit top of the Bundesliga table after eight matches. Pefok has three goals and three assists in his first Bundesliga season but was left off the September roster. He only has one goal in nine USMNT caps, but it's not like any of the other strikers have been that much better with the national team.
So, does Pefok get rewarded for his club success? Do any of the other strikers keep scoring in leauge play and finally figure out how to put it together internationally? Or is Berhalter's attacking problem much bigger than not having a consistent striker?
Every question about the USMNT has countless follow-up questions that come with it, but having a healthy squad that is scoring club goals could reawaken some much-needed optimism. USMNT fans just hope that optimism is not a temporary dose of false hope that is ultimately dashed by the rest of Group B.