Here we go again. The United States Men's National Team is preparing for the October qualifying window, which begins next Thursday when the US hosts Jamaica in Austin. Coach Gregg Berhalter has called in 27 players for these three games.
Notable players such as Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna are excluded due to injury, while others, such as Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, and Ethan Horvath, have been left out due to a dip in current form. This means there is another fresh group of young players, such as Yunus Musah and Luca de La Torre, who will have a chance to step up and claim their spot going forward.
While every player on this roster has a big role to play, here is one player at each position to watch this window. These players have the potential to be the difference between wins and draws, or draws and losses, which may ultimately determine a qualification spot for Qatar.
Goalkeeper - Zack Steffen
Steffen has been considered the starter for a while, but back spasms and a positive COVID-19 test prevented him from playing in the September window. While Steffen is a part of a wonderful club at Manchester City, he rarely sees game action. Backup Matt Turner has been exceptional both for the USMNT and his club team, the New England Revolution, so there is definitely a competition for the starting spot when training begins.
If Steffen does earn the starting job, he will need to be ready to step up for the moment. Steffen has never played in a World Cup qualifying match. While he has played in several momentous games, qualifiers carry a special air of drama that can only be learned through experience.
Defender - Antonee Robinson
Robinson was one of the best players for the US during the September window, providing stability in defense and lethality in the attack that was lacking from other players. The USMNT needs to start earning more clean sheets in order to get the results they need, and Robinson's continued consistency will be an important part of that. The depth chart behind him at left back is inexperienced, so as many minutes as he can provide at a high level will be huge for Berhalter.
Midfielder - Kellyn Acosta
The obvious answer here is Weston McKennie, who is in a precarious position after being suspended in September for a violation of team rules. Since that answer is too easy, let's shift our attention to Kellyn Acosta.
The Colorado Rapids midfielder was exceptional in both Nations League and Gold Cup, where he played as a holding midfielder in front of the backline. Now that Tyler Adams is healthy, Acosta has been displaced from the holding spot and plugged elsewhere, including at fullback and central midfield further up the pitch. While his versatility is a tremendous asset, Acosta struggled at other positions in September. Berhalter has a challenge on his hands to balance holding midfield minutes for both Adams and Acosta. While they both deserve to start and make a big impact on matches, their true potentials are lost when played elsewhere. If Acosta can find a way to play a big role in a different position, the USMNT will be much more dynamic and dangerous.
Forward - Ricardo Pepi
When Berhalter announced he was leaving Sargent and Pefok off the roster, it became clear the starting striker spot is Pepi's to lose. Despite playing just one game in his USMNT career, he impressed with a goal and two-assist performance at Honduras to give the US their lone win of World Cup qualifying. More of the same is expected for the FC Dallas striker, but he is still just 18-years-old. Consistency at that age is a huge part of a player's career. Pepi will need to find a way to continue to score goals or Berhalter will have yet another crisis up top. Being dangerous in the attack is currently preventing the US from getting over the hump on the road to establishing themselves as an elite team. Pepi has the skills to deliver that danger, but only time will tell if he can come through for three straight games.