The US has officially qualified directly for the 2022 World Cup and they did it with a huge contribution from current and former FC Dallas players and academy products. This week, we’ll look at every one of those players who contributed during the World Cup Qualification campaign. This will go in order based on number of appearances during WCQ.
The former academy product and now LAFC player appeared in all but one World Cup Qualifier and made 6 starts during the campaign. Acosta is not in Gregg Berhalter’s preferred starting eleven with no injuries, but he has clearly cemented himself as an integral part of the team, with the ability to deputize at any of the three midfield positions (though he has looked best playing as a 6 as opposed to an 8) and also has the ability to place either full back position. Any strong national team needs a versatile utility player and that looks to be what Kellyn will be for Berhalter in the World Cup. His most notable performance was in the home game against Honduras where he contributed an assist and was a constant danger with his set piece delivery. After a turbulent period in his career at the end of his time with FCD and the start of his time with the Rapids, it is great to see Kellyn living up to his potential and becoming a staple in the national team.
The only player on the list who is both no longer with the club and was not in the FCD academy, Zimmerman made 10 appearances in WCQ, with 9 of those appearances being starts. After not getting off the bench for any of the first three qualifiers, Zimmerman became a staple at center back, starting in almost every game from that point forward. For me, and, from what I can tell for Berhalter as well, Zimmerman was the best center back for the USMNT over the course of qualifying. The once-a-game gaffes that used to haunt him back in his Dallas days have been almost completely eliminated from his game and his ability in the air is fantastic. Although he now plays in a more direct system under Gary Smith at Nashville SC, his time playing under Oscar Pareja and later Bob Bradley was clearly vital in honing his passing ability, which has helped him earn his spot with the national team. I fully expect Zimmerman to be a starter in Qatar.
One of the best stories of the qualification campaign, the young former homegrown striker made 10 appearances during the campaign, scoring 3 goals and adding 3 assists as well. When Pepi was first called in for qualifiers, he was still an FC Dallas player, coming into the national team on the back of a very fruitful period of the 2021 MLS season. Pepi continued that hot streak, scoring and picking up two assists in a massive away win against Honduras in his first ever national team appearance. He followed that up with a brace against Jamaica at home in his next national team appearance, still a member of FC Dallas. Unfortunately for Pepi, those goals against Jamaica were the last goals he has scored for club or country, with his big money move to FC Augsburg not going quite as well as many had hoped and his goal scoring drying up for the USMNT as well. Pepi is still incredibly young and has a long, long way to go in his career. Some are concerned that Pepi made the wrong move going to Augsburg, and that may very well be the case, but Augsburg has shown they will be patient with him, and Gregg Berhalter seems to have done the same. I fully suspect Pepi to get back into his groove before the World Cup and cement his place in the 23 man squad.
The only player on this list to never have actually been signed to the FC Dallas senior roster, Weston McKennie has become one of the most famous American players in the world playing for Italian giants Juventus at the club level and has become one of the most important parts of the USMNT and has truly cemented that role in WCQ. McKennie only ended up making 7 appearances in WCQ, missing the final window due to injury and missing other games during the cycle due to minor knocks and yellow card suspensions. McKinney native McKennie, who famously spurned the FC Dallas academy for Schalke, directly leading to some changes in how FCD approached signing their young academy starlets, is a part of Gregg Berhalter’s preferred midfield trio, along with Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah. That trio has produced some truly great moments in the last year for the national team and looks to be the defined trio going into the World Cup.
The first of just two current FC Dallas players, Jesus Ferreira made a real case for himself in the later stages of World Cup Qualifying. He made his first appearances in qualifying in the two game window against Mexico at home and Jamaica away, coming off the bench in each game. He made his first start against El Salvador in the following window at the end of January and picked up his first assist with the national team before sitting against Canada and making a brief sub appearance in the 3-0 win over Honduras. For the final window, he asserted himself in his one start against Panama, finally scoring his first WCQ goal and also making a sub appearance against Costa Rica in the final game. With the huge advantage of playing under Nico Estevez, formerly one of Berhalter’s assistants with the USMNT, Jesus is playing in a very similar system with FCD, which has clearly helped carry over into the national team. The striker position is still a huge question mark for the USMNT going into the World Cup, but Jesus has made a clear case for himself in WCQ and the national team coaching staff clearly likes his game and his fit in the team, I think he’ll make the squad for Qatar.
Okay, I’ll admit, I’m cheating just a little bit with this one as all but one of Arriola’s 5 WCQ appearances in this cycle came as a member of DC United prior to his big money trade to FCD in the winter. But Arriola is a member of FC Dallas now and seems to have re-inserted himself into the national team picture with his move to FCD, his current club form and his performance against Panama in WCQ. Arriola’s prior WCQ performances had been limited largely to sub appearances but against Panama in what was perhaps the most important game of the entire campaign, Arriola was huge, scoring the massive second goal and adding an assist on Jesus Ferreira’s goal which basically ended the game 30 minutes in. It was a huge performance for Arriola to get himself back into Gregg Berhalter’s sights ahead of the World Cup. With Arriola now playing in a system that is so similar to the national team, if he can continue his strong form from the early part of the MLS season, he may just play his way into the World Cup roster, but he’s going to have to really fight for that spot.
The second player on this list who never actually played for FCD, the Alabama native made 4 appearances during WCQ. Richards looked set to cement himself as a mainstay at center back midway through qualifying as he started three consecutive qualifiers against Jamaica, El Salvador and Canada before bad luck with injury timing kept him out of the remaining qualifiers. Still, with his ability and level he plays at with his club, he looks a strong bet to continue his good form, continue to earn opportunities with the national team and try to earn back his starting job. I would be surprised if Richards is not on the final roster for the World Cup.
Shaq Moore is definitely the player with the most tenuous connection to FCD on this list, but he did spend around a year with the FC Dallas academy (let’s ignore that he never had any intention of signing a homegrown deal), so he makes the list. Currently playing with Tenerife in the Spanish second tier, Shaq made 4 appearances during WCQ, his most notable being a start in the crucial home game against Panama after being an emergency call up to fill in for Reggie Cannon, who tested positive for COVID ahead of the final WCQ window. Moore put in a solid, if unspectacular, performance against Panama, which generally describes the rest of his time in WCQ. Moore is a hard worker, good defender and can whip in a great cross, but he will have his work cut out for him to make the final 23 man (or will it be 26?) roster for the World Cup. One big step he needs to take is find a club that is going to get him more playing time than he has seen in Spain this season.
It certainly wasn’t the World Cup Qualifying campaign that Reggie Cannon had hoped for prior to the campaign kicking off. The former FCD right back only made 2 WCQ appearances and only a single start. That single start did come in a strong performance in a 3-0 win over Honduras at home, but Reggie missed the other windows due to some injuries, some poor club form early in the cycle and was unlucky to test positive for COVID when called up for the last window, causing him to not even dress for a single game. For many players, that kind of WCQ campaign would probably rule them out of the World Cup, but I’m not ready to do so for Reggie. Reggie was very recently an important player for Gregg Berhalter in the Gold Cup and Nations League and is clearly someone who is trusted by Berhalter and his staff. If Reggie can continue playing regular minutes for Boavista (or wherever he might end up for the 22/23 season), I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him end up going to Qatar, but it will be a battle for him.
Finally, there needs to a mention of the major coaching connection that has now been established between FC Dallas and the USMNT. After parting ways with Luchi Gonzalez near the end of the 2021 season, FCD ultimately ended up hiring USMNT assistant coach Nico Estevez. Shortly after that hiring was made official, Luchi Gonzalez was announced as Estevez’s replacement on Berhalter’s coaching staff, essentially meaning that FCD and USMNT traded coaches. FCD was, of course, already heavily connected with the national team through all the players listed above and the numerous other players involved in youth national teams from the club and the FCD academy. But this move deepened that connection, especially with Estevez bringing an extremely similar play style to FCD in 2022. If it wasn’t already obvious, this kind of move makes it clear that FC Dallas is going to continue to be the backbone of the USMNT for many, many years to come.
How are you feeling following the USMNT’s qualification to World Cup 2022? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images