By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
Editor’s Note: “Plane to Qatar” is FOX Sports’ new weekly feature tracking the progress of players hoping to crack the United States Men’s National Team’s 26-player roster for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Last week, it was Josh Sargent. This week’s mover? Malik Tillman.
Tillman, a 20-year-old Bayern Munich prospect on loan this season to Scottish behemoth Rangers, now projects to make U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s roster for Qatar after helping the Glasgow club qualify for the vaunted UEFA Champions League with a 1-0 upset away to Dutch power PSV Eindhoven.
Tillman’s impactful start to the 2022-23 European season might even have put him in line for a ticket even if another versatile midfielder, roster regular Cristian Roldan, hadn’t undergone groin surgery that will prevent him from participating in the Americans final two World Cup tune-up next month against Japan and Saudi Arabia. The German-born Tillman is one of four players who Berhalter will personally scout this weekend; the USMNT boss will watch Rangers defender James Sands — another player who is trending up — and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers in Saturday’s Old Firm derby, then travel to Portugal to see Reggie Cannon play for Boavista on Monday.
With just two weeks to go until Berhalter names his September squad, the competition is heating up all across the field. Suddenly, (almost) every striker in the player pool seems to be scoring. Roster spots are up for grabs up front, in central defense, in the midfield, at fullback and maybe in goal. John Brooks even got himself a job. (Again, that ship has sailed.)
There’s bound to be more movement as players do everything they can to make their cases, and as injuries inevitably take some decisions out of the coaching staff’s hands.
So, buckle up, USMNT fans. Who’ll be on the move next week?
F/M Brenden Aaronson (Leeds): Aaronson continues to produce in the Premier League. On Tuesday, he assisted on Leeds’ equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Everton.
M Tyler Adams (Leeds): Adams was everywhere again against the Toffees, and he’s played every minute of Leeds’ five league games so far.
D Sergiño Dest (Barcelona): He hasn’t dressed for any of Barca three games this season and isn’t in coach Xavi Hernandez’s plans. That’s alarming, but Dest’s situation will become a full-blown crisis for the USMNT if hedoesn’t find a new club before Thursday’s transfer deadline. The latest word is he’s going to be transferred out to Italian Serie A side AC Milan.
F Jesús Ferreira (Dallas): After scoring three times in his previous two games, the diminutive striker didn’t find the net Saturday against Real Salt Lake.
M Weston McKennie (Juventus): McKennie started the first two Serie A games of the season, then played the final 13 minutes of Saturday’s 1-1 tie against Roma.
M Yunus Musah (Valencia): The only knock on Musah has been a lack of goals or assists. His blistering strike against Atletico Madrid on Monday was ruled out, but could it be a sign of things to come?
F Christian Pulisic (Chelsea): The USMNT’s top attacker has been a sub in each of Chelsea’s five games, logging 96 total minutes. That’s frustrating for Pulisic, who is expected to remain with the Blues through Deadline Day. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the U.S. if a healthy, rested Pulisic has something to prove in Qatar.
F/M Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund): BVB is determined to slow-walk Reyna, who didn’t make the bench for Dortmund’s last match, back to full fitness after he suffered a pair of setbacks after tearing his hamstring last season. That’s smart, though it makes one wonder if Reyna can be a 90-minute player at the World Cup.
D Antonee Robinson (Fulham): Jedi has played every minute at left back for Fulham, helping the Cottagers to a 2W-1L-0T record so far.
*F Tim Weah (Lille): The right winger has missed Lille’s last two matches with a foot injury.
D Walker Zimmerman (Nashville): With Nashville in action against Colorado on Wednesday, Zimmerman was rested for last weekend’s 3-0 win in Vancouver.
M Kellyn Acosta (LAFC): Like the rest of his team, Acosta had a night to forget in last Friday’s 4-1 defeat in Austin. LAFC travels to Houston on Wednesday.
M Paul Arriola (Dallas): Arriola went 90 for the first time in five matches against RSL.
D Reggie Cannon (Boavista): Cannon has had a strong start to the season; he’ll be hoping for his best game with Berhalter in the house.
M Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo): De la Torre didn’t play in Celta’s 1-0 win over Girona. He’s played just four minutes through three games for the La Liga club, who face Cadiz on Friday.
G Sean Johnson (New York City): Johnson made three saves Sunday against Orlando City but had no chance on the Lions’ 96th-minute winner.
D Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls): The center back had one of his strongest performances of the season in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Miami. The Red Bulls are in Montreal on Wednesday.
M Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders): Morris made his 21st start of the MLS season in Seattle’s 2-1 loss to rival Portland. He’ll go for No. 22 Wednesday against Orlando.
F Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin): Pefok registered two assists in Union’s 6-1 drubbing of Schalke. USMNT scout Eric Laurie will be at the striker’s next game, when Bundesliga champ Bayern Munich visits the German capital.
D Tim Ream (Fulham): The veteran center back continued his strong start to the Premier League season on Tuesday, going the distance in the Cottagers 2-1 win over Brighton. Ream has played all but two minutes of Fulham’s first five games.
D Chris Richards (Crystal Palace): Richards had a rough outing off the bench against Manchester City last weekend and didn’t play in Tuesday’s 1-1 stalemate with Brentford. He’s still looking for his first Premier League start.
F Josh Sargent (Norwich City): With USMNT assistant coach Lars Knudsen in attendance last Saturday, Sargent scored his fourth goal in three league games for the Canaries. He also went 84 minutes in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Birmingham City.
*G Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough): A knee injury sustained in training has kept Steffen out of the second-tier club’s last two matches, including Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Watford. Boro next faces Sunderland on Sept. 5.
^M Malik Tillman (Rangers): The biggest winner this week, Tillman’s hustle created the goal that sent Rangers to the Champions League:
G Matt Turner (Arsenal): Aaron Ramsdale’s understudy could see action when the Gunners begin their Europa League campaign on Sept. 8.
D DeAndre Yedlin (Miami): The veteran right back has played every minute of Miami’s last 13 MLS games.
F Jozy Altidore (Puebla): The 32-year-old striker is still looking for his first start with the Liga MX club.
D George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld): The left back logged just two minutes in the second-tier club’s last two games.
M Gianluca Busio (Venezia): Busio wasn’t in the matchday squad for Sunday’s draw with Cittadella in Serie B.
D Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic): The English-born center back has a huge chance to impress Berhalter Saturday in Celtic’s most important game yet.
F Matthew Hoppe (Middlesbrough): The 21-year-old didn’t make the bench for Boro’s last two games.
G Ethan Horvath (Luton Town): Horvath backstopped Luton to a 2-1 victory over Cardiff City Tuesday.
M Djordje Mihailovic (Montreal): The Eredivisie-bound playmaker completed almost 90 percent of his passes in Saturday’s win in Chicago, Mihailovic’s former club.
D Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes): The rangy center back helped Troyes to their first Ligue 1 win last weekend.
D Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg): Paredes didn’t make the bench for Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Leipzig.
⌄ *M Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders): His injury and Tillman’s rise come at a terrible time for Roldan, who drops down to standby as a result.
F Brandon Vazquez (Cincinnati): The target man scored his 16th of the season last weekend, more than any American in MLS. Still, his lack of international experience could work against him if Pefok, Sargent and Haji Wright also stay hot.
D Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp): Vines deflected the ball past his own keeper but made up for it with a secondary assist moments later in Sunday 2-1 win over Gent. If Berhalter wants a left-footed backup behind Jedi, Vines is the frontrunner.
F Haji Wright (Antalyaspor): Even if Wright didn’t show well with the USMNT in June, his exploits in Turkey are keeping him in the mix: he’s scored twice in each of his last two games.
D Shaquell Moore (Nashville): A week after being subbed off with a non-contact leg injury, Moore was healthy enough to be on the bench in Vancouver.
F Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg): Pepi earned his first Bundesliga start of 2022-23 but came off after 56 scoreless minutes. He won’t start for Ausburg again this season, as he’s reportedly been loaned to Eredivisie club FC Groningen.
D/M James Sands (Rangers): Sands’ stock is rising. He was outstanding in Rangers win in Eindhoven, and now he’ll get to test himself against the likes of Liverpool and Napoli in the Champions League.
D Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach): Laurie, the USMNT scout, will watch the 19-year-old against Mainz on Sunday. So Scally is clearly on Berhalter’s radar for the September roster, at the very least.
M Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers): The central midfielder went 90 against the Sounders.
F Gyasi Zardes (Colorado Rapids): The current form of Ferreira, Pefok, Sargent, Vazquez and Wright probably rules the veteran out of the running at this point.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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