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While the United States men's national team is back in the World Cup in Qatar after missing the 2018 edition in Russia, head coach Gregg  Berhalter has plenty of looming questions around the squad. From who will lead the line when things kick off against Wales on Nov. 21, to concerns in defense, Berhalter will need to figure out the best solutions if the team is to get out of the group stage.

Before the disaster of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the United States made the round of 16 in both the 2010 and 2014 editions of the tournament, increasing the expectations that Berhalter will face. In Group B with England, Iran, and Wales the USMNT will have a tough job getting out of the group, but if Berhalter can press the right buttons and get a little bit of luck, anything is possible. 

Here are three pressing questions for the USMNT as the World Cup looms:

1. Who is the striker?

Everything moves in a cycle and that has certainly been the case atop the line for the United States. Norwich City's Josh Sargent was the starter for the United States heading into World Cup Qualifying in September of 2021 before being pulled at halftime during the team's 4-1 victory over Honduras three matches into qualifying. That match saw Ricardo Pepi score a goal and assist two more before he followed it up with a brace against Jamaica. At that point, it felt like Berhalter's woes were solved, but Pepi would then go almost a year without scoring before falling out of the national team picture during the summer and losing a starting role at FC Augsburg. Pepi's former teammate Jesus Ferreira was then given a shot at the starting role but outside of a four goal showing in Nations League against Granada, Ferreira has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net as well. despite bringing a lot with his creativity and hold up play.

During the summer, Jordan Pefok and Haji Wright got cups of coffee with the national team but they also haven't stuck. While they likely should've gotten longer looks, or been brought in earlier as Berhalter has said that the system is complicated to pick up, the most recent international window has seen the crop of strikers who started qualifying return to the team but the picture is no clearer on who will actually lead the line. Sargent is in the running for the Golden Boot in the Championship with eight goals and two assists for Norwich City. After moving on loan to FC Groningen, Pepi has hit the ground running with six goals and one assist in seven matches in all competitions. Ferreira even won the young player of the year award in Major League Soccer with 18 goals and six assists for FC Dallas.

It's ironic that elsewhere on the field, USMNT players are suffering with lack of form from players struggling with their club teams, the nine is one position where players are scoring for their clubs but not for the national team which has been one of the biggest red flags around Berhalter's tactics. Most likely, when the team opens play against Wales, it will be Ferreira who is leading the line, but I'd suspect that it's Sargent who is starting by the time the World Cup ends for the USMNT. His confidence when things are going well is infectious and he's able to make something out of nothing which the national team needs as they can get stale in attack. But if Berhalter doesn't put together an attack that gets his forwards on the ball, a situation which plagued the team in recent losses to Japan and a draw against Saudi Arabia, it wouldn't matter if Erling Haaland was leading the line for the USMNT, they'll still have issues hitting the back of the net.

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2. How is the defense going to play?

You never know the impact of a specific player until they aren't available, and that's what the USMNT is facing in the absence of center back Miles Robinson. In May, the Atlanta United defender tore his Achillies breaking up a USMNT central partnership with Walker Zimmerman. Berhalter has been trying different defenders from his band of center backs but no one is stepping up. Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown, James Sands, and Aaron Long have gotten the majority of the minutes available with Long expected to start at the World Cup. Notably, Berhalter has excluded Tim Ream and John Brooks from contention stating that neither fits his system. Cameron Carter-Vickers who captain's Celtic plays on the same side as Zimmerman and Chris Richards has been too injured to contribute to the national team or Crystal Palace.

But this is a position where Berhalter may need to take a risk. It's fine to give Long the start against Wales but having a fast hook if things don't look comfortable early will be important. When it comes to ceilings, Richards has the highest one of the current core of center backs and, despite his lack of playing time, should go to Qatar and play if things aren't going well next to Zimmerman. Quick changes like that can make the difference in getting out of the group stage for the USMNT so Berhalter and the staff will need to keep an eye out and push the right buttons.

Center back isn't the only issue as presumed starting right back Sergino Dest's lack of playing time is also a concern. After being frozen out at Barcelona, Dest went on loan to AC Milan but has struggled to break into the first team consistently. An above average attacker but a below average defender, Dest is a luxury player if the team isn't defending well from the other three spots which could see his back-up DeAndre Yedlin start more than expected in Qatar. Yedlin is limited going forward but he can do a job defensively if the midfield is balanced enough to keep things simple. When it comes to areas of concern, the defense is the biggest one for me.

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3. Pick a goalkeeper, please

Saying that Zack Steffen has been shaky since the end of World Cup Qualifying may be a bit of an understatement as he has found a way to lose matches for club and country due to poor decision making, especially when coming for crosses. Moving on loan from Manchester City to Middlesbrough was supposed to allow Steffen to get his feet under him when having more playing time but he has struggled in the Championship during a season has also seen manager Chris Wilder sacked and replaced by Michael Carrick. When Steffen has been healthy he has been Berhalter's number one keeper but it could be time for a change. 

Ethan Horvath seems to be stuck as the team's number three keeper, keeping youngster Gabriel Slonina, who is the keeper of the future, out of the picture. So this is really a two-horse race between Steffen and Arsenal's Matt Turner. Turner has missed Arsenal's last few games with an injury which has seen him lose crucial chances at starting in Europa League fixtures. Turner is expected to be fit for the World Cup but a rusty Turner and an underperforming Steffen don't inspire confidence.