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U.S. men's national team midfielder Johnny Cardoso officially joined La Liga side Real Betis on Wednesday as the race for a spot on Gregg Berhalter's Copa America roster heats up. Cardoso arrives in Betis from Brazil's Internacional, where he was a regular on the first team for the last four years after playing in the club's academy. ESPN previously reported that Betis would pay an initial transfer fee of $6.3 million and that Internacional will collect 20% of the fee from any future Cardoso transfer.

The midfielder signed a deal through the 2028-29 season with Betis, who currently sit seventh in La Liga and are in the mix for European spots. Cardoso will have the opportunity to play in European competition this season, too — Betis dropped down to the UEFA Europa Conference League after finishing third in their Europa League group last fall and will face Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in the knockout round playoffs in February.

The move comes as the 22-year-old works his way into the USMNT player pool at a crucial time for the national team. Berhalter and company have used much of the last year to begin preparing for the 2026 World Cup co-hosted by the U.S. and will count June's Copa America as an important measuring stick for their ability to stack up against top competition.

Midfield needs

Cardoso has been part of the player pool since before the 2022 World Cup but did not eventually emerge as a contender for a roster spot and currently has nine caps for the national team. He has been reintegrated into the team since Berhalter's return as the USMNT coach last September and played in both of the team's October friendlies — a 3-1 loss to Germany and a 4-0 win over Ghana. He missed November's Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal win an ankle injury.

The USMNT have been notably thin in midfield since World Cup captain Tyler Adams picked up a hamstring injury last winter. Adams has since had two surgeries and may not play again until February at the earliest and may only be able to play limited minutes at the Copa America. It means Berhalter has had to explore his options and has seen varying levels of success so far, in large part because of other players' injuries.

Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie are emerging as two of the coach's go-to starters but his preference to play a three-person midfield means another spot is open. During the November window in which Berhlater had multiple injuries to account for, wingers Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson filled in the numbers. If Reyna stays fit, Berhalter will likely find a space for him on a regular basis, which could alter the team's midfield and attacking shape for the Copa America.

Adams' return might also shake up the coach's lineup selections, but regardless of his availability, a roster spot as his understudy will be available for next summer's tournament. Another notable competitor for that spot is 24-year-old Lennard Maloney, who made his debut for the national team in the fall and has two caps so far.  Additionally, center back Chris Richards played defensive midfielder for Crystal Palace on Wednesday against Chelsea and earned positive reviews for his display.

Former Leeds boss Jesse Marsch, one of the hosts of CBS Sports podcast Call It What You Want, touched on the move on Thursday. 

"[Betis manager Manuel] Pellegrini does a really good job of thinking about all phases of the game ... I think this is a really good move, this will be a challenge for him to meet the standard of how they play, but what you want is players making transfers that put them in a bit over their head, but in a reachable environment where they can continue to grow and develop."

With only a handful of games for Berhalter to tinker with his team before the Copa America, club form will serve as a massive indicator for him as he makes his roster selections. Cardoso's move to Betis is a notably high-profile one considering the team's competitive status, and if he breaks into his new club team with success, he should be able to make as strong a case as he can to be part of the USMNT fold come summertime.