- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
United States manager Gregg Berhalter announced his 26-player roster for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday, amid much fanfare in New York City.
The roster is headlined by players who have become familiar names to U.S. fans, including Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic, Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Giovanni Reyna and Leeds United midfielder Tyler Adams.
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The biggest shock was the exclusion of Middlesbrough goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
When healthy, Steffen had been locked in a battle with Arsenal’s Matt Turner for the starting spot during World Cup qualifying, with Berhalter usually picking Steffen for the bigger matches.
His loan move to Boro from Manchester City was done for him to get more first-team minutes, and he largely achieved that goal, playing in 16 of the club’s 20 matches in England’s second-tier Championship.
But it wasn’t enough to make the roster, with Turner, Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and New York City FC’s Sean Johnson preferred.
“In some of the cases it’s more about what we have than what we don’t have,” Berhalter told ESPN during Wednesday’s roster reveal show.
“With the three goalkeepers listed on the roster, we feel great, we feel really good about it. We saw a lot of progress with Matt Turner in this last six months, we know Ethan Horvath has been competing at a good level at Luton in the Championship, and Sean Johnson has been a mainstay in this group since day one.”
Every World Cup roster has its share of near misses, and this one was no different, with injuries playing a role in the makeup of the roster. Center backs Miles Robinson of Atlanta United and Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards both missed out because of Achilles and hamstring ailments, respectively.
However, other players healed up in time — including McKennie, Turner and Norwich City forward Josh Sargent — at least ahead of this weekend’s last round of club fixtures before players are released.
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In terms of surprise inclusions, Fulham defender Tim Ream was among the biggest.
The opening World Cup qualifying fixture against El Salvador in September 2021 was the only qualifier Ream played in. But the injuries to Robinson and Richards, plus his fine form for the Cottagers this year in the Premier League, paved the way for him to be selected.
The center forward position has been an area of focus for almost the entire cycle, with none of the candidates really staking their claim to a starting spot.
That said, the inclusion of Antalyaspor forward Haji Wright at the expense of Groningen FC striker Ricardo Pepi was something of a surprise.
Both players had been in excellent form of late for their clubs, with Wright scoring nine goals on the season — and four in his past four games — while Pepi had five goals and two assists since moving to the Dutch side on loan in September.
Yet it is Wright who got the nod alongside Sargent and FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira.
“In the case of Ricardo, that was a really difficult conversation that I had to have with him,” Berhalter said. “It’s always difficult when a guy helps you get to the World Cup, he scores three goals in World Cup qualifying, and isn’t going to be a part of the program.
“And again, it’s more about who we did add that we felt good about.
“Josh is competing in the Championship, he played in the Premier League last year. We’re playing Wales and England; both teams are stocked with players from those leagues.
“Haji Wright is in great form with his team in Turkey, scoring nine goals so far. And Jesus has been good for us and a guy who really understands the game plan and how to execute it.”
Shaq Moore is another player who seemed to be on the outside looking in, but with Sergino Dest dealing with an adductor issue, Berhalter opted for additional cover at right back and selected Moore over Boavista’s Reggie Cannon.
The 26-player roster will be the second-youngest USMNT roster at a World Cup, with an average age of 25 years, 175 days at the time of its opening World Cup game against Wales on Nov. 21. Only the 1990 squad (24 years, 24 days) was younger.
After the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, DeAndre Yedlin is the only player selected with previous World Cup experience, having been a part of the USMNT’s run to the round of 16 in 2014.
After taking on Wales, the U.S. will face England (Nov. 26) and Iran (Nov. 29) in Group B.
Full U.S. roster for 2022 World Cup:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8 appearances for U.S./0 goals), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 20/0)
DEFENDERS (9): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 11/0), Sergino Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 19/2), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 29/3), Shaq Moore (Nashville SC; 15/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 46/1), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 29/2), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach/GER; 3/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF; 75/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 33/3)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 24/6), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 53/2), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 32/1), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 12/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 37/9), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 19/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 32/0)
FORWARDS (7): Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas; 15/7), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 49/11), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 52/21), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 14/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 20/5), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 25/3), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor/TUR; 3/1)
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