Analysis: breaking down the USMNT roster for the September friendlies
September 14, 2022
UNITED STATES NATIONAL team manager Gregg Berhalter today announced his roster for the upcoming September friendlies that where the team will face fellow World Cup finalist Japan on Sept. 23 at the Düsseldorf Arena in Düsseldorf, Germany (8:26 a.m. ET, ESPN2) and then travel to Murcia, Spain to face Saudi Arabia on Sept. 27 at the Estadio Nueva Condomina (2pm EST, FS1).
The roster contains 26 players with only a few surprises. The most notable coming at the striker position. The rest of the roster is mostly predictable and easy to see based on current form an experience with the team.
Absent are four players who have been with the team regularly but who are now missing times with their clubs due to injury: Tim Weah, Zack Steffen, Cristian Roldan, and Antonee Robinson.
Here is the roster along with thoughts on it.
USMNT ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 18/0)
DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 27/1), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 11/0), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 17/2), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 27/3), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG; 8/0), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 2/0), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp/BEL; 8/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 74/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 31/3)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 52/2), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 30/1), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 11/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 35/9), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 19/0), Malik Tillman (Rangers/SCO; 2/0)
FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 22/6), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 47/10), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 13/7), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 48/11), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED; 11/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 51/21), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 12/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 19/3)
World Cup roster coming into focus
These are the team’s last two games prior to the World Cup. Following this camp, the team will have less than a week once it assembles in Qatar to prepare for the World Cup. Time is now very short.
When you take the 26 players on this roster plus the four injured players, there is a good chance the entire World Cup team will draw from those 30 players.
Is it possible that a player outside of those 30 players could make the team? Yes, but it is going to take an exceptional run of performances at the club level combined with perhaps a wave of injuries.
In the past six weeks, most of the attention on the player pool surrounded the form of the strikers. Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Pefok, and Haji Wright have all played with the national team over the past year and all have been in terrific form. Brandon Vazquez was also in great form despite never having played with the team. Then you had Ricardo Pepi whose form had faded dramatically since last October. In that span he has not scored for FC Dallas, the U.S. team, and then Augsburg in Germany. Now he’s at Groningen in the Eredivisie.
With this roster, the striker debate will only intensify.
Bringing back Sargent was expected as he was with the team last fall and was only dropped when he stopped scoring. Now that he is off to a torrid start with Norwich in the Championship (five goals in his last five games), he is back. But he has established relationships with the team and reintegration should be easy.
The same can be said with Jesus Ferreira who is a different forward stylistically. At FC Dallas he has 18 goals this season and has a great relationship with the existing players.
The third forward taken will get the most attention. Ricardo Pepi was brought into the team over Jordan Pefok, Haji Wright, and even Brandon Vazquez who has helped lead FC Cincinnati’s turnaround in 2022. Wright was perhaps most expected to be left off after he struggled with the U.S. team in June. But the ice cold Pepi over Jordan Pefok, who is a key to a Union Berlin team that is atop the Bundesliga after six rounds, is the top story of the roster.
Earlier this month, Berhalter spoke the media in New York and, without mentioning the names of players, seemed to suggest that the striker picks would yield a surprise to those just analyzing the pick on paper. He emphasized that he was looking for a specific player profile to match how he wants the team to play.
“This is something I would love if you guys can appreciate is we are trying to look at the profile of who fits us and what we're trying to do the best,” Berhalter said in New York. “It may not be the best forward - what we think fits our team and how we want to play."
Does this eliminate Pefok, Wright, or Vazquez from make the World Cup team? I don’t think so. If Pepi struggles in this camp and then doesn’t score much or at all with Groningen, it could make Berhalter have make a late change.
But I would say these three forward picked on this roster are in the driver’s seat.
This World Cup, more than any previous World Cup, is about form. There is no month-long runup to the World Cup where the coach can build the team and monitor his form within the team. This World Cup is about trying to pick the hottest players from a narrowed-down pool and hope they can replicate it. There are no friendlies leading up to the World Cup and only days separate club breaking for the tournament and the opening game of the tournament.
This makes the form of several players more concerning. These players all must have strong camps in September or else their ticket to Qatar could be jeopardized.
Ricardo Pepi: as mentioned above, hasn’t scored for the national team or now three clubs in over a year. He’s now at a level in the Eredivisie where he should snap out of it. But there are plenty of good strikers in hot pursuit of his ticket.
Luca de la Torre: While de la Torre’s inclusion into this team was not a surprise given how he played an important role during second half of World Cup qualifying. It is surprising that Berhalter did not take Eryk Williamson, Djordje Mihailovic, or another midfielder given de la Torre’s tough club situation at Celta Vigo where he is not playing. If de la Torre struggles in this camp, he’s not going to work out of it at Celta Vigo. What is the plan if de la Torre struggles? It could make for a tough situation and there will be eyes on de la Torre at this camp and if he doesn’t play well, it will be a concern.
Chris Richards: making this roster and that is a testament to how highly Berhalter thinks of him. If we are talking about current form (which is a key factor for this mid-season World Cup), Richards doesn’t have a great case. He’s played around 584 minutes of club soccer in 2022 between Hoffenheim and now Crystal Palace. He hasn’t been with the U.S. team since January due to various injuries. He also was not part of the U.S. team for either of the successful 2021 summer tournaments. An older player might be able to excuse a scant recent body of work with a much overall larger profile. But Richards is still a young player at 22.
Berhalter clearly believes in Richards, but Richards is a backup at Palace and in a position where you need rhythm, Richards doesn’t have that. He is on this team based on raw talent. But he still needs to play well and there are good central defenders in Tim Ream, Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown, and James Sands who are knocking at the door.
Malik Tillman: made this roster despite a pair of tough outings for Rangers against Celtic and Ajax. With his body of work so small, two games is a lot. He is very much a bubble player for the World Cup team but Berhalter likes his raw talent both now and for the future of the team beyond this World Cup. Tillman is going to have to stand out in order to make this team.
DeAndre Yedlin: is the most experienced player on the team and the only player on the roster to have played in a World Cup. There are a lot of fullbacks knocking at the door. Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson are starters. Sam Vines is playing himself into consideration as a back-up left back. Joe Scally can play either side. Reggie Cannon and Yedlin have been backups this cycle. Berhalter cannot take all of these players and Yedlin is not in a great situation with his performances at Inter Miami ranging wildly from okay to subpar. He has the experience edge, but if his form isn’t more consistent, is it enough? He also needs to have a good camp or else he could fall out of the mix.
Gio Reyna: the Borussia Dortmund playmaker will make the World Cup team if healthy, but his form is certainly one to watch. Dortmund is taking their time increasing his workload after a missed season. But what kind of role will he be able to play? Is he just a late-game sub? It will be notable to see how Berhalter uses Reyna and if he increases his workload beyond what Dortmund has shown.
Berhalter knows that in an ideal situation, Sergino Dest is the starting right back and Antonee Robinson it the starting left back. The back-up options have never been clear. George Bello played is way out of the backup left back role.
Can Sam Vines be that guy? Vines has been a guy who has played his way onto the team admirable with a very good Royal Antwerp team.
Joe Scally is ideally a backup right back to Dest, but can he be the backup left back? Scally also has to play his way onto the team after only limited minutes under Berhalter so far.
The Yedlin and Cannon order has also varied as to who has been the backup. With Scally and Vines raising their game, is there room for both Yedlin and Cannon? Just one? Neither?
Leaving this camp, it will be an accomplishment for Berhalter to establish a known hierarchy of the fullbacks after Dest and Robinson.
Jordan Pefok was the biggest name who was left off, by far, and the other forwards such as Haji Wright, and Brandon Vazquez also deserve some consideration.
There are a few other names that were notably left off and while the door is still open to heading to Qatar, they’re going to need to raise their game to another level as well as need injuries or a serious dip in form for others.
Djordje Mihailovic: the Montreal attacking midfielder (bound for AZ Alkmaar after this season) probably lost to Tillman and Mihailovic was slated to be on the U.S. roster over the summer before his injury.
Tim Ream: The Fulham captain, now 34, has had a very strong start to the Premier League season after guiding Fulham to promotion last year. While Berhalter prefers central defenders with pace, Ream has the most experience in terms of anyone in the pool and could have been a steady backup. I don’t think Ream is out of the picture completely. He is the type of player who could probably rejoin the team any point without needing time to readjust. If Berhalter is uncertain of his central defenders just before picking the final roster, Ream could resurface.
Eryk Williamson: was part of the Gold Cup winning team last year and started the final against Mexico. He’s returned well from his ACL tear and he has sparked Portland’s huge climb up the standings this fall.
Erik Palmer-Brown: The Troyes central defender was part of the U.S. roster over the summer but seemed to be behind others.
Mark McKenzie: the Genk central defender has only recently returned to the starting lineup with Genk but has done well.
Johnny Cardoso: The central midfielder has seen his minutes increase at Internacional in Brazil but is still very young and Olympic eligible.
Alejandro Zendejas: The Club America attacking midfielder/winger has played very well the past year and while he has played for Mexico recently after representing the U.S. U-17 World Cup team in 2015, it was revealed he never filed his one-time switch with FIFA.
Josh Cohen: Was a long shot, but with the goalkeeper so unsettled, this was Cohen's chance of getting called up after helping guide Maccabi Haifa into the Champions League.