Berhalter names his 26 players for Qatar: a deep ASN breakdown
November 08, 2022
EVER SINCE THE USMNT failed to quality for the 2018 World Cup, the task was always to get back to the biggest stage in the sport. That happened in March when the US team qualified for Qatar. On Wednesday, U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter officially named his roster that will compete in the 2022 World Cup.
For the most part, the roster contains few surprises. The entire core of the team is included as well as most of the regular mainstays who have been with the team throughout qualifying.
Here is the roster as well as some thoughts.
THE USMNT ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0; Lilburn, Ga.), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 20/0; Park Ridge, N.J.)
DEFENDERS (9): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 11/0; Southend-on-Sea, England), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 19/2; Almere, Netherlands), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 29/3; Oak Hills, Calif.), Shaq Moore (Nashville SC; 15/1; Powder Springs, Ga.), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 46/1; St. Louis, Mo.), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 29/2; Liverpool, England), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 3/0; Lake Grove, N.Y.), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF; 75/0; Seattle, Wash.), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 33/3; Lawrenceville, Ga.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 24/6; Medford, N.J.), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 53/2; Plano, Texas), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 32/1; Wappingers Falls, N.Y.), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 12/0; San Diego, Calif.), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 37/9; Little Elm, Texas), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 19/0; London, England), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 32/0; Pico Rivera, Calif.)
FORWARDS (7): Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 15/7; McKinney, Texas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 49/11; Mercer Island, Wash.), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 52/21; Hershey, Pa.), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 14/4; Bedford, N.Y.), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 20/5; O’Fallon, Mo.), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 25/3; Rosedale, N.Y.), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor/TUR; 3/1; Los Angeles, Calif.)
100% core in place
There were always worries about the timing of this World Cup and how it came in the middle of the season. Players would not get to recover from the strains of a season in the usual month-long run up to the World Cup as the club demands would take the team right up to the week of the first game. And yes, there is still the upcoming weekend for club games, and anything could happen.
But as of now Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Tim Weah, Antonee Robinson, and Yunus Musah are on the team and have been playing regularly for their clubs the month leading up to this announcement. Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest are on the roster and have been dealing with injuries but both should be back at some point ahead of the first team – whether they are back in full fitness remains to be seen.
Form of the core
The form of the core however is a completely different matter. As I’ve been saying for the past two months, success is all about how well the core does and a big part of the success or failure of the core will come down to their form leading into the tournament. We saw this in the September window. the core was in poor form across the board heading into those games and it was not a surprise the team struggled badly against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
The good news is that the core has been trending upward the past few weeks. But it is still not completely optimal.
Christian Pulisic: is playing regularly for Chelsea but mostly sub minutes and cameos.
Weston McKennie: Is dealing with a quad injury and might return this week. While Juventus is improving, McKennie has had some great games but also some poor ones as well. It’s been an inconsistent season from him and he struggled with the U.S. team in September.
Gio Reyna: The Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder/winger has made enormous strides the past month and is taking on a workload where he can start three games in two weeks. His improvement has been the biggest boost to the U.S. roster since September.
Yunus Musah: Has been playing and his performances haven’t been bad, but they haven’t stood out either. It is mostly quiet from him.
Antonee Robinson: despite conceding a decisive penalty against Manchester City last weekend, it has been a very good season from him. He has been playing like a better than average Premier League left back (which is a great level) and his defense is miles ahead of where it was two years ago in his first season in England’s top flight.
Tyler Adams: No one in the core is coming into the World Cup playing as well as Adams right now. The defensive midfielder has shined at Leeds United and has stood out in the team’s last two impressive wins.
Brenden Aaronson: He is still adjusting to the Premier League and life in a Big Five European league. At times he shows a huge ceiling and at times it doesn’t all click. But the energy he can give off the bench is enormous.
Sergino Dest: While he has had a few glimpses of positive play for Milan this season, this move has mostly been a struggle with irregular minutes. He’s now also dealing with a seemingly minor injury.
Tim Weah: Weah has only recently returned to Lille’s starting XI after missing the season’s first two months. While it is big that he can start games, he is still rusty.
So, in the single biggest question for the U.S. team, where does this leave the U.S. team based on the form of the core?
It is incredibly mixed. Adams, Reyna, and Robinson are clear wins. Musah and Aaronson are healthy but mixed (probably decent enough). Weah and Pulisic are very inconclusive. Dest and McKennie are health and rust issues.
People are going to see what they want to see on this issue. There is hope and the possibility that it could all come together, but there is a lot of wishful thinking in that as well.
Ream, Wright, & Moore highlight surprise inclusions
Among the players who made the team, there were a few surprises given their irregular time with the team over the last few years.
Tim Ream: With Tim Ream making the World Cup team, it is one of the biggest stories on the roster. When Ream pulled himself out of the roster in October 2021 for the second round of World Cup qualifiers due to family reasons, it seemed to mark the end of his involvement. But what he has done since then has been remarkable.
In 2021/22, Ream played 4017 out of a possible 4140 minutes for Fulham to lead them to promotion. This year he started and captained every one of Fulham’s games in the Premiership as they sit inside the top 10 of the league.
- Tim Ream played 4071 out of a possible 4140 minutes last season in the Championship— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 20, 2022
- He's played 988 out of a possible 990 minutes to start this EPL season
- That's a total of 5059 minutes played out of a possible 5130 minutes (98.6%) since August 2021
- He just turned 35
Ream is by far the oldest player on the U.S. roster having just turned 35 but he is a great veteran presence on what is otherwise a very young team. He brings a sense of leadership and the chance of having a Premier League captain brings along benefits both on and off the field.
Ream has been on the outside of the team as recently as September but he continued to force Berhalter’s hand and is now heading to his first World Cup.
Shaq Moore: The Nashville SC right back is probably seen as a surprise to make this team by many, but he probably shouldn’t be upon closer inspection. Berhalter has always rated Moore higher than most and this dated back when he played for Tenerife in Spain’s second tier. Moore made the Gold Cup team in 2021 and helped the team win that tournament.
How did Moore make this team? For one, he beat out Reggie Cannon in a late push. While that might be a surprise, it shouldn’t be. For Moore, he has been consistently a backup behind Yedlin, Dest, and Cannon on the right side and Berhalter has frequently singled him out in press conferences as a player who is doing well.
As for overtaking Cannon, the issue could be that Cannon struggled in the September window and he has not played as a right back in 2022. Cannon has been playing as a central defender.
Moore is a good defender and that is not a particular strength for Dest or Yedlin. Late in the game, Moore could be seen as someone who bring some defensive intensity. Moore is also a good crosser and he could also be used late in the game when the U.S. team is trying to get the ball in the box in search of a goal.
What is interesting about both the Moore and Ream inclusions is that it gives the U.S. team some chemistry in the backline as Ream and Antonee Robinson play together at Fulham while Zimmerman and Moore play together at Nashville.
Haji Wright: The Antalyaspor forward is perhaps the biggest surprise on the roster – to me. Even as recently as early this week, I wrote that he had little chance of going to Qatar. Yes, he had been scoring in droves in Turkey all of 2022. But the fact is that Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira, and Ricardo Pepi have also been scoring for most of the past 10 weeks. In particular, leapfrogging over Pepi is particularly noteworthy given that Pepi got the call in September when he was playing poorly and is now getting cut while playing well.
But the goals that Wright is scoring are probably more similar to a World Cup environment than the goals Pepi is scoring in Holland. Wright is scoring and playing physically. His goal over the weekend, a powerful header, was one of his best in 2022. He is physically combative and he is using his pace.
Sargent and Wright give the team physicality along with goalscoring. Jesus Ferreira is a different forward and he offers a different type of look. It may or may not work out but you can see where Berhalter is going with his selection.
Who isn’t here?
With every roster there is talk over the tough cuts. Even with 26 players on this roster, there are still some cuts that are significant and need to be talked about.
Zack Steffen: the one-time assumed No. 1 goalkeeper is not on the team and with that, it likely means that Berhalter has decided on Matt Turner as the No. 1 goalkeeper (but possibly Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson). But this also means that Berhalter is not comfortable right now with Steffen to be the backup, which takes a different kind of mentality and the need to be positive in the locker room or on the bench. The fact that Steffen has gone from being a neck-and-neck starter to being off the team completely is stunning.
But Steffen hasn’t had a good several years. He’s gone through very long stretches of being injured – typically in his knee. He was a backup for two years at Manchester City and when he did play, he had tough moments (particularly in the FA Cup). Then, in January, he withdrew from the U.S. national team roster for personal reasons. In September, he was recovering from an injury and was left off the roster despite playing in the final game for Middlesbrough before the window. His form at Middlesbrough began shaky but has picked up in recent weeks.
Berhalter will have to spend time talking to the media over this cut because unlike a player such as Jordan Pefok, Steffen has been with the team regularly whenever healthy.
Malik Tillman: The Rangers attacking midfielder has some versatility and was brought into the team in June after he filed his change of association switch from Germany. His loan to Rangers has been mixed. Yes, Rangers made the Champions League but had a near-historically bad campaign with 0 points from six games and a -20 goal differential. Tillman was in a tough position in these games but wasn’t solid defensively. In the Scottish Premiership, he’s been decent at times. He scored a great goal against Motherwell but struggled against Celtic.
The fact is that he is just so new to first team minutes and hasn’t stood out yet with the U.S. team and he doesn’t have a strong relationship with the team given his recent inclusion. He is only 20 and is one for the future. Perhaps the Olympics, so long as his German youth national team games don’t make him ineligible as they were part of UEFA Olympic qualifying.
Ricardo Pepi: Will likely be one of the most talked about players missing from the roster given that he was called up in September when he struggled but is playing much better now. In this case, the reasoning is likely that he fell behind Haji Wright – who is also scoring. The difference is probably due to the fact Berhalter felt Wright is more likely to replicate his goals in a World Cup environment than Pepi in the Eredivisie, which is more attack friendly.
Jordan Pefok: was a big source of controversy when he was left off the roster in September. But at that time, Union Berlin was leading the Bundesliga and Pefok was scoring. He’s gone cold since then and hasn’t scored since September 18. In his recent games, he’s struggled to get touches and missed two games with an injury (since then, his performances have especially dropped). He’s not competing with Jesus Ferreira who brings a different skillset. Instead he lost out to Josh Sargent and Haji Wright, who have both had nice seasons and have more comradery with the roster (both in USMNT games and dating back to youth national teams).
Paul Arriola: The FC Dallas winger has been a mainstay with the U.S. team for most of this entire cycle. He is a great energy player and a great teammate. Defensively, he can put in a solid effort and he is coming from a great season with FC Dallas. The problem for Arriola is that the team has just too many players who can play on the wing and there wasn’t enough room once Reyna and Weah returned to health.
Reggie Cannon: He has been a top backup right back for most of the cycle but he fell behind other players like Scally, Moore, and Yedlin because he simply doesn’t play right back anymore at Boavista and doesn’t have the reps at the position he would need to play. When he was brought into the game against Japan in September, he was exposed on Japan’s second goal.
Mark McKenzie: The KRC Genk central defender is part of an incredible run for Genk which sits atop the Belgian table by nine points and has 14 wins and one draw in its last 15 games. McKenzie, however, has struggled with the national team and wasn’t sharp in September.
Erik Palmer-Brown: The Troyes central defender has finally found a starting job in one of Europe’s Big Five leagues but hasn’t been able to get the same looks that McKenzie and Cameron Carter-Vickers have. It seems likely he will get back withing the team next cycle when he can have a longer chance to prove himself with a longer resume at a good club.
Other cut players
There are other players who were cut that probably had to make Berhalter think about it for awhile. Djordje Mihailovic had a great season with Montreal, and he earned one of the highest ever transfer fees paid by AZ Alkmaar. With Luca de la Torre still not at 100%, he seemed like a potential inclusion as part of an offensive midfielder.
Johnny Cardoso was also part of the U.S. team in the September window. While he didn’t stand out, he can play a deeper midfield role and his playing time with second place Internacional in Brazil is substantially increased from previous years. He remains a likely option for the U.S. Olympic team as he is still just 21.
John Brooks has always been a controversial absence but he has played just a handful of real minutes since May.
Chris Richards was probably favored to make this team but his recovery from injury has been just too slow, and he is still not back to full-team training with Crystal Palace.
A huge USYNT presence
Per U.S. Soccer’s release, 14 players on the team have played for the United States in a youth World Cup: Kellyn Acosta (2011 U-17; 2013, 2015 U-20), Tyler Adams (2015 U-17, 2017 U-20), Cameron Carter-Vickers (2015, 2017 U-20), Luca de la Torre (2015 U-17, 2017 U-20), Sergiño Dest (2017 U-17, 2019 U-20), Sean Johnson (2009 U-20), Shaq Moore (2015 U-20), Christian Pulisic (2015 U-17), Gio Reyna (2019 U-17), Josh Sargent (2017 U-17, U-20), Joe Scally (2019 U-17) Tim Weah (2017 U-17, 2019 U-20), Haji Wright (2015 U-17) DeAndre Yedlin (2013 U-20).
But there are other notes to include. For one, Ethan Horvath was initially on the 2015 U-20 World Cup team but his club, Molde, withdrew his release when Zack Steffen was announced at the starter. Second, Jesus Ferreira spent time with the 2019 U.S. U-20 team and Tab Ramos wanted him for the U-20 World Cup but he couldn’t get his citizenship in time. Weston McKennie was wanted for the 2017 team but was not released by Schalke.
With that said, the production that U.S. youth national teams have given the U.S. team over the past four years has been one of the most important stories in rebuilding this team. Players have been identified at young ages and brought up through the correct channels.