USMNT announces World Cup roster with a few surprises, and two stunners

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USMNT announces World Cup roster with a few surprises, and two stunners
The U.S. men’s national team will head to the 2022 World Cup with a defender who hasn’t played for it in over a year, with a striker who’s never scored an international goal from open play, and without its No. 1 goalkeeper for most of this World Cup cycle.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter announced his 26-man roster on Wednesday. It includes Haji Wright, a red-hot forward, but not Jordan Pefok nor Ricardo Pepi. It also includes Fulham captain Tim Ream, a 35-year-old center back who hasn’t played for the national team since last September.

The biggest stunner, though, was the absence of Zack Steffen, who has started more than any other goalkeeper since Berhalter took charge in 2018. But he’d slipped down the depth chart as Matt Turner assumed the No. 1 spot. “To tell [Steffen] he’s not gonna be a part of the World Cup team was heartbreaking for me,” Berhalter said.

[More: The 7 biggest USMNT roster snubs, including Steffen and Pefok]

Among the other notable inclusions are Luca de la Torre, who has spent the past few weeks sidelined by injury; and Joe Scally and Shaq Moore, two fullbacks who beat Reggie Cannon to a roster spot.

Further up the field, Jordan Morris is in and Paul Arriola is out; and Cristian Roldan made the 26 ahead of Malik Tillman.

Berhalter FaceTimed players on Sunday afternoon from his home to deliver the news — the good, and the bad. The cuts, he said, were “really difficult.” The others were filled with relief, joyous tears, and “real, genuine happiness.” The MLS-based players will now depart from New York City for Qatar on Wednesday night to fulfill their dreams. European-based teammates will join them by Monday.

With club seasons still ongoing through this weekend, and final squads not due until Monday, the USMNT list is still subject to change. Several players not on it, Berhalter said, have been told to remain on standby. But barring injury, these are likely the 26 players who’ll meet Wales on Nov. 21.

U.S. World Cup roster for Qatar 2022
Goalkeepers: Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson

Fullbacks: Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Joe Scally, Shaq Moore

Center backs: Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan

Wingers: Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson, Jordan Morris

Strikers: Jesús Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Haji Wright

Weston McKennie (8) and Gio Reyna (7) had long ago claimed spots on the USMNT’s World Cup roster. Josh Sargent (9) and Tim Ream (13) earned places in the 26-man squad over the past few months. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Haji Wright the in-form stunner
Wright came of age starring on U.S. youth teams alongside Pulisic and McKennie, but his professional career, until this year, had been rocky and wayward. As he endured a goal-less 2019-20 league season at VVV-Venlo in Holland, he essentially fell off Berhalter’s radar.

A scoring spurt in Turkey, with Antalyaspor, propelled him back into the picture. A call-up, and a debut goal from the penalty spot, offered a glimmer of World Cup hope. Berhalter, though, hadn’t sounded overly impressed with Wright’s performances. He didn’t get a second call in September. He seemed, clearly, to be on the outside looking in at the roster.

But Berhalter continued evaluating him; and Wright kept scoring — nine goals in 12 Turkish Super Lig games this season.

Berhalter, despite rolling into past camps without a big, physical striker, says he wanted one at the World Cup, to complement Ferreira and Sargent on a “really well balanced forward line.” The decision came down to Wright and Pefok. “If we woulda made the decision mid-September, Jordan Pefok probably would’ve been a lock to be in, based on his form in [the Bundesliga with] Union Berlin,” Berhalter said. “But since then, it’s a different story.” Pefok hasn’t scored at all. “Haji is in great goalscoring form,” Berhalter said. “They’re both physical strikers. Jordan maybe a little more so, but Haji has pace, he’s got the ability to go 1-v-1, he’s finishing with his head, both feet. And he’s performing really well.”

Tim Ream’s return a surprise, but ‘really not a difficult one’
Berhalter was asked multiple times why Ream, who’d seemingly dropped out of the picture, was included.

“Have you watched any Fulham games lately?” he responded at first. “Then you know why we brought him in.”

“It’s really clear,” Berhalter continued. “He was in the Premier League three years ago, and he struggled. The whole team struggled. And he went to the Championship [the English second tier], and he started performing better. And they got promoted. And now he’s in the Premier League, and he’s a top performer for his team. It’s really hard to ignore stuff like that.”

Berhalter added that Ream is “a guy that’s been with us since Day 1.” He was. a regular at the 2019 Gold Cup, and the 2021 Nations League, and even to start World Cup qualifying. That didn’t prevent him from being dropped in late 2021, and didn’t lead to a recall in March, May or September of 2022. The issue, at those points, seemed to be stylistic fit.

But the difference, now, is form — and that Berhalter, at the end of a four-year road, has seemingly scrapped his idealism in favor of pragmatism.

“It’s really not a difficult one,” Berhalter reiterated, again explaining Ream decision. “I mean, he’s playing in the best league in the world, and he’s playing at a very high level.”

Meet the 2022 USMNT
Below are the 26 players, in rough order of prominence and importance, with a bit information on each, and with projected starters italicized.

They will, on average, almost certainly be the youngest team at the 2022 World Cup.

Christian Pulisic
Club: Chelsea (England)
Positions: Left wing, right wing, attacking midfield

The kid dubbed “Captain America” has been a trailblazer for Americans in Europe. Now 24, he still might be the best player on this USMNT. But he’s no longer a singular star. While his development has plateaued, and his club situation has hindered it, others have arisen to shoulder more of the attacking burden. Pulisic, though, remains a focal point of the U.S. attack.

Weston McKennie
Club: Juventus (Italy)
Positions: Central midfield