The United States has released a near-full strength roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in late January and early February, with the USMNT set for a critical trio of matches that will help determine its fate for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Currently sitting second in the CONCACAF qualification table but far from comfortable, the U.S. has called in 28 players to travel to Columbus, Toronto, and St. Paul for the three matches.
The team is headlined by Chelsea star Christian Pulisic, who has returned to health from an ankle injury and bout with COVID-19 in October to make the roster. Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie is also on board, as are new Augsburg striker Ricardo Pepi and RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams.
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The 13 MLS players called into the squad are the most for Berhalter on a World Cup qualification roster since taking the job.
USMNT roster for upcoming WCQ matches
GOALKEEPERS (4): Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution).
DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Chris Richards (Hoffenheim), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Luca de la Torre (Heracles), Sebastian Lletget (New England Revolution), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders).
FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tim Weah (Lille), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew).
USMNT roster highlights
This USMNT roster is nearly full strength, with almost all the young stars fans have come to love on the list. Having Pulisic, McKennie, Adams, and Pepi all healthy and ready to go is a boost for the U.S. as they look to push for a World Cup qualification spot. There will be no excuses this time around.
The only glaring omission is Borussia Dortmund winger Gio Reyna, who was expected to miss out due to his continued recovery from a frustrating muscular injury suffered while on USMNT duty in November.
Tim Weah is included after recovering from his own bout with a muscular injury, just recently returning to the pitch for club side Lille on Wednesday.
One interesting exclusion from the roster is center-back Tim Ream, who has been a fixture under Berhalter and has played nearly every minute for Championship-leading Fulham this club season. Also left off is fellow center-back John Brooks, who has struggled for form with relegation-threatened Wolfsburg. In the heart of defense, Berhalter has instead gone with Miles Robinson, Mark McKenzie, Chris Richards, and Walker Zimmerman.
Gianluca Busio was left off, despite consistent playing time with new club Venezia. New West Brom striker Daryl Dike was also excluded after making a recent winter switch. Up front, supporting Pepi, Berhalter has Weah, Gyasi Zardes, Brenden Aaronson, Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris, and young FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira.
Hilariously, Josh Sargent, who has struggled all year with Norwich City, was understandably left off the roster, but scored an outlandish goal just minutes after the roster’s release to give the Canaries a huge boost in the fight against relegation.
USMNT qualifying schedule
The United States is set to play three World Cup qualifying matches in this international window, with a further three due up in late March.
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Those remaining six fixtures conclude the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and will decide which three teams qualify directly for the World Cup, plus a fourth side that will be sent to the intercontinental playoff against the winner from the Oceania region.
|Thursday, Jan. 27||vs. El Salvador||Columbus, OH|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||@ Canada||Hamilton, Ontario|
|Wednesday, Feb. 2||vs. Honduras||St. Paul, MN|
|Thursday, Mar. 24||@ Mexico||TBD|
|Sunday, Mar. 27||vs. Panama||Orlando, FL|
|Wednesday, Mar. 30||@ Costa Rica||TBD|
CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings
The United States currently sits second in the World Cup qualifying standings, which would be good enough for a spot in Qatar, but with six matches remaining, it’s far from over.
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The summit of the table is extremely tight, with the top four teams all two points apart. Canada has topped the table with 16 points, thanks to a steadfast start to qualifying that remains without a single loss, but the US is right there one point back, with Mexico and Panama sitting a further point adrift.
The top three places all secure qualification to the World Cup automatically, while fourth place earns a berth in the intercontinental playoff against the winner of the Oceania region. The bottom four sides are eliminated.
|5. Costa Rica||9||8||2||3||3||6||7||-1|
|7. El Salvador||6||8||1||4||3||4||10||-6|
Gregg Berhalter’s reaction
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter met with the media shortly after the roster release and spoke about a number of different inclusions and exclusions.
“Thinking about the roster composition,” Berhalter said, “it’s never easy to put that together based on game time of our players domestically and looking at the form of our European players. So when I look at our roster as a whole, it’s a mix of guys who are playing regularly and guys who have been in training camp with us in December and then again in January.”
The most newsworthy moment of the press conference came when Berhalter confirmed that Busio’s exclusion was due to a positive COVID-19 test, with the Venezia playmaker initially included on the roster. “We have to be very cautious with COVID during this window,” Berhalter said. “It’s spreading like wildfire and there’s a chance that anyone coming in to camp can be excluded because of that.”
Berhalter also spoke about the exclusions of veteran center-backs John Brooks and Tim Ream, failing to go into specifics about why they were left off the roster but reiterating that both players remain in the mix for future roster inclusion and that they “just didn’t make the cut” this time around. Berhalter said that nothing more than form was the reason for Brooks’ exclusion, saying that he “wasn’t a good fit” for this stretch of games, but did not expand upon what that meant exactly.
The USMNT head man also confirmed that making the trip across the border to Canada, where COVID-19 restrictions are much tighter for incoming travelers, did factor in to the construction of the roster, and that all players on the current roster are eligible to enter the country and be available for the match.
Berhalter also noted that weather will play a key role in the upcoming qualifiers, with a clear eye on the match in Canada, plus home games in Ohio and Minnesota. “When I think about historic World Cup qualifiers in our history, certainly the two that come to mind are the game in 2001 against Mexico in Columbus, and then in the game in Denver against Costa Rica where the weather is playing a key role in that, and really giving us the upper hand. So we expect to embrace the conditions and enjoy the conditions, and really take it to our opponents.”