USMNT World Cup roster - why each of the 26 is going to Qatar
U.S. Men's National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter has announced his 26-man World Cup roster, selecting three goalkeepers, nine defenders, seven midfielders and seven forwards. After the announcement, Berhalter fielded questions from the media to explain his various picks.
Of course, those names could change as numerous players are still recovering from injury, with the U.S. allowed to make changes up until the day before the team's opener against Wales. Berhalter is expecting everyone to be available, so for now, here are the reasons for each of the 26's selection, either from Berhalter himself or the underlying stats.
Matt Turner: After starting seven of the 14 World Cup qualifiers, Turner has cemented his status as the U.S. No. 1 in net. At first, those starts came because of Zack Steffen being unable to play for various reasons, but over time Turner became the top-choice starter as Steffen's club form continued to suffer. Berhalter tentatively named the now-Arsenal man the starter in Qatar, assuming he recovers fully from his groin injury.
Steffen's exclusion received several questions, and it was also one of the only decisions Berhalter avoided giving much detail on. He was direct in explaining why he chose Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson instead, but stopped short of giving a direct comparison to Steffen.
"I think it's more about who we do have, and the comfort level with the guys that are on the roster. We felt really comfortable with Matt, with Ethan and Sean, and that's the direction we decided to go," Berhalter said.
Neither Horvath nor Johnson appeared in a qualifier, with Turner and Steffen receiving all of the starts. However, both Horvath and Johnson were involved in various camps throughout the USMNT's journey to return to a World Cup.
Ethan Horvath: Berhalter added later in his explanation of the goalkeeper pool that Horvath always steps up when called on to play, a valuable skill to have in a World Cup. One example he mentioned was Horvath's penalty save against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League Final, which he subbed in to after a Steffen injury.
Sean Johnson: Despite making his first appearance in 2011, Johnson only has 10 caps for the USMNT. His latest came this summer, when he earned a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Uruguay. That 2011 match he featured in was also the last Johnson conceded a goal with the national team. Despite so few appearances, Johnson was on every qualifying roster, and Berhalter said he was a valuable piece of the team. It seems the coaching staff rates Johnson's veteran experience on such a young roster highly.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: Another player who did not appear in qualifying, Carter-Vickers has needed to fill a bigger role since Miles Robinson went down with an Achilles injury. He was called up for the June window, playing the second half of the USMNT's 3-0 win over Morocco. With his club side Celtic, Carter-Vickers played in four UEFA Champions League matches in September and October.
Sergino Dest: Another assumed starter, Dest has locked up his right back spot. He was with Barcelona before recently moving to AC Milan and has made 11 UEFA Champions League starts across the last three years.
Aaron Long: Berhalter's preferred replacement for Robinson, Long started all four summer friendlies. Long is also a relatively new arriver to the current pool, having dealt with an Achilles injury of his own in 2021.
Shaq Moore: Many expected Reggie Cannon to get this backup right back spot instead, but Berhalter preferred Moore's abilities in individual situations.
"He had to rely on his one-v-one defending," Berhalter said when describing Moore's career trajectory. "We think that in the World Cup, particularly on the left side of the field for our opponents, they got good one-v-one players and we think he's the guy that can help us in that role."
Tim Ream: "Have you watched any Fulham games recently? Then you know why we brought him in," Berhalter said about the decision to call Ream in for the first time since September 2021. Antonee Robinson, Ream's club teammate, also spoke highly of the center back, calling him one of the best players on Fulham. While Ream's selection was a bit surprising given his long time way, he has started all 14 of his club's games in the Premier League this season, helping Fulham to ninth in the table.
Antonee Robinson: Another locked-in fullback, Robinson is expected to be the starting left back throughout the tournament. He appeared in 13 of the 14 qualifiers and had the most minutes on the team during that stretch.
Joe Scally: Scally's ability to play left or right back makes him a valuable depth option. He is also in good form, starting all 14 of Borussia Monchengladbach's Bundesliga games this season.
DeAndre Yedlin: The lone individual with previous World Cup experience, Yedlin is largely on the roster to provide experience and be a valuable member of the locker room. Berhalter said that even more importantly, Yedlin creates an atmosphere for the team and is everything from a motivator to a shoulder to cry on.
"After reflecting about the last World Cup, I think one of the greatest things I've learned was the best thing you can do is to stay present," Yedlin said of the 2014 lessons he tries to share with his younger teammates. "If you keep thinking ahead, whether that be the next game, or whether that be the next round, whatever it may be, you're going to lose track and probably not perform to the top of your ability. If you can stay present, stay in the moment, that's the most important moment there is."
He later talked about how he expects the young guys to perform well because they have been "stepping up in huge moments throughout these past four years." Those moments Yedlin mentioned included Pulisic's Nations League penalty against Mexico, Adams performing well in the Premier League and Dest's time with Barcelona and Milan.
Walker Zimmerman: The third locked-in defensive starter, Zimmerman has been the lone constant at center back for the U.S. The Nashville SC star also recently won his second consecutive MLS Defender of the Year award.
Brenden Aaronson: The now-Leeds player is no surprise after numerous strong performances for club and country, but what is a surprise is that he's listed as a midfielder, having typically played on the wing with the USMNT. The rest of the squad's wingers are listed as forwards, prompting some questions on the topic for Berhalter.
"Brenden, he can do both. We see him as a winger or as a midfielder. (The) midfield position is somewhat light for us compared to the forward position, so we can see (us) using him there as well," he explained.
Kellyn Acosta: An important depth piece in numerous Berhalter squads, Acosta is back again. He can provide cover at either holding midfield, typically played by Tyler Adams, or central midfield, primarily played together by Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah. Acosta also recently won MLS Cup with LAFC and game one opponent Garreth Bale.
Tyler Adams: Adams joined Robinson in leading the team in qualifying appearances (13/14) and very well could play every minute of the tournament. He is the only real starting option in his role, and while Acosta is a serviceable backup, history shows Berhalter prefers to keep Adams in that spot for as long as possible.
Luca de la Torre: Another depth piece, de la Torre played in four qualifiers and eight of the 12 total 2022 matches. He is recovering from injury as well, with Berhalter describing him at 95 percent of full speed this week, but he may not be ready to go a full 90 in match one. However, de la Torre is expected to peak into full strength as the tournament progresses.
Weston McKennie: One of the team's stars, McKennie escaped an injury of his own to ensure his spot was secured. He did not travel with Juventus for their match this week because he felt something tighten up, but says he will be 100 percent before the group stage opens.
Yunus Musah: McKennie's central midfield counterpart, Musah is quickly becoming one of the most important players on the team. His ability to create space on the ball will be a vital part of breaking down deep defenses.
Cristian Roldan: One of the more controversial choices, Roldan makes the roster over potential option Malik Tillman, and likely in one of the three additional spots FIFA approved for the first time this tournament. Given that Roldan is presumed to be the sixth choice in central midfield, he appears to be in Qatar more for his locker room presence than anything else.
Jesus Ferreira: The striker pool has been shaky at best, with no one stepping up to claim the starting role. However, Ferreira has been one of the more stable players. He had 18 goals for FC Dallas in 33 matches in 2022, one of the best rates among the available options. While his season ended in October, Ferreira says he's been able to stay in good form through the training camp the U.S. held for MLS players that ended this week, which included two full games.
"Jesus is a guy that we see very good overall understanding of our game model, has the ability to really bring other players into the game as well, clever with his movement in and around the penalty box, and then really good ability to press the opponent," Berhalter explained.
Jordan Morris: Like his Seattle Sounders teammate Roldan, Morris was another contentious pick, earning the nod over qualifying mainstay Paul Arriola. Morris is finally healthy after two torn ACLs in three years, and Berhalter seems to prefer him over Arriola, explaining that with Morris and others (like Tim Weah) all healthy at the same time, Arriola became the odd man out.
Christian Pulisic: Captain America himself.
Gio Reyna: Often tossed around in the star conversation with Pulisic and McKennie, Reyna has already made more club appearances this season (15, all competitions) than the last (13) after recovering from various injuries. Those recent matches include five UEFA Champions League appearances, with three starts and two assists. A fully healthy Reyna will do wonders for an often uninspiring U.S. attack.
Josh Sargent: Sargent's selection meant Ricardo Pepi was left off the roster. Berhalter split the three striker openings into two types of play - the first, consisting of Ferreira and Sargent, was for guys whose skills translate well to Berhalter's system. Pepi was ranked third in the race for two spots, with Ferreira and Sargent getting the nod because of a better overall fit.
Berhalter said Sargent does a lot of things well, with him also having an advantage because of the leagues he plays in. His time in the Premier League and EFL Championship gives Sargent experience against many of the USMNT's group stage opponents (Wales and England), while Berhalter added those leagues were more physical than Pepi's Eredivisie. Sargent's cultivation off a physical presence, especially in aerial duels, along with a "competitive nature," were the last pieces of the puzzle that will see him on the plane to Qatar.
Tim Weah: Weah was another important part of qualifying, especially when injuries limited Pulisic and Reyna's availabilities. He will be in contention for the starting right wing spot, and at the very least is No. 3 on the overall winger depth chart.
Haji Wright: The second of the two striker types was reserved for a strong, physical player whose primary job will be to muscle in goals in late game situations. This spot came down to Wright versus Jordan Pefok, with Wright winning out because of his current form. Pefok started the Bundesliga season with three goals and three assists, helping Union Berlin to a first place spot after six games. The club is still an impressive second in the table, but Pefok has zero goals and just one assist in his last seven games.
In contrast, Wright has nine goals in 12 games. Berhalter also pushed back against the idea that Wright's Turkish Super Lig is an easier league to score in, mentioning that Belgium's potential starting striker, Michy Batshuayi, only has five goals in the same league thus far. He added that if roster selection had been made in September, the spot would have gone to Pefok, but Wright's recent form won out. Wright does only have three USMNT appearances, but it seems that Berhalther sees value in his skill set for specific situations.
"Haji gives us a little bit more physicality with his height (when compared) against Josh," he explained. "At the start of the game or late in the game, (we can) bring (him) on for set pieces - defending set pieces, attacking set pieces. Good in transition, good running the channels, good finishing in the penalty box - one time with both feet, - and can score with his head."
Ultimately, Berhalter recognizes his picks could be contentious.
"These may not be the right choices, these are the choices that we picked. Ricardo Pepi could have a great argument for why he should be there, and I can understand that argument. But we chose to bring three strikers and these are the three that we chose," Berhalter said of the competition up top.
But he feels he has selected the best group to succeed from every aspect - system fit, current form, tactical ability and personal fit between teammates.
"We think it's a well-balanced roster, some exciting players," he said about the team as a whole. "The other side of this, which we're really happy with, is the cohesiveness of this group."