United States men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter unveiled his roster for the make-or-break final round of World Cup qualifying in the Concacaf octagonal. Some of the notable returnees to the squad include Gio Reyna, Jordan Pefok and Ethan Horvath.
The United States will take on Mexico at the Azteca on March 24 (Paramount+), followed by a home game in Orlando at Exploria Stadium against Panama on March 27 before wrapping up the qualifying cycle March 30 on the road at Costa Rica (Paramount+). The Americans are tied with Mexico for second place in the Octagonal table, with the top three teams set to earn a ticket to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar while the fourth-place finisher goes to an intercontinental playoff tie against a team out of the Oceania confederation. The team only needs four points from these three matches to clinch directly and avoid a playoff.
Berhalter has had some injury headaches to deal with, as Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie and New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner are sidelined, and Sergino Dest's injury in Europa League for Barcelona rules him out as well. He has, however, gotten some good news with Zack Steffen is back in training with Manchester City and Reyna back for Borussia Dortmund and providing assists already for his club as they book a spot on this roster. Without McKennie, all eyes will be on who will replace him in midfield which is a spot where Kellyn Acosta could get the nod at least at Estadio Azteca.
USMNT roster by position
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 7/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 9/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 26/0)
DEFENDERS (9): George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld/GER; 6/0), Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 24/1), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 21/3), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes/FRA; 2/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 22/2), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 17/3), James Sands (Rangers/SCO; 7/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 71/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 25/3)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 48/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 24/1), Gianluca Busio (Venezia/ITA; 8/0), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED; 5/0), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 13/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 31/0)
FORWARDS (9): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg/AUT; 18/5), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 43/8), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 7/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 43/10), Jordan Pefok (Young Boys/SUI; 8/1), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg/GER; 9/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 45/18), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund; 9/4), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 20/2)
Following the long and grueling grind that is Concacaf qualifying, most of the roster -- outside of injuries -- picks itself these days. But it's worth noting that in midfield, Luca de la Torre could bring a different look, and Gianluca Busio might be the most like-for-like candidate to replace McKennie despite his less than stellar form with Venezia. With all of the traditional forward options out of form or not starting, this is a big window for Pefok who has hit the 20-goal threshold in the Swiss League.
While Jesús Ferreira may be the best creator among the forward options, he's been held scoreless at the start of this young MLS season which is not ideal for Berhalter. Neither is Ricardo Pepi's form with Augsburg as he works through growing pains of playing for an European club. Pefok hasn't been called in the past as he has not been a perfect fit for Berhalter's traditional style of play, but when the chips are down, the USMNT coach may need to play someone who can put the ball in the back of the net -- and that's Pefok.
At right back, since Dest can't go, all eyes are on Reggie Cannon, who offers similar qualities for a U.S. side that will struggle to create chances without McKennie in the center of the park. While DeAndre Yedlin's veteran experience could lead to him getting a start against Mexico, it's better for him to be the rotational right back playing the Panama game with Cannon taking the lion's share of minutes in the bigger qualifying matches.
Jordan Morris and Aaron Long make their returns after suffering injuries that made them miss most of last season. Long, especially, could find himself starting one of the three matches while Morris provides a serviceable option off the bench. The addition of James Sands increases the likelihood of Acosta starting as he would be the most natural backup to Adams if Acosta can't spell him.
Overall, it's a deep roster that allows Berhalter flexibility during these matches with a quick turnaround. There are also a players such as Erik Palmer-Brown who would be good to get a look at in the Costa Rica game if it ends up being a dead rubber match.