United States men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter announced his 26-man roster for the last international break before the World Cup. The national team will play friendlies that will provide the team with appropriate tests ahead of final preparations before Qatar. While some of the USMNTs regulars might get this international break to rest, like Antonee Robinson and Tim Weah, for the vast majority, not making this squad means their shot at a World Cup spot for this cycle is hanging by a thread.
Looking at positions, all eyes will be on Berhalter's choices at striker and goalkeeper. While Jesus Ferreira has enjoyed a stellar season in Major League Soccer scoring 18 goals and assisting five more, no one else has taken the opportunity to nail down their role on the roster behind him. But with Qatar over the horizon, forwards are rounding into form around the world giving Berhalter tough decisions to make. Ricardo Pepi comes back into the squad after being given a rest by Berhalter during the summer window. After moving on loan to FC Groningen, Pepi was for his first attacking return since November of 2021. He's also joined by Josh Sargent who hasn't been capped since September of 2021 during the first few matches of World Cup qualifying.
But Berhalter decided not to bring Jordan Pefok whose Union Berlin side are leading the Bundesliga with the help of his contributions. Haji Wright and Brandon Vazquez are the other in form forwards who have been left out of the squad as Berhalter wants to mimic a World Cup squad of 26. While there are tough decisions all around, forward is the biggest question mark on the team so leaving home the most in form options in favor of Pepi is a curious decision indeed. When asked about his forward decisions, Berhalter said, "We've been consistent in saying that it may not be the best forward that is in the group. It's a guy that fits what we're doing the best."
At keeper, the USMNT is in dire straits. Zack Steffen has been left off the roster in favor of New York City's Sean Johnson after getting injured at Middlesbrough and then being left out of the squad during their most recent match, a 3-2 loss to Cardiff City. Prior to the match, Chris Wilder had high praise of his starter Liam Roberts but then he went on to save only one of four shots on target that he faced which could give Steffen a route back into the lineup and the national team. Steffen has been dealing with a knee injury but he is being monitored. Matt Turner has looked shaky in his brief appearances for Arsenal so far but he's in the position Steffen was in last season where he needs regular playing time to shake the rust off.
If he can't lose the rust, Ethan Horvath is getting regular playing time for a Luton Town team that has allowed eight goals in eight matches. While not a stellar keeper, Horvath may be the most consistent keeper in the pool, and Berhalter knowing what he'd get from him is useful.
Let's take a look at the full 26-man roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 18/0)
DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 27/1), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 11/0), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 17/2), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 27/3), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG; 8/0), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 2/0), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp/BEL; 8/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 74/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 31/3)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 52/2), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 30/1), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 11/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 35/9), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 19/0), Malik Tillman (Rangers/SCO; 2/0)
FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 22/6), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 47/10), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 13/7), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 48/11), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED; 11/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 51/21), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 12/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 19/3)
Looking at the roster, Berhalter wanted to mimic the World Cup by keeping the roster to 26 players. Malik Tillman has had an impressive run but Berhalter noted that after recent performances versus Celtic and Ajax that he needs to, "Increase his level" being an option for set play delivery, Tillman can bring a lot to the squad if he makes it to Qatar. Robinson's injury will also make this an important window for Sam Vines and Joe Scally as the person not selected as the backup left back will likely not head to the World Cup. Berhalter has been fine with playing right footed players on the left but Vines has also had a strong start to the season with Royal Antwerp. Berhalter also confirmed that one of his right backs will be providing cover on the left side as he included four on the roster in Reggie Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin, Sergino Dest, and Scally.
Performance in these friendlies against World Cup bound teams will be a good benchmark for a team that includes the core of the top roster. Even for players who haven't played much this season like Luca de la Torre, Christian Pulisic, Dest, and Chris Richards having five subs helps their cases for inclusion on the roster.