Wednesday’s big-production reveal of the United States men’s national team roster for the 2022 World Cup did not have the same level of shock and awe as in 2014 when Jurgen Klinsmann chose to leave American soccer icon Landon Donovan off his Brazil World Cup squad. And that’s a good thing.
As expected, head coach Gregg Berhalter ushered America’s golden generation of soccer talent into the next phase of its development on the biggest international stage. Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams — players who’ve all taken their considerable talents to Europe — embody the potential and promise of a U.S. team looking to turn heads in Qatar before getting to host the World Cup in 2026.
“You can’t predict how the players progress,” Berhalter said on the made-for-TV announcement show. “And when I see this young group and the amount of progress they made, individually and as a team, I’m excited to get on that plane.”
The 26-man roster isn’t all kids. As with any World Cup selection, some players were snubbed. And there were surprises — just not on the Landon Donovan level.
- Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas)
- Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
- Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
- Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
- Josh Sargent (Norwich City)
- Tim Weah (Lille)
- Haji Wright (Antalyaspor)
Pencil in Pulisic, the face of this USMNT, at starting left wing. Reyna or Weah will occupy the right side. Or maybe Reyna starts with Pulisic and Weah in a “false 9” setup.
That’s a possibility because qualifying did not resolve the striker issue. Ferreira has been routinely selected as the starter and can do everything Berhalter wants from the position — except for putting the ball in the net.
Sargent, who’s finally blossomed in England after Norwich City’s relegation to the Championship, could very well get his chance in Qatar. Or maybe Berhalter turns to Haji Wright, who, at 6-foot-3, provides much-needed size in the box and has been on a great run of form with Antalyaspor, his club in Turkey.
Jordan Pefok, another tall striker, was not chosen. Berhalter’s reason: “You don’t have a month to get a guy in form.” Ouch.
Morris, the longtime speedy forward from Seattle, will be the late-game dice roll off the bench. He will be one of Berhalter’s most trusted substitutes.
Of all the position groups, this is the U.S.’s most talented. It could also be its most frustrating. You just never know how World Cup neophytes will handle the pressure, especially with the outsized expectations placed on Pulisic and Reyna.
- Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United)
- Kellyn Acosta (LAFC)
- Tyler Adams (Leeds United)
- Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo)
- Weston McKennie (Juventus)
- Yunus Musah (Valencia)
- Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
The midfield trio of Adams, McKennie and Musah was the driving force during World Cup qualifying, and if there was ever a sure thing, it would be these three reprising their midfield roles in Qatar.
That’s why it’s so interesting to see Aaronson listed as a midfielder.
He’s a natural winger and was thought to be on the outside looking in when choosing the starting front three. However, Aaronson is versatile enough to play in midfield, where he’s been deployed (and starred) at Leeds United. His inclusion here means he could very well have a larger role as a midfielder, especially if McKennie isn’t fully fit from a thigh injury he suffered two weekends ago playing for Juventus.
Berhalter wouldn’t want to have McKennie, his most dynamic midfield talent, sitting on the bench. But if McKennie can’t go, Aaronson represents an excellent backup plan, making up for his lack of physicality by providing grit as a fearless and relentless attacker who’s always looking to create and drive past defenders.
Musah, who was sorely missed during the U.S.’s World Cup tuneups in September, has the confidence to carry the ball between the lines. Adams, the former New York Red Bulls star, never stops running to do the necessary dirty work.
MLS veterans Acosta and Roldan provide reliable, no-nonsense options off the bench, mostly for defensive duties to help shut down opponents chasing a goal.
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic)
- Sergiño Dest (AC Milan)
- Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)
- Shaq Moore (Nashville SC)
- Tim Ream (Fulham)
- Antonee Robinson (Fulham)
- Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami)
- Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)
The foundation of any team is a proven center back pairing, and Berhalter had his two first-choice center halves with Zimmerman and Miles Robinson. But then Robinson ruptured his Achilles in May, and it’s been chaos ever since.
Crystal Palace defender Chris Richards would’ve been the logical choice to replace Robinson, but a hamstring injury will keep Richards from Qatar. Long has partnered with Zimmerman, but he can’t cover as much ground as Robinson to complement Zimmerman’s strong suit — clearing balls in the air.
Could Ream, the 35-year-old veteran, be the solution? Maybe. Whoever pairs with Zimmerman will only have a week to develop enough chemistry to go up against Wales’ Gareth Bale and England’s Harry Kane.
The starting full back spots belong to Antonee Robinson and Dest, who moved from Barcelona’s bench to AC Milan’s bench during the transfer window and is currently dealing with an adductor injury. Reggie Cannon figured to be a lock as a reserve, but he was passed over for Shaq Moore and Joe Scally, whose meteoric rise continues.
- Ethan Horvath (Luton Town)
- Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
- Matt Turner (Arsenal)
From Tony Meola to Kasey Keller to Tim Howard, goalkeeper has always been a position of strength for the USMNT — until now.
Zack Steffen was being groomed as the next goalkeeping star to keep the American tradition alive. However, he’s experienced a precipitous fall since leaving MLS for Manchester City.
Turner, who made the big jump from the New England Revolution to Arsenal over the summer, is now the clear-cut No. 1. Problem is, he’s had very little game time to stay sharp, playing only four Europa League matches, the last coming on Oct. 20 against PSV Eindhoven.
Johnson and Horvath have been regulars at their clubs. Horvath, who’s on loan from Premier League side Nottingham Forest, has recorded eight shutouts — five clean sheets since the start of October — for Luton Town in the second-tier Championship. Johnson had his NYCFC season end two weekends ago in the conference finals of the MLS Cup playoffs.
With so much uncertainty at center back and possibly in goal, the USMNT’s best defense just might be its offense. It’s where the Americans have the most difference makers.
“It’s not time to change who we are,” Berhalter said. “We’re an aggressive team, a high-pressing team. We want to use the ball, and we’re gonna find out if we can be successful doing that.”