USMNT World Cup 2022 roster: Goalie Zack Steffen off squad, forward Haji Wright going to Qatar

US men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter named his 26-man roster for this month’s World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The list included a few surprises, most notably omitting goalkeeper Zack Steffen and bringing forward Haji Wright and center back Tim Ream.
  • Much of the roster was as expected. Stars Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna were never in doubt. Nor were expected starters like Yunus Musah, Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Turner and Tim Weah.
  • There were a few key position battles, however, and calls that came down to the final few weeks and days of selection.

Key inclusions and omissions

Among the notable decisions was Berhalter bringing Nashville SC right back Shaq Moore over Boavista’s Reggie Cannon, Seattle Sounders winger Jordan Morris over FC Dallas veteran Paul Arriola and Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldán over Rangers youngster Malik Tillman.

No decision, though, was as surprising as the exclusion of Steffen, the Manchester City goalkeeper who entered World Cup qualifying as the USMNT’s No. 1 goalkeeper.

Injuries limited Steffen during qualifiers and allowed Turner to earn the top spot on the depth chart. Still, it was widely expected Steffen would make the team as a backup. The last few months, however, hinted at a change. Steffen pulled out of the June camp for family reasons and then left Manchester City on loan to move to Middlesbrough, where he would get more games. He was left off the US roster for the September friendlies, as well, even though he was healthy enough to start Boro’s final game before the FIFA window opened.

Berhalter opted not to bring Steffen to Qatar, instead calling Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and NYCFC’s Sean Johnson.

Ahead of Wednesday’s roster announcement, much of the attention was focused on two position groups: center back and forward. Berhalter delivered surprise inclusions in both spots.

Ream, 35, had not been called up by the US since last October. He pulled out of that qualifier camp due to family reasons and had not been back with the US since. With Chris Richards missing out due to injury, however, Berhalter opted to bring the veteran defender over other options like Genk’s Mark McKenzie or Troyes’ Erik Palmer-Brown.

At forward, it was considered to be a battle between Josh Sargent, Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok for two of the final three spots. Berhalter did bring Sargent, but he opted to leave both Pepi and Pefok at home and instead summoned Wright, who has scored four goals in his last four games and has nine on the season in the Turkish Süper Lig with Antalyaspor.

Wright made a return to the US pool during the June window, his first call-up since 2019, off the back of good form that has seen him score 25 goals over the past two seasons. Wright netted on a penalty kick in his first game back with the US against Morocco in June, but Berhalter also criticized the 24-year-old’s performance after substituting him out at halftime of a Nations League game against El Salvador later in the window.

Pefok had a hot start to the Bundesliga season with Union Berlin but has not scored since Sept. 18. Pepi, meanwhile, has five goals and two assists in nine games since moving to Groningen on loan this summer, but it wasn’t enough to push onto the World Cup roster.

Sargent has eight goals and two assists this season for Norwich in the English Championship. Jesus Ferreira made the team despite failing to score in his final seven games of the MLS season and without having played a game since FC Dallas was eliminated from the playoffs on Oct. 23.

The US will open the World Cup on Nov. 21 against Wales. They takes on England on Black Friday, Nov. 25, and closes out the group stage on Nov. 29 against Iran.

It is worth noting that this roster becomes official on Nov. 14, when the final squads are submitted to FIFA. Players will continue to play in games for their clubs this week and there is time for injury replacements, if needed.

Starting XI preview

Based on qualifying and the squad we’ve seen over the last six games in June and September, there is a fairly clear idea of ​​what Berhalter will be thinking for his first-choice XI against Wales. That being said, Berhalter did provide enough surprises in his full roster to leave us a little unsure about two key areas: center back and forward.

Here is our predicted XI vs. Wales:

  • Formation: 4-3-3
  • Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
  • Defenders (left to right): Antonee Robinson, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Sergiño Dest
  • Central midfield: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah
  • Forwards: Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, Tim Weah

One position to watch

It has to be the No. 9.

The US hasn’t been able to find a forward it can count on for consistent production, and Berhalter’s surprise inclusion of Wright adds another wrinkle to the mix.

Ferreira, as mentioned earlier, didn’t score in his final seven games for FC Dallas and has not played since his team was eliminated from the MLS playoffs on Oct. 23. Sargent, meanwhile, has eight goals this season for Norwich in the English Championship, but picked up an injury in late October and missed two games, and he hasn’t scored since Oct. 15.

Wright, meanwhile, enters the tournament as the team’s hottest goal-scorer. He has four goals in his last four games in the Turkish Süper Liga and has nine so far this season.

How Berhalter opts to use those three options remains to be seen, but there is no obvious choice or lock-down option.

Expectations for the group stage

The young stars who make up the core of this team have built excitement around this team, but it’s important to remember just how young this US squad is.

The US team that qualified out of CONCACAF had an average age of 24.07. Its starting lineup was even younger: 23.82. The average age of this full team when it takes the field against Wales will be slightly older (as would be expected, especially with Ream’s inclusion) at 25 years, 175 days. Still, there is just one player on the team with any World Cup experience: Yedlin.

The 2022 team also ties the 1990 USA side for most players under the age of 23 on a USMNT World Cup roster with nine: Adams (23); Aaronson, Dest, Josh Sargent and Weah (22); Jesus Ferreira (21); Musah, Reyna and Joe Scally (19).

World Cup history shows that there’s a ceiling on young teams. Only one country in the past five editions of the tournament has gone as far as a semifinal with an average squad age younger than 25.9: Germany in 2010. That team made the semifinals in South Africa, then brought back many of the same players four years later and won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

There is going to be a learning curve, but that doesn’t mean the floor shouldn’t be set at a certain level. For most, that means getting out of the group.

“I don’t care how old they are, I don’t care,” US men’s national team legend DaMarcus Beasley said in an interview for “From Couva to Qatar: Remaking the USMNT,” a narrative podcast for The Athletic. “I have expectations for them to do well. I think they will. I 100 percent think they will get out of the group. I think they will silence a lot of critics.”

The four nations in Group B (US, Wales, England, Iran) hold an average rank of 15, the highest of any group in Qatar.

Full USMNT World Cup roster

USMNT World Cup 2022 squad

Position Player Club Age Caps

G.K.

Matt Turner

Arsenal

28

20

G.K.

Ethan Horvath

Luton Town

27

8

G.K.

Sean Johnson

NYCFC

33

10

DEF

Antonee Robinson

Fulham

25

29

DEF

Joe Scally

Borussia M’gladbach

19

3

DEF

Sergino Dest

AC Milan

22

19

DEF

Shaq Moore

Nashville SC

26

15

DEF

DeAndre Yedlin

Inter-Miami

29

75

DEF

Cameron Carter Vickers

celtic

24

11

DEF

Aaron Long

NY Red Bulls

30

29

DEF

Tim Ream

Fulham

35

46

DEF

Walker Zimmerman

Nashville SC

29

33

MID

Kellyn Acosta

LAFC

27

53

MID

Tyler Adams

Leeds United

23

32

MID

Luca de la Torre

Celta Vigo

24

12

MID

Weston McKennie

Juventus

24

37

MID

Yunus Musah

Valencia

19

19

MID

Christian Roldan

Seattle Sounders

27

32

MID

Brenden Aaronson

Leeds United

22

24

FWD

Jordan Morris

Seattle Sounders

28

49

FWD

Christian Pulisic

chelsea

24

52

FWD

Gio Reyna

Dortmund

19

14

FWD

Tim Weah

Lille

22

25

FWD

Jesus Ferreira

FC Dallas

21

15

FWD

Josh Sargent

Norwich City

22

20

FWD

Haji Wright

Antalyaspor

24

3

Required reading

(Picture: Orlando Ramirez/USA Today)

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