Gregg Berhalter, coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, has made clear the door will not close for inclusion on the World Cup roster until the 26-man squad is named in November. That said, the list that Berhalter revealed Wednesday for the final pair of tuneups this month did seem to narrow his inventory.
There were no shocking call-ups but some noteworthy omissions: strikers Jordan Pefok, Haji Wright and Brandon Vázquez, center back Tim Ream and midfielder-defender James Sands.
It’s not too late to make a good impression, Berhalter said, even if the window of opportunity is clearly closing.
“It’s important to keep in mind that this is not the final roster,” he said during a video call with reporters. “It’s not the final roster for the World Cup. A lot can happen between now and November 9.”
That’s the date the U.S. Soccer Federation will unveil the World Cup squad, five days before FIFA’s deadline.
“And a lot can happen between the 9th and the 14th,” said Berhalter, who rang off the names of about a dozen other candidates.
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The group that will assemble in Cologne, Germany, after this weekend’s club matches will prepare for friendlies against Japan on Sept. 23 in nearby Düsseldorf and Saudi Arabia four days later in Murcia, Spain.
The squad includes Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and most of the core that has been together for several years.
Four regulars are unavailable because of injury: goalkeeper Zack Steffen, left back Antonee Robinson, midfielder Cristian Roldan and forward Tim Weah. If healthy and playing regularly, all but Roldan are certain to be in Qatar for the tournament, which begins Nov. 20.
The greatest discussion undoubtedly will continue to focus on the center forwards. For this camp, Berhalter picked FC Dallas’s Jesús Ferreira, an automatic choice, given his 18 goals, the most by an American in MLS; Josh Sargent, who’s enjoying a scoring renaissance with England’s Norwich City after a dismal 2021-22 campaign; and Netherlands-based Ricardo Pepi, who hasn’t scored for club or country in nearly a year.
Pepi received the nod over Pefok, Wright and Vázquez, pure strikers who have strong scoring portfolios but don’t necessarily fit into Berhalter’s high-pressure system.
“We’ve been consistent in saying it may not be the best forward that is in the group,” Berhalter said. “It’s a guy that fits what we’re doing the best.”
Pefok has scored twice in five games with his new club, Union Berlin. Wright didn’t have a good U.S. camp in June — his first with the senior team after a sterling youth career — but has posted five goals in six matches for Antalyaspor in Turkey.
Vázquez has scored 16 goals for FC Cincinnati — the second most by an American in MLS — but has no international experience. Berhalter said two weeks ago that he faced long odds of receiving a call-up.
“It’s comparing him to what we have, comparing him to other guys and then the body of work both with his club and with us,” Berhalter said of Vázquez, who didn’t begin to blossom until this year. “And with us, it’s very difficult for him: He doesn’t have a body of work.”
Familiarity and team chemistry will continue to play a big part in roster decisions.
“We’re not going to be the most talented team at the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “We’re going to have to compensate for that by being a cohesive unit, by working for each other and having a great team spirit. Part of it is leaning on guys that have been around the group before and understand the team culture and understand their teammates really well.”
Berhalter did select Gio Reyna, a dynamic 19-year-old winger and withdrawn forward, who is healthy after a series of injuries sidelined him for most of the World Cup qualifiers and much of the 2021-22 Bundesliga season with Borussia Dortmund.
With Steffen nursing a knee injury, the starting job at goalkeeper is wide open. Matt Turner debuted with Arsenal in the Europa League last week, while Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson are full-time starters with England’s Luton Town and MLS’s New York City FC, respectively.
Robinson’s absence prompted the call-up of Sam Vines, who hasn’t been with the U.S. squad since last fall but has started every game for Belgian leader Antwerp and is in “the form of his life,” Berhalter said. Left back is the U.S. position lacking the most depth.
“We’re not always going to be right,” Berhalter said of his selections. “We’re going to make mistakes sometimes. … We’re doing our best. We’re hoping to have a team that is united on the field, that understands their roles on the field and can execute it. … There’s definitely some quality guys that got left off. Thankfully it’s not November 14.”
Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (Arsenal).
Defenders: Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Joe Scally (Mönchengladbach), Sam Vines (Antwerp), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC).
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Malik Tillman (Rangers).
Forwards: Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Norwich City).