Most of the selections had been almost certain for a long time, and some were announced by recent call-ups. But there was one major surprise: Zack Steffen, Berhalter’s first-choice goalkeeper for much of his tenure, was left out.
“Zack has been there for me many times, and telling him he won’t be in the World Cup squad broke his heart,” said Berhalter, who coached Steffen with MLS’s Columbus Crew. in 2017-18. “It’s more about who we have and the comfort level with the guys that are on the roster. We felt really comfortable with Matt [Turner] and Ethan [Horvath] and Sean [Johnson]. And it is in this direction that we have decided to go.
Steffen, a former University of Maryland star now with Middlesbrough in the English Second Division, has started six of 14 World Cup qualifiers but has also missed several camps through illness and injury. He has been healthy this season, starting 16 of Middlesbrough’s 20 league appearances.
Berhalter declined to detail the factors that contributed to the decision.
Steffen thought he would compete with Turner, a substitute for Premier League club Arsenal, for the starting job in Qatar. In Steffen’s absence, Turner looks all but certain to play the lead role, although he is nursing a minor injury and hasn’t played since October 20.
“It is easy to read in [Steffen’s absence] and to say Matt is probably number one going into the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “I think we’re getting a bit ahead of us.”
For 30 years, goalkeeping has been pretty clear cut, with the likes of Tony Meola, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard. Steffen was the natural successor to Howard, who played at the 2014 World Cup.
“Zack is an integral part of the squad,” said defender DeAndre Yedlin, the only squad member with World Cup experience. “So obviously you’re sad to see him missing, but that’s business and that’s sport, so we’re moving on.”
Other notable absences included midfielder Malik Tillman, winger Paul Arriola and forwards Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok.
Chart: A closer look at the USMNT
The list was unveiled hours before nine MLS players and coaching staff were due to fly to Doha, where they will reunite with 17 Europe-based brothers over the weekend.
Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams headline the side, which will open Group B on November 21 against Wales and later face England and Iran.
Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah and Brenden Aaronson are in the game. Just like Tim Weah, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest.
“It feels real now, for sure,” Adams said.
There was an unexpected plot. Tim Ream, a 35-year-old centre-back for Fulham in the Premier League, was on the list despite not having received a call-up since last autumn.
“He’s playing in the best league in the world and he’s playing at a very high level,” Berhalter said. The decision is “not difficult”.
Luca de la Torre, who provides depth in central midfield, made the cut despite a leg injury which was to sideline him until the opener. McKennie and Dest are nursing injuries that were not deemed serious enough to warrant omission from the list.
With European leagues in action this weekend before taking a break for the World Cup, Berhalter is not off the hook on the injury front. He has until Monday to officially submit the list to FIFA, the sport’s world governing body. In addition, roster changes necessitated by injury are permitted 24 hours prior to opening.
From September: the United States seems to be shaky. The World Cup is near. Can Gregg Berhalter solve this problem?
Jordan Morris beat Arriola for depth down the flanks, and Cristian Roldan got the go-ahead on Tillman. Still passionate about team chemistry, Berhalter called some players “sticky guys”.
Zimmerman said, “We have developed a very strong brotherhood. We use that word a lot and don’t use it lightly. There are guys who definitely fit in and deliver a lot of intangibles that people might not see every day, but they’re a big part of our success. Chemistry is definitely one of our strengths, and it’s something we can control.
Upset for much of four years, the World Cup forward crew has only come to fruition in recent months. Jesús Ferreira, 21, has been a constant in the squad, and Josh Sargent, 22, has secured his place with a resurgence this season with Norwich City in England.
Pepi was also thought to get the call amid a solid campaign in the Netherlands, and Pefok plays regularly for Bundesliga side Union Berlin. Berhalter, however, opted for Haji Wright, a Turkey-based forward in great form this fall. Pefok production has been falling lately.
“If we had made the decision in mid-September,” Berhalter said, “[Pefok] probably would have been a lock.
The World Cup is coming later this month. Will Qatar be ready?
With an average age of 25.5, Team USA is expected to have one of the youngest rosters, if not the youngest, among the 32 teams. Five call-ups did not appear in any of the qualifiers: Horvath, Johnson, Wright and defenders Cameron Carter-Vickers and Joe Scally.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Berhalter said. “It’s a great opportunity for young players, for former players, for everyone. I just hope that when we get there, we’re ready to enjoy it because we really see it as a responsibility. It all starts now.
Guardians: Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (Arsenal).
Defenders: 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 SC).
MidfieldersBrenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders) .
Attackers: 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).
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