The United States Men’s National Team roster for the 2022 World Cup has been revealed and, unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of debate surrounding the inclusions.
Players like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Gio Reyna being on there came as no shock to anybody. However, it’s hard to deny that seeing the likes of Haji Wright, Sean Johnson, and Shaq Moore make the cut raised a few eyebrows.
With surprise inclusions also come shocking omissions. Here are the top six:
Zack Steffen started six of the USMNT’s 14 qualifiers and has 29 caps to his name to date.
Yes, he’s had his struggles in England with Man City and Middlesbrough, but his form for the latter has improved drastically of late. Not to mention the fact that Steffen played under Berhalter at the Columbus Crew.
“The goalkeeper position, you do evaluate somewhat differently,” Berhalter explained. “Looking at a guy like Sean Johnson, who’s been with this program since day one, and we think he’s a really valuable piece of the team.
“Ethan is a guy that always responds when his number’s called, let’s not forget, this is a guy that got subbed into the Championship [promotion playoff] final last year and was able to hold on and get the team to victory. He subbed on to our Nations League final, if you guys remember that, and ended up saving the penalty kick. He’s a guy that’s Johnny on the spot – if you need him, he’s ready. And I think that’s valuable in a World Cup type of competition.”
Ricardo Pepi’s role in qualifying was monumental, with the teenage striker hitting three goals and two assists in his first two caps to earn wins against Honduras and Jamaica – results that deflected some seriously and rapidly increasing heat away from Gregg Berhalter.
In the time since, there have been obvious struggles both at international level and with Augsburg. But Pepi’s loan move to FC Groningen in the summer looks inspired, with the 19-year-old helping himself to five goals and two assists in his first eight Eredivisie matches.
Still, that wasn’t enough and although it looks like Wright made the plan ahead of Pepi, Berhalter actually revealed he was squared up against ex-FC Dallas teammate Jesus Ferreira and Norwich forward Josh Sargent.
“With Ricardo it was, we’re judging him against Josh and Jesus, and we felt it was valuable that Josh was playing in that [English Championship] competition where two of our three opponents [Wales and England] are coming from,” Berhalter told reporters on Wednesday. “We think that brings value, the physicality of the league. [The] Dutch league, I think, is a great league, but it doesn’t bring the same physicality that the Premier League brings and the Championship brings, and that was something that went into our decision.”
Just a couple of months ago, Jordan Pefok was in the form of his life for then-Bundesliga-topping Union Berlin. Of course, he’s come down a little since then, but Pefok has always been a clinical goalscorer and bad form is temporary for a player of his quality.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised considering Pefok has been capped just once this year. But then, Haji Wright only has three caps overall.
In the end, according to Berhalter, it was a question of current form.
“As coaches, we were evaluating Haji versus Jordan Pefok, and that’s what it came down to,” he said. “And in this particular case, we felt like Haji is in a great goalscoring form. They’re both physical strikers, Jordan, maybe a little more so, but Haji has pace, he’s got the ability to go one-v-one, he’s got finishing with his head, both feet, and he’s performing really well in the Turkish league.
“If we would have made the decision mid-September, Jordan Pefok would have probably been a lock to be in, based on his form in Union Berlin. But since then, it’s a different story.”
Paul Arriola’s snub could low key be the most shocking of all.
Here is a player who has been capped 31 times by Berhalter during his time as USMNT boss, playing at least some part in five of their qualifiers.
What’s more, Arriola is coming off a career-best campaign in MLS that yielded 10 goals and five assists in 32 regular-season matches.
Jordan Morris most likely took Arriola’s spot and though both would only be bench players, this does feel like a bolt from the blue.
Berhalter describing Arriola as the ‘odd one out’ is particularly puzzling.
Djordje Mihailovic actually earned a recall to the USMNT back in May before having to withdraw due to an ankle injury.
That must have been tough to take, but what is likely harder for Mihailovic is missing out on the World Cup, despite ending the season with a run of three goals and two assists in his final three games of the season – including scoring in each of CF Montreal’s MLS Cup Playoffs matches.
So good was Mihailovic’s 2022 that he earned a move to Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar, but even that seemingly isn’t enough to change Berhalter’s mind.
There are other players in his position, but Mihailovic could’ve been a very useful ‘lockpick’ style creator from the bench.
Malik Tillman has come up with some huge goals for Rangers this season, not least in Champions League qualifying and Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Hearts to stay in touch with Celtic in the title race – just ahead of the roster announcement.
His omission is more surprising given he played in both friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia back in September, too.
Here, Berhalter had the chance to give a 20-year-old with obvious talent priceless experience at the elite level, while arming himself with a goalscoring, creative midfielder from the bench.
Honorable mentions: Gabriel Slonina, John Brooks, Mark McKenzie, Reggie Cannon, Brandon Vazquez.
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