USMNT roster still up in the air for Gregg Berhalter
This weekend, he will personally monitor players in Scotland, Spain and Portugal.
In less than two weeks, he will draw up a list for the last two pre-tournament tests.
In 10 weeks, he will submit his list of 26 players to FIFA.
Two teams have dominated the EPL for years. Where does that leave the rest?
Never before has an American coach had the chance to have such a rich cast of candidates performing on major European stages. He also has a seasoned MLS squad.
Berhalter said he narrowed the pool down to around 40 players. What is left unsaid is that, barring injury (and injury is almost certain to be), most World Cup slots are filled.
Final auditions will continue to take place every weekend in 10 time zones, completing a drill that saw 88 players in Berhalter’s 54 appearances, including 56 national team debuts.
Berhalter’s work goes beyond performance monitoring. It has core players, like Christian Pulisic, who don’t play regularly with their respective clubs. He has the most unstable goalkeeping situation of any modern American World Cup squad.
There are also pleasant problems. Its attackers, weak link of the program still at the beginning of the summer, are at the same time at the top of their form.
“We’re not going to take five forwards, so there are going to be a few disappointed guys,” Berhalter said. “And that’s a shame because all you want the players to do is all they can. And when they’re doing all they can and they’re still not part of the team , it’s not nice. It’s just not a good thing, and I’m going to have to tell them, and I feel bad.
The forwards are a good starting point to analyze Berhalter’s options as, without goals – or at least a strong center forward presence – the Americans will struggle to qualify for the knockout stage.
Less than a month into the European campaigns, Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin) and Haji Wright (Antalyaspor, Turkey) are hot. Josh Sargent (Norwich City, England) has revitalized his career after a lost year with club and country.
FC Dallas’ Jesús Ferreira, the favorite to start the World Cup opener against Wales, is the second American with 15 MLS goals.
First up is Brandon Vazquez of FC Cincinnati, 23, who has 16 goals but no senior-level experience beyond MLS. Until this season, he probably wasn’t call-worthy. Now it is in full swing.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Berhalter said. The absence of an international past “makes things more difficult. That doesn’t make it impossible, however. This is the important thing.
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Berhalter said he hasn’t decided whether to include Vazquez on the roster for friendlies against Japan on September 23 in Dusseldorf, Germany and September 27 against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain.
The other wild card is 19-year-old Ricardo Pepi, whose meteoric start with the national team last fall fell apart during a miserable season with German club Augsburg. Needing a fresh start, Pepi was loaned out to Groningen in the Netherlands this week.
Pepi was among several American players looking for a new home before the transfer window closed this week.
Right-back Sergiño Dest made the biggest move, being on loan from FC Barcelona, where he wasn’t going to play much under coach Xavi Hernandez, at AC Milan. Without regular playing time leading up to a World Cup, even the most prized players are at risk of falling on the depth board.
Well, maybe not Pulisic, an exceptional talent and an essential piece of the American puzzle. While sitting on the Chelsea bench under manager Thomas Tuchel, Pulisic’s national team form is bound to suffer. Speculation that he would leave for Manchester United or Newcastle fizzled.
Even with Pulisic remaining at Chelsea, Berhalter’s faith in him hasn’t wavered and he’s confident the striker will find Tuchel’s good graces again.
“I’m a guy who bets on Christian just because I’ve seen him before,” he said. “We don’t count on him [at Chelsea] in a way he would like, and [yet] he gets on the court and he proves everyone wrong and he ends up playing. I tend to believe it’s going to happen, and I think his spirit is in a good place and he’s going to fight for it because that’s the kind of guy he is.
Berhalter has no such concerns over his Leeds United duo of winger Brenden Aaronson and midfielder Tyler Adams. Or with Fulham left-back Antonee Robinson and Valencia striker Yunus Musah.
On Sunday he will see Musah play in person after watching defender-midfielder James Sands and striker Malik Tillman face off for Rangers in the Glasgow derby against Celtic, who employ US centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers . Berhalter’s final stop is in Portugal on Monday for Reggie Cannon, an American candidate at right-back.
From a distance, he will continue to watch the four goalkeepers in contention for three places in the World Cup: Zack Steffen, absent with the Englishman Middlesbrough; Matt Turner, an Arsenal substitute; Ethan Horvath, the starter from Luton Town in England; and New York City FC starter Sean Johnson.
The file to start in the World Cup remains wide open.
“We have time to assess it,” Berhalter said. “If you asked me today, is that a concern? It’s something we’re thinking about, but there’s still time, and we’ll have to see.
On the tough personnel decisions ahead of him, Berhalter discusses France winning the 2018 World Cup without striker Karim Benzema – who was voted Europe’s best player in 2021-22 last week – and Brazil, which leaves behind world-class players.
“It’s not to say we’re at this level,” Berhalter said, “but it’s to say that sometimes quality players will be left out. … That we’re at this point right now is pretty crazy. .