USMNT announces World Cup roster with a few surprises, and two stunners

The U.S. men's national team will head to the 2022 World Cup with a defender who hasn't played for it in over a year, with a striker who's never scored an international goal from open play, and without its No. 1 goalkeeper for most of this World Cup cycle.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter announced his 26-man roster on Wednesday. It includes Haji Wright, a red-hot forward, but not Jordan Pefok nor Ricardo Pepi. It also includes Fulham captain Tim Ream, a 35-year-old center back who hasn't played for the national team since last September.

The biggest stunner, though, was the absence of Zack Steffen, who has started more than any other goalkeeper since Berhalter took charge in 2018. But he'd slipped down the depth chart as Matt Turner assumed the No. 1 spot. "To tell [Steffen] he's not gonna be a part of the World Cup team was heartbreaking for me," Berhalter said.

[More: The 7 biggest USMNT roster snubs, including Steffen and Pefok]

Among the other notable inclusions are Luca de la Torre, who has spent the past few weeks sidelined by injury; and Joe Scally and Shaq Moore, two fullbacks who beat Reggie Cannon to a roster spot.

Further up the field, Jordan Morris is in and Paul Arriola is out; and Cristian Roldan made the 26 ahead of Malik Tillman.

Berhalter FaceTimed players on Sunday afternoon from his home to deliver the news — the good, and the bad. The cuts, he said, were "really difficult." The others were filled with relief, joyous tears, and "real, genuine happiness." The MLS-based players will now depart from New York City for Qatar on Wednesday night to fulfill their dreams. European-based teammates will join them by Monday.

With club seasons still ongoing through this weekend, and final squads not due until Monday, the USMNT list is still subject to change. Several players not on it, Berhalter said, have been told to remain on standby. But barring injury, these are likely the 26 players who'll meet Wales on Nov. 21.

U.S. World Cup roster for Qatar 2022

Goalkeepers: Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson

Fullbacks: Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Joe Scally, Shaq Moore

Center backs: Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan

Wingers: Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson, Jordan Morris

Strikers: Jesús Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Haji Wright

DENVER, CO - JUNE 06: United States midfielder Weston McKennie (8), defender Tim Ream (13), forward Gio Reyna (7) and forward Josh Sargent (9) look on in action during the CONCACAF Nations League finals between Mexico and the United States on June 06, 2021, at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, CO. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Weston McKennie (8) and Gio Reyna (7) had long ago claimed spots on the USMNT's World Cup roster. Josh Sargent (9) and Tim Ream (13) earned places in the 26-man squad over the past few months. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Haji Wright the in-form stunner

Wright came of age starring on U.S. youth teams alongside Pulisic and McKennie, but his professional career, until this year, had been rocky and wayward. As he endured a goal-less 2019-20 league season at VVV-Venlo in Holland, he essentially fell off Berhalter’s radar.

A scoring spurt in Turkey, with Antalyaspor, propelled him back into the picture. A call-up, and a debut goal from the penalty spot, offered a glimmer of World Cup hope. Berhalter, though, hadn't sounded overly impressed with Wright's performances. He didn't get a second call in September. He seemed, clearly, to be on the outside looking in at the roster.

But Berhalter continued evaluating him; and Wright kept scoring — nine goals in 12 Turkish Super Lig games this season.

Berhalter, despite rolling into past camps without a big, physical striker, says he wanted one at the World Cup, to complement Ferreira and Sargent on a "really well balanced forward line." The decision came down to Wright and Pefok. "If we woulda made the decision mid-September, Jordan Pefok probably would've been a lock to be in, based on his form in [the Bundesliga with] Union Berlin," Berhalter said. "But since then, it's a different story." Pefok hasn't scored at all. "Haji is in great goalscoring form," Berhalter said. "They're both physical strikers. Jordan maybe a little more so, but Haji has pace, he's got the ability to go 1-v-1, he's finishing with his head, both feet. And he's performing really well."

Tim Ream's return a surprise, but 'really not a difficult one'

Berhalter was asked multiple times why Ream, who'd seemingly dropped out of the picture, was included.

"Have you watched any Fulham games lately?" he responded at first. "Then you know why we brought him in."

"It's really clear," Berhalter continued. "He was in the Premier League three years ago, and he struggled. The whole team struggled. And he went to the Championship [the English second tier], and he started performing better. And they got promoted. And now he's in the Premier League, and he's a top performer for his team. It's really hard to ignore stuff like that."

Berhalter added that Ream is "a guy that's been with us since Day 1." He was. a regular at the 2019 Gold Cup, and the 2021 Nations League, and even to start World Cup qualifying. That didn't prevent him from being dropped in late 2021, and didn't lead to a recall in March, May or September of 2022. The issue, at those points, seemed to be stylistic fit.

But the difference, now, is form — and that Berhalter, at the end of a four-year road, has seemingly scrapped his idealism in favor of pragmatism.

"It's really not a difficult one," Berhalter reiterated, again explaining Ream decision. "I mean, he's playing in the best league in the world, and he's playing at a very high level."

Meet the 2022 USMNT

Below are the 26 players, in rough order of prominence and importance, with a bit information on each, and with projected starters italicized.

They will, on average, almost certainly be the youngest team at the 2022 World Cup.

Christian Pulisic
Club: Chelsea (England)
Positions: Left wing, right wing, attacking midfield

The kid dubbed "Captain America" has been a trailblazer for Americans in Europe. Now 24, he still might be the best player on this USMNT. But he's no longer a singular star. While his development has plateaued, and his club situation has hindered it, others have arisen to shoulder more of the attacking burden. Pulisic, though, remains a focal point of the U.S. attack.

Weston McKennie
Club: Juventus (Italy)
Positions: Central midfield

One of the USMNT's moodiest players, McKennie can run a game when he's bombing forward into the final third, winning second balls and duels. He's also an elite aerial threat. But he can be sloppy on the ball, and/or muted by the U.S. system if it becomes too possession-oriented.

Tyler Adams
Club: Leeds United (England)
Positions: Defensive midfield

Adams, McKennie and Pulisic have known one another, and played with one another, for roughly a decade, since they starred for U.S. youth national teams. Now they're the core of a World Cup squad — and, in a way, the veterans, despite being just 23-24 years old.

Adams, on his day, is one of the world's best front-foot defensive midfielders. He'll zoom around the field rather than hold in front of the back four, and make life hellish for opponents — as long as the USMNT lets him.

Yunus Musah
Club: Valencia (Spain)
Positions: Central midfield

Musah, 19, might already be the USMNT's most indispensable player — and definitely has its most inextinguishable smile. He's a fearless and explosive dribbler from any spot in midfield. He single-handedly beats presses and drags the U.S. into the attacking phase.

He also has quite the story. Born in New York to a Ghanaian mother, he spent his childhood in Italy and England, then jumped to Spain at age 16. As he began to break through at Valencia, U.S. coaches began recruiting him. He committed to the USMNT in March of 2021, and pretty quickly carved out a path toward stardom.

Gio Reyna
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Positions: Left wing, right wing, attacking midfield

Reyna, who turns 20 on Nov. 13, is the son of former USMNT captain Claudio and former USWNT midfielder Danielle Egan. Not coincidentally, he's also the most highly touted American in men's soccer. He has had a heartbreaking 14 months of successive injuries, but whenever he returns to the field, his creative qualities immediately reappear.

He might not have a place in the U.S. starting 11 on Nov. 21, but he'll get plenty of opportunities — whether off the bench, or from the start in subsequent games — to make an impact in Qatar.

Brenden Aaronson
Club: Leeds United (England)
Positions: Attacking midfield, left wing, right wing

The fastest-rising American star jumped from the Philadelphia Union to Red Bull Salzburg to the English Premier League in a span of 18 months. At age 22, he's a phenomenal presser with jittery creativity on the ball. Like Reyna, he might not fit in the USMNT's ideal 11, but he will surely have a role to play.

And that role might be in midfield, rather than on the wing. Aaronson has often been listen on USMNT rosters as a forward; he's listed on this one as a midfielder.

Tim Weah
Club: Lille (France)
Positions: Right wing

Weah might be the fourth-best U.S. winger, but he brings a directness and verticality that this team otherwise lacks. He scored and created significant goals during qualifying. After turning pro at PSG, he's now firmly established at Lille. He should start in Qatar on the right wing.

And yes, he's the son of George Weah — the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year, and now the president of Liberia.

Sergiño Dest
Club: AC Milan (Italy)
Positions: Right back, left back

Born (and raised) in the Netherlands to a Dutch mother and Surinamese American father, Dest came through Ajax's famed academy, but always played for U.S. youth national teams. He committed to the senior team in 2019, and has been a starting fullback ever since — even though his attacking qualities (and swagger) far outshine his defensive qualities (and solidity, or lack thereof).

Antonee Robinson
Club: Fulham (England)
Positions: Left back

Robinson, who's lived in England his entire life, is a classic straight-line fullback. He'll charge up and down the left, sometimes a bit unhinged. If he scores, he might celebrate with a backflip. And don't be confused if you hear him called "Jedi" — it's his self-given nickname, and yes, it stems from his love of "Star Wars."

Walker Zimmerman
Club: Nashville (MLS)
Positions: Center back

A Taylor Swift-loving, man-bun-sporting rock at the back, Zimmerman, 29, was a fringe member of the squad when World Cup qualifying began last September. But he earned the trust of Berhalter and teammates. He's became the de facto leader within the USMNT players' association, and the most reliable center back in the pool.

Matt Turner
Club: Arenal (England)
Positions: Goalkeeper

Turner, the pride of Fairfield University, didn't even start playing soccer until he was deep into his teens. Now he's the top American shot-stopper. His shortcomings with the ball at his feet hindered his rise to undisputed USMNT No. 1, but that's what he's now become — even though he's a backup at Arsenal and has, recently, been injured.

Berhalter acknowledged the injury on Wednesday, but said Turner was back in "full training" and "cleared to play." His U.S. staff talks to Arsenal's everyday, and "we hear really positive things coming out of Arsenal's camp about where he is," Berhalter said.

Tim Ream
Club: Fulham (England)
Positions: Center back, left back

Ream, a Premier League veteran, has been rock-solid captaining Fulham. He earned his recall despite, by all accounts, being a poor system fit with the USMNT.

"Some of the things that we're looking for in our center backs is to play a high line, cover a lot of space behind them, be dominant in the air, dominant on offensive and defensive set pieces," Berhalter said in September. "And that's not Tim's strength."

But his passing and solidity bring skills and a presence to this USMNT that it otherwise lacks. The question, now, is whether he'll ever start alongside Zimmerman, or merely back up Long and Carter-Vickers.

Cameron Carter-Vickers
Club: Celtic (Scotland)
Positions: Center back

The son of an American former NBA player, "CCV" was born and raised in England, and discovered by U.S. Soccer while playing for Tottenham at a youth tournament in Florida. The early stages of his pro career were nomadic, but he has now found a home at Celtic, and as the most athletic center back on this U.S. roster.

Aaron Long
Club: New York Red Bulls (MLS)
Positions: Center back

Long was an uncontroversial regular under Berhalter before tearing his Achilles in 2021. Now he's a controversial regular. He hasn't been the same player since returning in 2022. But he started all six World Cup tune-ups in June and September.

Jesús Ferreira
Club: FC Dallas (MLS)
Positions: Striker

Born in Colombia, Ferreira moved to Texas as a child when his dad, David, came to play (and win an MLS MVP) for FC Dallas. After rising through the FCD academy, Ferreira gained citizenship and committed to the USMNT.

He has not scored consistently for the national team — at least not like he has in MLS — but Berhalter loves his pressing, his pace and his ability to drop into midfield and link the beginning stages of an attack (rather than focusing solely on finishing one).

Josh Sargent
Club: Norwich City (England)
Positions: Striker, left wing, right wing

Sargent spent a good chunk of 2021 playing his way off the USMNT. He entered last summer as the starting striker. By the fall, he wasn't even on rosters, and wasn't starting nor scoring for Norwich in the Premier League.

But he's spent the past few months tearing up the English second tier, and playing his way all the way back into contention for a starting spot in Qatar.

Haji Wright
Club: Antalyaspor (Turkey)
Positions: Striker

Wright, a one-time teen phenom, endured a rocky early-career road and became good over the latter half of last season. He began scoring for Antalyaspor in Turkey, including nine goals in 12 Turkish Süper Lig games this season, and hasn't really stopped since.

Luca de la Torre
Club: Celta de Vigo (Spain)
Positions: Central midfield

Luca has battled injuries and been buried at European clubs. He has spent significant time out of the national team altogether. But throughout World Cup qualifying, every time Berhalter called upon him, he performed. He's tidy on the ball. He seemed to lock up a roster spot in June — only to have this latest injury pop up at the absolute worst time.

If he's fit, he could be the first central midfielder off the bench. But as of Wednesday, that remains an "if."

"He's up to 95% of his top speed, he's doing a bunch of fitness work, and he's gonna be ready, I think," Berhalter said. "If I would say now, my guess would be he wouldn't be 90 minutes fit on game 1, and he's a guy we're gonna have to ramp up during the tournament."

Kellyn Acosta
Club: LAFC (MLS)
Positions: Defensive midfield, central midfield

Acosta is Adams' backup, a well-rounded midfielder, and one of a few holdovers from the failed 2018 World Cup cycle. He was a youngster on the aging team that lost in Couva, Trinidad; now he's a vet.

DeAndre Yedlin
Club: Inter Miami (MLS)
Positions: Right back, right wing back

The only player on the roster with World Cup experience, Yedlin was a fearless youngster coming off the bench back in 2014. Now he's ... in a remarkably similar on-field role. He'll likely only be used as a second-half sub in a game the U.S. is leading. His off-field role, though, is perhaps more valuable.

"He's a glue guy," Berhalter said. "He's there for the team, he creates atmosphere for the team. Sometimes he's a shoulder to cry on or to talk to. Other times he's a motivator."

Joe Scally
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany)
Positions: Right back, left back

Scally jumped from New York City FC to Germany upon turning 18 in late 2020, and soon jumped into Gladbach's starting lineup. He has since played right back, right wing back, right center back, left back and left wing back in the Bundesliga, and could play any of them in a pinch for the USMNT in Qatar.

Shaq Moore
Club: Nashville (MLS)
Positions: Right back

Moore has been a serviceable backup for the USMNT, and is widely praised for his 1v1 defending — which could come in handy late in a game that the U.S. is leading.

"In the World Cup, particularly on the left side of the field for our opponents, they got good 1-v-1 players," Berhalter said Wednesday. "And we think [Moore] is a guy that can help us in that role."

Jordan Morris
Club: Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Positions: Right wing, left wing

Morris made his USMNT debut in 2014 while still in college at Stanford. He was a powerful striker then. He's since become an accomplished (and still powerful) MLS winger who offers the national team directness and a penalty box presence off the bench.

Cristian Roldan
Club: Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Positions: Central midfield, attacking midfield, right wing, left wing

Roldan is a beloved teammate, an awesome "locker-room guy," and Mr. Versatility. He'd play anywhere in midfield if you asked him to, and could even deputize at fullback in an emergency.

Ethan Horvath
Club: Luton Town (England)
Positions: Goalkeeper

Horvath has quietly been very good in the English second tier. Earlier in his career, he was shaky, but he's now best remembered as the penalty-saving hero of the 2021 Nations League victory over Mexico. He's probably the USMNT's No. 2.

Sean Johnson
Club: New York City FC (MLS)
Positions: Goalkeeper

A reliable third keeper, a 2021 MLS champion, and an all-around great guy. "He's been with us since Day 1," Berhalter said Wednesday. "And we think he's a really valuable piece of the team."