Staring at three crucial World Cup qualifying matches, the US men's national team will (almost definitely) be without Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, two Champions League players and globally recognized talents. It's not ideal, but the depth in the pool has grown to the point where the starting XI can survive without two of its top players.
Injuries are, obviously, out of their hands. Yet even with two roster spots open to others and an expanded roster of 27 for the triple match windows (instead of the normal 23), just look at who's being left behind as a coaching decision:
- An $8 million right back at AS Roma (Bryan Reynolds)
- A fullback who has earned a starting role at Borussia Monchengladbach (Joe Scally)
- A contributor at a La Liga club (Matt Miazga)
- The reigning MLS Defender of the Year (Walker Zimmerman)
- Gold Cup regulars (James Sands, Daryl Dike and others)
- The goalie who helped the USMNT win Nations League (Ethan Horvath)
- An eight-figure recent transfer to a Premier League club (Josh Sargent)
- A Champions League striker (Jordan Pefok)
- The second-leading assist maker in MLS (Djordje Mihailovic)
- The defender with the most assists in MLS (Aaron Herrera)
- And many others!
The list goes on. The pool runs deep.
“These are really difficult decisions," head coach Gregg Berhalter said after Wednesday's roster drop. "We tried to put a balanced roster that could compete through all three games.”
Call it omissions, snubs or just numeric casualties, Berhalter sorted through several of the players left behind this window for matches against Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica. Here are some of the key ones.
Let's group this trio together since they're all firmly in the mix at the forward depth chart. Pefok, Sargent and Dike have all had opportunities with the USMNT since the summer. Dike wasn't called in for the September matches, while Pefok and Sargent didn't keep their spots after neither scored nor impacted the games enough.
Ricardo Pepi headlines the group called in for October's matches, as the FC Dallas wonderkid scored a crucial game-winning goal against Honduras in his international debut. Gyasi Zardes, who was injured in September, and Matthew Hoppe, who was finalizing a transfer to La Liga club Mallorca during the last window, round out the options at center forward.
“It was difficult at the forward position," Berhalter said. "We ended up picking 2.5 forwards with Ricardo Pepi, Gyasi Zardes and Matthew Hoppe, who can play on the wing. We feel good with these three guys. We feel like we have guys who can put the ball in the back of the net."
Sargent, like Hoppe, can also play on the wing, but hasn't been effective with the national team or with Norwich City after his move from Werder Bremen. Pefok has nine goals in 15 games across all competitions for Young Boys, though Berhalter says his omission is more tactical.
“Jordan Pefok was a difficult decision," Berhalter said. "It was based on how we see the games playing off, the depth we see at the striker position. Our need in these games is for verticality and speed to get in behind."
After returning from injury (and his first real break in 18 months), Dike is finding form with Orlando City again. He's had a run of games as he gets his fitness and form back, with three goals and an assist over six September matches (five starts).
“Daryl is a guy we’re always considering," Berhalter said. "We watch every one of his games, we think he had a strong game against New England. We want to see him keep that form. At the forward position, if a guy is in great form, he has an opportunity to be involved.”
A player who has risen from promising youngster to snub in fast order is Borussia Monchengladbach's Joe Scally.
The NYCFC academy product, who Monchengladbach signed before he even made his MLS debut, has started the season on fire. The 18-year-old fullback, who can play on either flank, has played every minute of BMG's six Bundesliga games. He arrived at the club last winter and spent his first half-season with their second team but earned his role during preseason this year.
“I had a conversation with Joe [this morning], explaining the reasoning and letting him know he’s really close," Berhalter said. "He’s a guy we’re excited about. Most impressive is he’s able to compete at that level at his age. We think he’ll be a key contributor in the future.”
Berhalter and his staff opted for Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, George Bello and Shaq Moore at fullback.
“When you look at the fullbacks on our roster, they all know what Concacaf is about," Berhalter said. "We thought that was important for our roster.”
After declining call-ups over the summer, Julian Araujo wasn't discussed as a player who declined a call-up this go around. The writing appears to be on the wall for a one-time switch to Mexico, as he can represent either the USMNT or El Tri.
“That’s information that he’s going to share with the group; it’s not for me to share," Berhalter said.
Nothing is definite yet, but it doesn't look good for his future with the USMNT. Mexico are yet to announce their roster for the window as of Thursday morning. Keep an eye on that one.
Araujo, 20, represented the United States in his youth and made his senior debut in 2020, but isn't cap-tied and is eligible to switch allegiance to Mexico. He's started all but one of the LA Galaxy's 27 matches this year and has six assists; the rising young talent is riding a breakout year.
After surprisingly playing a leading role in the Nations League Final against Mexico, Ethan Horvath is on the outside looking in for the USMNT at the moment.
Berhalter called Matt Turner, Zack Steffen and Sean Johnson as his goalkeeping trio for October. Horvath moved to Championship club Nottingham Forest and has struggled in his limited minutes, conceding seven goals in his three appearances, including one howler. He hasn't played since September 15.
“With Ethan, he hasn’t been getting first-team football," Berhalter said. "He got a new manager. This is an important time for him to be with his team and compete for a starting position.”
The probability that English-based players won't be able to travel for the match against Panama likely played a role here as well. Steffen is already likely unavailable as well, unless the United Kingdom alters their "red list" countries.
Like Sargent, Pefok and James Sands, Konrad is another player who was with the USMNT for their September window of World Cup qualifiers but left behind for the October matches.
Konrad, 20, has impressed with Marseille after joining the French club from Barcelona this summer, but started just one of his side's five matches since returning from international duty last window.
“Konrad took some time to get back into his role at Marseille, but is still contributing there at a decent level," Berhalter said. "He was a difficult decision.”
A one-time wonderkid, Julian Green is working his way back into the USMNT picture.
Green, now 26, played a key role in helping Greuther Furth get promoted to the Bundesliga last year and has so far started five of their six matches in the top flight. The midfielder wasn't called up but remains under consideration. A key issue is timing.
“Julian hasn’t had the opportunity to perform with us yet, it’s just one of those circumstances," Berhalter said. "He’s playing in the Bundesliga, doing a decent job with his team, so it’s just a timing issue of when to get him in.”