It’s become something of a US men’s national team ritual: Every time Gregg Berhalter announces his latest roster, he spends more of the ensuing media availability talking about players who aren’t on the list than those who are, usually to his chagrin.

So it was again on Friday afternoon after Berhalter dropped his 27-man roster for the June international window, where the Yanks will host fellow World Cup-bound nations Morocco and Uruguay for friendlies before Concacaf Nations League matches vs. Grenada and El Salvador.

With arguably the largest, deepest player pool in the program’s history at his disposal, questions about absences and perceived snubs were abound, and the head coach got a jump on it with a laundry list of near-misses this time around.

“Sergino Dest, Gio Reyna, Jordan Pefok and Josh Sargent are definitely out to injury,” said Berhalter. “There's a question about Chris Richards that we're following up on. He's been training, trying to get back on the field. I think it's going to be day-to-day, and it may be something that we're not going to risk at this stage due to the fact that he’s been out for a while.”

Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas to Augsburg), Gianluca Busio (Sporting KC to Venezia) and James Sands (NYCFC to Rangers) are being given some downtime after their moves from MLS to European destinations over the winter left them with little to no rest since the start of last year.

Meanwhile, Berhalter agreed with young attacking midfielder Richie Ledezma’s self-assessment that “he doesn't feel like he's ready to make the impact and compete for a spot on the team” after an “extremely mentally and physically taxing” season at PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie marred by injury. Veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson (NYCFC) and – albeit in a different context in which Berhalter doesn’t seem willing to share the full story – soon-free-agent center back John Brooks are considered known quantities at this point.

“John Brooks is going to be moving clubs and we're going to be anxiously following him at his new club and thought at the time, it's better to use this time period to look at some other players,” said the coach in regards to the program’s highest-profile exile.

The Brooks omission comes with Atlanta United center back Miles Robinson due to miss the World Cup after suffering a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Robinson was so crucial during the successful Concacaf Octagonal qualifying campaign, and now center back choices are up for grabs.

“We're going to be able to see [Brooks] now in his new environment, hopefully doing things that are similar to what we need him to do. And that could help him make a case to be on the roster," Berhalter continued. "That was simply, we want to look at Cam Vickers and we want to look at Erik Palmer-Brown in this game. Walker Zimmerman and Aaron [Long] have been with us the whole time, they're going to play games as well. We didn't think there'd be enough game time to get a guy like John Brooks on the field.”

Slonina commits, but out

Teenage goalkeeping phenom Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina is out due to a drop in form at Chicago Fire FC, though he remains a highly-valued prospect whose declaration of allegiance earlier in the day was warmly welcomed after full-court press recruitment from Poland.

Many current MLS standouts were considered, but ultimately left out, with Berhalter name-checking Portland Timbers midfielder Eryk Williamson, New York Red Bulls left back John Tolkin and FC Cincinnati striker Brandon Vazquez. The same goes for ex-MLS homegrown standouts, including Genk center back Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia product) and two left backs in Antwerp’s Sam Vines (ex-Colorado) and Wolfsburg’s Kevin Paredes (ex-D.C. United). Berhalter highlighted the need for left back depth behind Fulham's Antonee Robinson.

The most notable newcomers or near-newcomers are CF Montréal midfielder Djordje Mihailovic; Malik Tillman, a dual-national attacker rising up the pecking order at Bayern Munich who has seemingly been recruited away from Germany; Haji Wright, the Turkey-based striker last called in near the start of Berhalter’s tenure in 2019; and Cameron Carter-Vickers, fresh off a strong campaign with Celtic.

World Cup door not shut

As a 44-times-capped United States international in his own playing days, Berhalter can relate firsthand to his players’ emotions amid the “difficult conversations” around roster calls and cuts, and emphasized that no one’s status for the final World Cup is being determined by their involvement or lack thereof in the June camp.

“From a coach's side, you just want to make sure that you're communicating to the players, that they understand the reasoning for this,” he said. “I understand where the guys are at, I feel for them. And again, this camp isn't determining who's on the team. We're going to have much harder conversations after September, and that's where it's gonna get a lot more difficult, I think for everybody. But we're focused on creating a strong group. Guys that are supporting each other, because I know the best way to perform well at the World Cup is to have a strong team spirit.”

While FIFA has not officially expanded World Cup roster sizes from the usual 23 players, Berhalter said that he and his staff are optimistic that they will eventually have 26 slots to work with come November.

He gave the impression that most of the spots on the plane to Qatar this fall are accounted for, though some areas on the depth chart are ripe for late runs from dark horses and bubble candidates who shine at the club level.

“The way I look at it, we are building something, there's a core group that we are building and we are developing and we've done a good job of that. But around the edges, there is room,” he said. “Guys in form and doing a great job, I can expect them to make a case to be on the roster. And the strange thing about the [World Cup] roster date is I think it's something like eight days or nine days before our first game [in November], or something crazy like that. So, there could be cases where some positions, it goes down to the very end.”