On Wednesday, the final 26-man roster for the United States men’s national team’s World Cup squad will be announced but prior to that, who could Gregg Berhalter choose to make up his squad? He has serious issues to deal with concerning the form and lack of playing time of critical members of the team like Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest, but other members like Gio Reyna and Tim Weah are getting back to their best at an important time.
It’s a massive year for the red, white, and blue to prove their ability on a global scale after missing out on the 2018 edition. Back at the center stage of the global spotlight, this World Cup will be the most pressure that some of these players have ever faced.
So how could the roster for the team look? Let’s take a cracker:
USMNT roster locks
When it comes to picking who will make the trip to Qatar, barring an injury or a situation where they’re no longer starters for their team — and for a few players even losing their starting spots at their clubs wouldn’t stop them from going to the World Cup — the players below will almost certainly be on the trip:
- Zack Steffen (Goalkeeper)
- Sergino Dest (Defender)
- Weston McKennie (Midfielder)
- Christian Pulisic (Forward)
- Gio Reyna (Forward)
- Tyler Adams (Midfielder)
- Antonee Robinson (Defender)
- Matt Turner (Goalkeeper)
- DeAndre Yedlin (Defender)
- Kellyn Acosta (Midfielder)
- Brenden Aaronson (Forward)
- Yunus Musah (Midfielder)
- Walker Zimmerman (Defender)
- Tim Weah (Forward)
- Aaron Long (Defender)
- Jesus Ferreira (Forward)
Aaron Long has returned to the locks, not due to how well he’s been doing, but due to the lack of faith in the center backs behind him. There is a good core in midfield but major concerns when it comes to some important players. The team already saw how important Robinson is to the side after how they performed losing to Japan and drawing Saudi Arabia in his absence during September, but now that he’s back, Berhalter may want to call Marco Silva to bubble wrap him with Fulham. Reyna is also hitting form at the right time with Dortmund.
Continuing the good, Weah is building up fitness with Lille, and both Aaronson and Adams are turning heads with Leeds United. Steffen is at least starting in the Championship, so there are fewer concerns at keeper. But there are plenty of concerns as well.
Dest and Pulisic are critical to the national team but aren’t playing consistently for their clubs. While Pulisic has found a glimmer of form playing as a pseudo-wing back for Chelsea, Dest can’t get a look in with AC Milan. His defensive issues were well known but Dest not being able to attack in Italy has been a surprise after leaving Barcelona on loan. If either can’t find form during the World Cup, Berhalter could have the tough decision to make of benching one of his core guys.
On the bubble
- Luca De La Torre (Midfielder): This is where the lack of depth in the midfield shows as a glaring issue. De La Torre has only played 50 La Liga minutes this season before picking up an injury near the end of October. While it isn’t serious enough to keep him away from the World Cup, it’s a season where his lack of form doesn’t show that he deserves to go to Qatar. But as the most like-for-like replacement for Musah, there isn’t someone else that Berhalter can call instead of De La Torre.
- Tim Ream (Defender): With Richards being injured on and off since April, even his move to the Premier League won’t be enough to get him into the national team camp, opening the door for Ream. While Berhalter has talked about Ream not fitting the high line that the national team employs, it’s hard to ignore a center back who has seen everything and has led Fulham into the top half of the Premier League table. If things don’t go well with Long, Berhalter needs to have a short hook and Ream’s club connection to Robinson makes slotting in simple.
- Malik Tillman (Midfielder): His time with the USMNT has been short but Tillman has made quite an impression since leaving Bayern Munich and the German youth setup. In and out of the side for Rangers, Tillman has three goals and three assists in all competitions, popping up all over the pitch. Tillman is someone who could come off the bench for the USMNT to make this tournament a breakout performance in the long run.
- Paul Arriola (Forward): Comfortable playing on the wing or in an advanced midfield position, Arriola is another glue guy who can help make a roster tick. His vision and work rate are important to have in the squad and his leadership skills and intangibles make him as close to being a lock for the final roster as he can be. Arriola’s work on the national stage isn’t pretty but it’s effective enough to keep him on this roster.
- Ethan Horvath (Keeper): The most in-form keeper in the squad, it’s baffling that Horvath hasn’t gotten a chance to start without there being injuries, but all he has done is performed at each step of the way. Currently, on loan at Luton Town, Horvath has been better on the pitch than likely starter Steffen but due to not being as good with his feet, will need to find other ways to stand out.
- Ricardo Pepi (Forward): All Pepi needed was a loan and playing time for the guy who earned a move to Germany is beginning to appear again. In all competitions with Groningen, Pepi has scored six goals and assisted three more, showing that when given space he’s not afraid to shoot. The Eredivise is a striker’s paradise but will he be able to find similar space in the group stage if given the chance? Even against higher competition like PSV, Pepi has performed, raising confidence that he can play a role despite his struggles for the national team over the past year.
- Joe Scally (Defender): It took a while for Scally to get into the picture but he’s here now and likely here to stay barring an injury. Able to deputize on either flank for the USMNT, Scally is a great insurance policy for if anyone goes down with an injury in Qatar. If Dest doesn’t impress, there’s even a chance for Scally to start in the group stage.
- Josh Sargent (Forward): Back and more confident than ever, Sargent could be the number one option for the national team by the end of the World Cup. Sargent has been critical to everything that Norwich City do and finds himself near the top of the Golden Boot race for the Championship while the squad pushes for promotion. Not afraid to try different things, Sargent is one of the better forwards in the pool at making something out of nothing, which the team will need against sides like England.
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (Defender): Now a permanent member of the Celtic squad, Carter-Vickers has excelled and has also taken on a leadership role wearing the captain’s armband. Carter-Vickers is a great insurance policy if anything goes wrong with Zimmerman as the number one defensive option.
- James Sands (Defender): Sands has had a tough season in Scotland, starting consistently at center back until the club lost 4-0 to Celtic in the Old Firm. But now back in the side as a defensive midfielder, Sands is showcasing his versatility and why he needs to be on the roster. Able to play center back, defensive midfield, and even an emergency right-back, players like Sands are critical to success in knockout tournaments.
Roster projection 5.0
Goalkeepers (3): Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal), Ethan Horvath (Luton Town).
Defenders (9): Sergino Dest (Barcelona), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Tim Ream (Fulham), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), James Sands (Rangers).
Midfielders (6): Weston McKennie (Juventus), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Malik Tillman (Rangers).
Forwards (8): Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Ricardo Pepi (FC Augsburg), Tim Weah (Lille), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Josh Sargent (Norwich City).
On the outside looking in
This is a fluid group. Anything from a transfer during the summer to a slight shift in playing time could vault them right into the picture for the World Cup squad. An interesting mix of players in MLS and abroad make up this group.
- Sean Johnson (Goalkeeper): The loan moves for Steffen and Horvath likely end Johnson’s chances of making it to Qatar, but if one of the experienced three get injured before November, he’ll be the next man up due to keeping calm under pressure and being the best keeper with the ball at his feet of anyone in the pool. Johnson was already called into the training camp for MLS players and with Turner missing Arsenal’s last few matches, there is certainly a chance for Johnson to make it as he has Berhalter’s trust.
- Jordan Morris (Forward): Reyna and Weah being back to health could squeeze Morris out of the squad. While the Seattle forward is a Berhalter guy through and through, it doesn’t feel like he can be included over Arriola, especially when he has been usually utilized as a late-game defensive forward.
- Gabriel Slonina (Goalkeeper): After finishing up a good season with the Chicago Fire, it remains to be seen if Slonina will stick with Chelsea as their third keeper or head on loan in January. If Steffen is the starter, it makes sense for Slonina to be the third keeper for the experience ahead of the 2026 World Cup. The biggest drawback to taking Slonina instead of Horvath is that both Steffen and Turner have suffered injuries this season so there’s a very real possibility that the third keeper could need to play in Qatar.
- Haji Wright (Forward): While Pefok’s inclusion has been a constant question for Berhalter, Wright not getting a serious look during the summer may be one of the biggest question marks for Berhalter. The 24-year-old has a home now after a permanent move to Antalyaspor and has scored nine goals so far this season as he lights up the Turkish Super Lig for fun. But similarly to Pefok, due to not fitting Berhalter’s system, he likely won’t be included. A change of pace forward would be nice but if the USMNT don’t score goals in Qatar, questions will certainly be asked about leaving Wright at home.
- Cristian Roldan (Midfielder): A great locker room guy, the lack of depth in midfield squeezes Roldan out, especially since his best performances for the Sounders this season came as a winger. While he has experience with the squad, missing critical time due to a groin injury around the September international window hurt his chances at securing a spot.
- Erik Palmer-Brown (Defender): With Carter-Vickers captaining Celtic, Palmer-Brown is another name who has fallen down the pecking order at the national team level. He starts consistently for Troyes but it will likely be between Palmer-Brown and Sands for the last defensive spot. Since Berhalter doesn’t play a back three and likely won’t change the system enough to use one at the World Cup, Sands being able to operate as a defensive midfielder makes a difference.
- Brandon Vazquez (Forward): Not yet earning an official cap despite his strong performances for FC Cincinnati, it’s hard to see how Vazquez can work his way to Qatar. All of the forwards but Ferreira are in good form and the FC Dallas man is a strong playmaker for the national team and also has the experience of playing in World Cup qualifying.
- Djordje Mihailovic (Midfielder): A tweener, Mihailovic has shown the ability to score and set up goals, but because of the system that Berhalter plays, he’s a man without a position. If an attacking midfielder went centrally, it would be Aaronson or Reyna while Arriola also has the ability to do that, which squeezes Mihailovic out of contention unless there’s an injury.
- Jordan Pefok (Forward): Flying high in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin, Pefok has four goals and one assist in all competitions this season but his hot start has faded away with only an assist since the beginning of October. Berhalter has already stated that Pefok doesn’t fit the system, so he’d have to score consistently to push his way into the squad. With other forwards also hitting form at the right time, there just isn’t enough space at the moment even with 26 slots available.
- John Tolkin (Defender): Left back is a tough position for the USMNT, even more so with Sam Vines missing the World Cup due to an injury. While Vines and Tolkin aren’t expected to make the squad, in the nightmare situation where Robinson would suffer an injury, Tolkin will likely have a chance to vault into the squad. He’d still be a third choice left-back behind Dest and Scally, which shows the lack of depth out wide for the USMNT.