U.S. men's soccer team missing key players to injury ahead of World Cup warmup matches

·4 min read
United States coach Gregg Berhalter looks on after a FIFA World Cup qualifying match
United States coach Gregg Berhalter has summoned a 26-player roster for World Cup warmup matches missing four injured players. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

With little more than two months to go before the tournament begins in Qatar, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s roster for the World Cup is either half empty or half full, depending on your level of optimism.

Half empty because the 26-man team called up Wednesday for a final round of auditions is missing a handful of key players because of injury. For the perpetually positive Berhalter, however, those absences have created opportunities for others to step up and make a final case for their inclusion on the World Cup team.

“It's not decided,” Berhalter said of the first U.S. World Cup roster in eight years. “There's still some time that they can try to earn their way onto the team.”

The September camp will open Monday in Cologne, Germany, ahead of friendlies with Japan on Sept. 23 in Dusseldorf and Saudi Arabia on Sept. 27 in Murcia, Spain. And the U.S. team will be largely a familiar one, headed by Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, and Leeds United teammates Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams.

But some big names are missing, among them goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defender Antonee Robinson, midfielder Cristian Roldan and forward Tim Weah.

Steffen hasn’t played for Middlesbrough of the second-tier English Championship since Aug. 20 because of a knee injury while Robinson has been sidelined since leaving Fulham’s Sept. 3 match with an ankle injury. Roldan, who plays in MLS with the Seattle Sounders, went down in mid August with a groin injury while Weah hasn’t played at all for French club Lille this season because of foot and ankle injuries.

Berhalter is hopeful all four will be available for Qatar.

But the U.S. also got some important players back this week with forwards Ricardo Pepi and Gio Reyna returning to the national team for the first time since the March qualifiers and defenders Sergiño Dest and Chris Richards getting their first call-ups since January. Forward Josh Sargent hasn’t been with the team in more than a year.

Reyna is coming off a week in which he became the first U.S. international to record two assists in a Champions League match, helping Borussia Dortmund to a 3-0 victory over FC Copenhagen, while Sargent’s five goals in eight matches for Norwich City is tied for second-best in the Championship.

Among the notable roster omissions were forward Brandon Vázquez and defenders Tim Ream, James Sands and Shaq Moore, all of whom are healthy.

“This is not the final roster,” Berhalter emphasized multiple times during a video call with reporters. “It’s not the final roster for the World Cup. A lot can happen between now and November. That was the conversation I had with the players not selected in this camp.

“Some of the positions, we're looking to evaluate certain guys that we don't have enough information on. Other players just weren't selected."

The coach said some of his choices were dictated as much by chemistry as talent.

“We're not going to be the most talented team at the World Cup. And we're going to have to compensate for that by being a cohesive unit and having a great team spirit,” he said. “Part of it is leaning on guys that have been there before and been around the group before and understand the team culture and understand their teammates really well.”

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The U.S. opens World Cup play on Nov. 21 against Wales. And while the September friendlies will mark the final time the full team will be together before gathering in Qatar, Berhalter said there will be an October camp for MLS players whose clubs are not competing in the league playoffs.

The roster:

Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

Defenders: Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Malik Tillman (Rangers)

Forwards: Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Norwich City)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.