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USMNT Roster Revealed for Winter's World Cup Qualifiers

The U.S. calls on the group that will venture into the cold to face El Salvador, Canada and Honduras, with an eye on inching ever closer to an automatic berth at the 2022 World Cup.

The calendar has turned, it’s a World Cup year and Concacaf’s qualifying competition is entering crunch time. With six Octagonal games remaining across two international windows, the U.S. men (4-1-3) are a point out of first. That’s a good place to be—the double round robin’s top three finishers are assured a World Cup spot.

But coach Gregg Berhalter’s side also is just a point above fourth, which would mean a do-or-die, one-game playoff in June in Qatar against a team from Oceania. And that’s not the flight to Qatar the Americans want to take. So with treacherous road trips to Mexico and Costa Rica awaiting in March, the upcoming three-game qualifying window—which includes two home dates—is critical. Now is the best time to start staking a World Cup claim.

El Salvador (Jan. 27), Canada (Jan. 30) and Honduras (Feb. 2) aren’t the only hurdles separating the U.S. from firmer footing. The coronavirus already has impacted the program, Berhalter confirmed last week, and the three-games-in-seven days gantlet is a challenging one. It’s almost impossible to negotiate it injury-free. Weather likely will be a factor as well. The qualifiers in Columbus, Ohio, then Hamilton, Ontario, and then St. Paul all could be contested in freezing conditions. In addition, midfielder Tyler Adams, defender DeAndre Yedlin and goalkeeper Zack Steffen are one yellow card from suspension. 

So Berhalter unveiled his largest squad of the qualifying campaign on Friday afternoon. The 28-man team includes 13 MLS players who spent the past couple of weeks training in Arizona, along with 15 from Europe who will meet the team in Columbus over the next few days. Although only 23 players can dress on game day, the extra depth affords Berhalter considerable flexibility.

The squad includes 23 men who were part of the November team that defeated Mexico and tied Jamaica and also features four players seeking their qualifying debut: defenders Reggie Cannon and Brooks Lennon, and goalkeepers Sean Johnson and Gabriel Slonina.

Here is the U.S. roster:

USMNT plays three more World Cup qualifiers

GOALKEEPERS

Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)

While rumors concerning Turner’s potential transfer to Arsenal continue to swirl, Steffen seems to be relatively entrenched as the No. 1 goalie. Steffen played in Manchester City’s 4-1 FA Cup win over Swindon Town on Jan. 7. 

DEFENDERS 

Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Chris Richards (TSG Hoffenheim), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Although he’s making progress on his return from an Achilles injury, it’s still too early for New York Red Bulls veteran Aaron Long. It also appears to be too late for former U.S. stalwart John Brooks, who’s been playing regularly for Wolfsburg but still hasn’t worked his way back into Berhalter’s good graces. 

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Zimmerman and Robinson have been near the top of the center back depth chart for a while, but they’re also a long way into their MLS offseasons. Berhalter will have some intriguing choices to make at that position.

Dest, who missed the November window with an injury, finally got back onto the field for Barcelona this week in a Copa del Rey loss to Athletic Bilbao.

MIDFIELDERS

Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo), Sebastian Lletget (New England Revolution), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

Perhaps no U.S. player is in better form than McKennie, who scored in two straight games for Juventus while starting regularly since returning from a knee problem in mid-December. Finding a way to manage McKennie, Adams and Musah across the three upcoming games will be one of Berhalter’s primary challenges. 

Gianluca Busio was originally included, but he tested positive for COVID-19, Berhalter said.

USMNT's Weston McKennie and Ricardo Pepi

FORWARDS

Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tim Weah (Lille), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)

While Gio Reyna (hamstring) remains out, Morris makes his long-awaited return following ACL surgery. He earned his first cap in more than two years in last month’s friendly win over Bosnia-Herzegovina and hasn’t appeared in a World Cup qualifier since the 2018 cycle.

The volatility at the striker position is clear, as Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Daryl Dike and Matthew Hoppe all failed to make the cut. New Augsburg signing Ricardo Pepi will be vital again.

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