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The USMNT Outcasts: Sizing up the candidates missing out on September


Depth is a good thing for a national team to have, and the reality is the U.S. men’s national team boasts more depth of options than ever in its history. That also means players will consistently be left out that are worthy of being included in any national team roster.

Throw in a looming World Cup and all of a sudden a roster omission feels like much more than a normal absence.

That is why Wednesday’s USMNT roster announcement triggered some predictable questions about players who were left out by Gregg Berhalter, who made a point to state emphatically that players being left out of the September friendlies aren’t necessarily out of the picture for a World Cup roster spot.

As much as that may be the case for some, the makeup of the September USMNT roster made it feel like there are some players who have seen their hopes of reaching Qatar fade away or disappear altogether.

The reality is with two months of club soccer to go between now and World Cup camp, so a lot can still happen, from injuries to cold streaks to hot streaks that shake up the current pecking order.

Here is a look at the top players who missed out on the September friendlies, and where they stand at the moment:

Jordan Pefok

Earlier in the year there were a handful of knocks on Pefok’s candidacy for the USMNT striker role. His painful miss in the World Cup qualifier in Mexico City became a big mark against him, but not as much as the fact he was dominating the Swiss League, leaving him open to questions about whether he could handle a higher level.

Pefok’s response was to make a move the German Bundesliga, and immediately start scoring goals for Union Berlin, which happens to now be sitting in first place in Germany. It felt like a foregone conclusion that he had done enough to earn a call-back to USMNT camp, but instead he heads the list of players missing.

And why is he missing? Simply put, striker prospects who Berhalter rates as being better fits in the USMNT system put themselves in position to be considered ahead of Pefok. Josh Sargent has hit an incredible run of form, scoring six goals in six matches for Norwich City to propel himself back into the fold. He holds up the ball well, presses well and the biggest knock against him was his struggles to find the net, which he has eased with his current hot streak.

Then you have Ricardo Pepi, who has not scored a goal for club or country in the 2022 calendar year. His move to Bundesliga side Augsburg fizzled out, costing him all the momentum he built up in 2021, but Pepi’s form back then really impressed Berhalter, who saw a perfect combination of size, mobility and defensive tenacity. Pepi’s loss of form knocked him out of the picture briefly, but his recent move to Groningen gave Berhalter the excuse to bring Pepi in for a closer look to see how far away he is from being the player we saw shine in World Cup qualfiying.

It is a safe bet that Berhalter brings three strikers to Qatar, and while Jesus Ferreira has a hammer lock on one of the spots, the other two are up for grabs between Sargent, Pepi, Haji Wright, Pefok and Brandon Vazquez. Pefok feels like the odd man out, but it will come down to whether Sargent can maintain his current form and if Pepi can hit his stride in the Dutch League. If either of them falter, or if any of the top three go down with an injury, then Berhalter will have a hard time justifying leaving out Pefok.

Mark McKenzie

The kind of strong and quick centerback Berhalter prefers for his system, McKenzie lost ground in the central defender race earlier in the year when he lost his grasp on a regular starting role with Genk. That, coupled with the rapid rise of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown left McKenzie on the outside looking in.

McKenzie has responded by regaining his starting role with Genk, and playing at a high level in recent months, but that still wasn’t enough for him to crack the current preferred four centerback grouping, even though Chris Richards isn’t currently playing for Crystal Palace at the moment. Right now McKenzie is stuck on the centerback fringe with Palmer-Brown, waiting for an opportunity of any injuries happen.

James Sands

The versatile defender was a Berhalter favorite early in World Cup qualifying due to his ability to play multiple roles, and fit in well if the USMNT used a three-centerback system. Sands struggled for playing time when he arrived at Rangers, which dropped him off the national team radar, but now he has become a regular starter for the Scottish giants as a central defender.

The good news for Sands is that he is getting a chance to play in some important matches for Rangers, although he has had a rough time in some high-profile fixtures. Those struggles have cost him his chance to gain ground on a relatively crowded group of central defenders, and it also feels less and less like the USMNT will be deploying much of a three-centerback look at the World Cup.

Erik Palmer-Brown

Bill Barrett/ISI Photos

An excellent season in France earned Palmer-Brown a look in the summer, and he produced mixed results, losing ground to Carter-Vickers in the battle to break into the top four at the position. Now, as the new European season rolls on, Palmer-Brown has continued to be a regular starter in Ligue 1.

Right now it feels like Palmer-Brown is sitting in the 5th-6th centerback spot in the pool, and will need an injury or two to happen if he is going to break back into the World Cup group.

John Brooks

When Brooks signed with Benfica, it was seen as a chance for him to play in Champions League and make a late case for a recall to the USMNT. Unfortunately for the 2014 World Cup veteran, the Benfica move has yet to yield a single minute as he is stuck behind Benfica captain Nicolas Otamendi and 18-year-old Portuguese sensation Antonio Silva.

The reality is even if Brooks were to start earning regular starts, he isn’t a stylistic fit for what Berhalter wants from his centerbacks. Brooks is too slow to play the high line the USMNT wants to play under Berhalter, and while none of the top central defenders in the USMNT right now are anywhere close to as good a passer as Brooks, Berhalter believes the passing in his current group is viable enough to avoid needing to bring Brooks back.

Haji Wright

Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos

Wright had his chance this summer to impress Berhalter and it was a bit of a mixed bag for the Antalyaspor striker, who is off to a strong start to the new Turkish League season with five goals already. That start wasn’t enough to offset a less-than-stellar summer stint with the USMNT, and right now he’s sitting as the fifth-choice striker in a race for three spots.

Brandon Vazquez

Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A breakout season with FC Cincinnati has propelled Vazquez into the USMNT striker conversation, and the fact he hadn’t had a look yet turned him into a fascinating prospect for folks who love a newcomer. But as much as his play could have earned him a look, the sudden flourish in form of Sargent, Pefok and Wright in recent months suddenly pushed Vazquez into the background and out of range.

He’s the 6th-best option at striker with three spots available, but the good news he is just 23, and if he can build on this excellent season, there’s no reason he couldn’t be a factor for 2026 when he would be at a prime age of 27.

Djordje Mihailovic

Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

That Luca De La Torre earned the call-up despite not playing at Celta Vigo while Mihailovic was passed over despite his excellent play in MLS with CF Montreal tells you all you need to know about how far Mihailovic is to breaking through to earn a place in Qatar.

There is plenty of competition for the advanced central midfield roles, including starters Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah, as well as Brenden Aaronson, but De La Torre’s inclusion suggests Berhalter is unlikely to ever choose Mihailovic over a healthy De La Torre. Of course, Mihailovic could potentially take part in an MLS-specific pre-World Cup camp and play himself into consideration if there are any injuries, but for right now Mihailovic looks very far away from being able to secure a trip to Qatar.

Shaq Moore

A perfect example of a European-based player making a successful jump to MLS and not hurting their national team chances, Moore has thrived with Nashville SC, but he also happens to play at a position loaded with veteran options.

Moore is the fourth or fifth option at right back behind Sergiño Dest, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon and Joe Scally, but the position feels a bit more volatile considering Berhalter may need one or two of those names to play at left back, so Moore is probably closer to breaking back in before the World Cup than say some of the fringe strikers are.

Tim Ream

The Fulham defender is enjoying a solid season in the English Premier League, following up an oustanding season that helped the Cottagers earn promotion, but the 34-year-old isn’t an ideal stylistic fit for how Berhalter wants to play. Ream is playing at a higher level than any of the central defenders in the pool, but his lack of speed makes him a liability in a system that requires its centerbacks to be able to cover ground and play a high line.

Does this mean Ream has no chance of making it to Qatar? He remains a long shot, but if there were a few injuries, including to Fulham teammate Antonee Robinson, Ream could be seen as a left-footed depth option in a pool woefully light on quality natural left-footed defenders.

Alejandro Zendejas

The Club America sensation is enjoying a career year in Liga MX, and while it had long been believed that he had committed to playing for Mexico, fresh reports emerged in recent weeks suggesting he is open to playing for the United States.

Berhalter confirmed that Zendejas is under consideration and the two have spoken, but his decision not to bring him in for a look in September suggests it is unlikely he can push himself into the World Cup conversation between now and November when he has never been in a Berhalter USMNT camp before.

Could that change? Absolutely, especially when you consider the injury history of the top winger options in the USMNT pool. Gio Reyna and Tim Weah have dealt with plenty of injury issues in recent years, as has Jordan Morris, so there are injuries and Zendejas continues lighting up Liga MX, then a call-up for Qatar could absolutely happen.

Which of the aforementioned players are you most hoping to see in Qatar? Who did we not include on this list that you feel deserved to be considered for the September camp?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. As has become obvious and many have said, neither Ream or Brooks are natural fits for the high line the US is using. Fairly or not, playing a high line favors players with some speed. You can’t really coach speed (or size) so GB is making a decision that makes sense.

    Neither Brooks or Ream are good enough to dictate a change in tactics just for the sake of their inclusion. I suppose you could argue that Sterling will make any of the US backs look slow and for the England game defending deeper might make sense, I am not sure that is reason enough to include either Brooks or Ream.


    Jedi Robinson is injured for 6th place EPL club Fulham, so guess who Marco Silva trusts with PLAYING LEFT BACK to cover the position in his absence?…….Vice Captain RRRRREEEEEAAAAAAMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!

    • If you keep your line deep he can play. He really kept Antuna in check in NL it was only when they subbed on Lainez on his tired legs that he got roasted in NL. It’s kind of funny last September everyone was complaining he was a Gregg’s guy unjust callup now everyone’s complaining about his unjust snub.

      • “If you keep your line deep he can play”

        Is the USMNT going to play a deep line now? If so wouldn’t you rather bring Brooks back than Timmy?

        Timmy was an unjust call up then and he would be an unjust callup now.

        Timmy’s consistent.

        It’s Jedi who has improved.

        Timmy may cover for Jedi with Fulham adequately but then their defense is far and away more organized than the USMNT’s ever will be ( superior practice time and most likely, superior coaching).

        And don’t think for one second that Silva is happy about having to use Timmy at left back. They’re trying to get Jedi back ASAP. Fulham are hot and on a roll and they want and need to keep it going.

        “Silva stated:

        “It will be difficult, I have to be honest.

        “We still have some hours until the game and we have to check him [Robinson], like we are doing every single day, and we have to take the decision.”

        Silva doesn’t sound like guy who is happy about needing to put anyone else at left back.

      • the people pimping brooks and ream on “but maybe we can play them deep” arguments forget that they are attacking oriented choices whose supposed value lies in getting them forward and making passes.

        also, one of the weaknesses of form following is its advocates tend to have short memories — there is a 2019 reason ream isn’t on the team anymore, a whole series of games and goals allowed — or a tendency to skip past what matters, ie, lasting talent, strengths, and weaknesses, in favor of decontextualized attaboys. “wow he’s playing well,” doesn’t matter if the player hasn’t really changed.

      • Mr. Voice,

        “wow he’s playing well,” doesn’t matter if the player hasn’t really changed.

        Timmy is the same. Always has been.

        What changes with Ream is the team around him.

        This version of Fulham is a lot better than what they had the last time they were up in the EPL. They are less of a fricking joke.

        The USMNT , during Timmy’s time has not had well organized defenses.

        Timmy is a fine defender but he’s not some world class guy, like the best version of VVD, who with his mere presence can elevate a crap defense.

      • Vacqui
        “Timmy is a fine defender but he’s not some world class guy, like the best version of VVD, who with his mere presence can elevate a crap defense”
        I couldn’t have said it better.

        When you think about it, no other player on the USMNT has more experience, more team status, more fan respect, more team responsibility or is playing at a higher level than Ream. Plain and simple. Some players are struggling to start…. better yet are struggling to get playing time in an average league and here we have Tim Ream a team Vice Captain for an EPL side, trusted by a coach like Macro Silva, a main starter, trusted at the highest level to play out of position when other players in defense get hurt…..and the man get absolutely no respect.

        GB may not need Ream for his plain or style of play but that doesn’t take away from the fact that TIM REAM (at 34!!!) IS THE BEST CENTERBACK currently in the USMNT pool.

        Ranked decently in the EPL too

    • first off forest plays a 3412 where the RCB is marking the opposing RF that we’re used to the LB marking in the 433 era. so he’s pushed up marking a wing mid, not a forward. second if you actually watched the game he got spun and absolutely torched on the attack 10′ in that earns the corner that earns goal 1. third as a fulham fan i have watched ream led defenses get relegated 2? 3? times lately, and to me the difference this year is (as i hoped) a team scoring 100+ in the championship is good for plenty of GF to overcome the goal and a half they are shipping every night, including yesterday. (and well so far they aren’t on pace to allow 80, which helps one try to stay up)

      • I didn’t say we should switch to a low line just said if you allow Ream to play deeper he has a better chance to be successful. Like Brooks he can’t leave 40 yards behind him. Tim I think is more aware than Brooks but he’s slower and maybe less athletic than John. Both are going to end up getting in trouble but John will just get beat because he didn’t recognize the issue and Tim will get slow burned because he might get back in time but have to foul or knock it out for FK or corner. The only way Ream was going to make WC roster was as a leader on the bench role. Is Kurzawa also hurt certainly the former PSG and French NT guy would have been a better replacement.

      • JR,

        “I didn’t say we should switch to a low line just said if you allow Ream to play deeper he has a better chance to be successful.”

        In other words Timmy and JAB are not likely to ever play for Mr. Berhalter ever again.

        Berhalter plays the guys who fit how he wants to play. It’s a manager oriented system as opposed to looking over your guys and fitting the system to them.

        It’s easier for Gregg because coming up with a system that fits how your guys play could be more difficult for an inexperienced, insecure guy like him.

        His players are scattered over the globe and play in a wide variety of styles. Easier to set up with a fashionable system and then make the kids fit into it.

        He has the luxury of not having a bunch of veterans like Landon, Clint, JJ, etc., who he might have to get to buy into his system.

        The USSF is betting that eventually he will learn from this and it will in theory, make him a better manager for the 2026 WC.

      • Vacqui, I think that’s the opposite of what happened. Looking at Gregg’s time for my Crew and the squad and tactics of 2019 he has completely changed the system to fit his players. If we were still using his system Ream and Brooks would be starting as they did in 2019. Trapp, Yeuill, Bradley would be on this roster.
        He chose to organize the team around the talents of Wes, Ty, CP, Dest, Musah, and Jedi. In 2019 we played a mid block and once possession was won slowly moved the ball until the ball movement disorganized the defenders and a long diagonal opened up. That wasn’t very effective because #1- we didn’t have 6 that could hit those passes be athletic enough to still defend and retain the ball under pressure. #2-Pulisic and McKennie did not dominate in the dual 10 rolls because it condensed the space that made it hard for CP to get the ball and Wes to maintain it. #3 the emergence of offensive FBs in Dest and Jedi provided attacking options that weren’t possible with Villafana or Lovitz. #4 Veteran traditional forwards like Zardes and Altidore aged out. #5 overall our technical ability on the ball was not high enough to break down teams in low block.
        Berhalter made a change pushing Dest and Jedi forward, tucking CP and Reyna inside but still wider than the dual 10s of 2019 and using more mobile CFs to drag CBs out. After Canada in Nashville Berhalter again changed as he realized that Adams couldn’t cover sideline to sideline in front of Brooks, so he dropped the 8s deeper in possession to cover for FBs. The midblock was thrown out for high pressing with the speed of Weah and Aaronson emerging approximately the same time as injuries to Reyna and Pulisic. It’s worked really well at home, for whatever reason it hasn’t been as good on the road. Gregg certainly has made mistakes like believing the GC squad could go on the road and defeat Panama, only bringing an exact number of players he wants at a position only to have injuries or Covid or libidos put the team in a bind. But shoehorning players into “his system” against the players will is not at all what’s happened.

      • JR,

        “But shoehorning players into “his system” against the players will is not at all what’s happened.”

        I disagree.

        You’re looking at the trees. I’m looking at the forest.

        I never said GB couldn’t learn and get better. The system today is different from when he was hired. Gregg has become more fluid with the structure that he has built. He’s a better manager than he was in 2019.

        But, in soccer terms, he learns very slowly, likely because he’s inexperienced and, to a fault, was not worried about getting fired. It feels like Gregg a wasn’t held accountable early on and that seems to have stayed in place even after his brother was axed. It felt like he was just farting around for a while there. No urgency.

        Now there are changes. Perhaps they were part of Gregg’s master plan all along. But its feels more like they were gradually and grudgingly forced on him. So maybe Jay being gone is finally being felt.

        For example, Yueill got an inordinate number of caps, 6 then 2 then 8, before he was finally defenestrated.

        Jackson looked modestly talented after his first few caps . By cap #16 you had to wonder, is he really the American Kalvin Philips or are we all missing something here? Do you honesty believe that Roldan wouldn’t be in Qatar if not for his badly timed injury? Maybe he’ll still get there

        More to the point those changes coincided with some of our other players finally reaching a certain level of skill, eligibility or health with their clubs and then forcing their way onto the USMNT (see Aaronson, B).

        So yeah the systems and players have changed. We have a more settled team, better players and improved tactics.

        What we still do not have is a level of play consistent with the aforementioned improvements

        Gregg was hired in December of 2018 almost four years ago.

        They still have trouble with “weaker ” teams.
        They still have no effective identity on offense
        They still don’t know how to play away from home (admittedly there is hardly ever a homefield advantage for the USMNT).
        They have yet to put in a convincing performance against an equal or better team ( El Tri, who were supposed to be some kind of measuring stick, turned out to a fraud).

        The USMNT is not the flaming dumpster fire that it looked like it was going to be for a while there.

        But that’s a long way from saying that Gregg is getting the best out of the talent that is available to him. He’s not.

        The USSF and a lot of fans seems to believe that the USMNT will be receiving a constant stream of top flight talented players going forward leading up to 2026. And they seem to think that will be enough to make up for any of Gregg’s flaws.

        Maybe, but because of the inconsistent manner in which the USMNT still plays even with an improved player pool, I’m not entirely convinced of that.

        I believe a better manager could take what Gregg has built and get more out of it, than Gregg can.

        But we won’t really know about that until Qatar where Gregg and his team will get their first real and maybe only, trial by combat.
        I can see them beating England. And I can see them losing to Iran.

        But Berhalter fans needn’t worry. Barring a total disaster in Qatar he will be your guy for 2026.

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