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Steffen, Pepi, Pefok headline USMNT World Cup roster snubs

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Gregg Berhalter named his 26-player U.S. men’s national team roster for the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday, and as expected, several worthy candidates were not included for the trip to Qatar.

The depth of the USMNT player pool meant there were always going to be good candidates left out, which led to at least a few surprises among those left out.

Zack Steffen was the biggest name on that list, emerging as the shock exclusion after Berhalter chose to go with Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson as his goalkeepers.

Veteran centerback Tim Ream, experienced fullback Shaq Moore, and in-form striker Haji Wright were among the players named to the roster, earning places ahead of candidates who would previously have been considered safer bets.

Here is a closer look at some of the most surprising omissions from the USMNT World Cup roster:


Zack Steffen


Zack Steffen’s omission from the USMNT roster is not only surprising given his strong run of form at club level, but also due to his past experiences working with Gregg Berhalter.

Steffen returned to the Middlesbrough starting lineup in September and has excelled over recent starts for the English Football League Championship side. The 27-year-old has made 16 appearances in the English second-tier this season, posting four clean sheets, with two of those coming in the last three weeks.

Steffen’s return to top form has helped Middlesbrough move its way up the league table.


Ricardo Pepi


There are not many American forwards in better form than Ricardo Pepi, but the FC Groningen attack was also among the major snubs on the roster.

Pepi has scored five goals and registered two assists in his first nine appearances for the Eredivisie side, earning major confidence after a slow start to the Bundesliga season with FC Augsburg. The 19-year-old has fit right into the plans with FC Groningen, but now has to wait until December to get back into action for his club.


Reggie Cannon


Reggie Cannon has remained a starter for Portuguese club Boavista this season, but despite earning consistent minutes in the Primeira Liga, was also excluded from the roster.

Cannon has appeared in 10 of Boavista’s 12 league appearances this season, mainly featuring as a third centerback in the club’s 3-4-3 set up. The 24-year-old has a wealth of international experience under his belt as well, earning 28 caps to date with the USMNT.

Although Cannon mainly features as a right back, his defensive work rate remains second to none.


Jordan Pefok


Jordan Pefok’s play with Union Berlin has cooled off after a hot start in Germany, but overall the 26-year-old brings a different skillset to the table.

Pefok’s height and physicality has helped him become a recent success in Europe, racking up goals for Swiss side Young Boys last season. A stellar year in Switzerland not only earned him an eventual transfer to the Bundesliga, but also remain in Berhalter’s USMNT picture throughout World Cup Qualifying.

After not being included in the September camp and World Cup roster, Pefok will now have to wait for 2026.


Malik Tillman


Malik Tillman only made his senior USMNT debut in June, and despite not having tons of experience in Gregg Berhalter’s system, still could’ve been a unique addition to the roster.

Tillman has totaled four goals and three assists in all competitions for Scottish Premiership side Rangers. The 20-year-old helped Rangers advance to the UEFA Champions League group stage earlier this summer and earn his first four USMNT caps as well.

Tillman still has a bright future ahead of him, but his exclusion was a disappointment.


Mark McKenzie


Centerback was another position up for debate heading into Wednesday’s roster reveal, but one in-form defender will not be heading to Qatar.

Mark McKenzie has become a consistent starter for Belgian league-leaders Genk, totaling 13 appearances during the first half of the season. The 23-year-old has filled in nicely for Wouter Vrancken’s squad following Jhon Lucimi’s summer transfer to Bologna.

McKenzie appeared off the bench in both of the USMNT’s September friendlies, but those were his only international appearances in 2022.


James Sands


James Sands overcame a rough start to the season with Scottish club Rangers, but has since jumped right back into Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s plans.

The NYCFC loanee’s versatility has been on display over recent weeks, featuring as both a centerback and defensive midfielder for the current second place side. Sands has made 18 combined appearances for Rangers so far, teaming nicely with fellow USMNT player, Malik Tillman.

Sands has earned seven caps with the USMNT, but had not featured for the Americans in 2022.

Steffen’s return to top form has helped Middlesbrough move its way up the league table.


Paul Arriola


Paul Arriola’s veteran experience paired with his impact during Gregg Berhalter’s reign as manager should’ve given him an edge in the USMNT roster, but instead the FC Dallas attacker was not chosen.

Arriola enjoyed a stellar first season with FC Dallas, setting a new career-high with 10 goals in league play. He also registered seven assists, which were the second-most in a single-season by the 27-year-old in his MLS career.

Berhalter went with Tim Weah, Gio Reyna, and Christian Pulisic, all expected candidates for the roster, but also added Seattle Sounders’ veteran Jordan Morris. Despite having a better statistical season than Morris, Arriola was left off and now has to wait until 2026 to feature in a World Cup.


Djordje Mihailovic


Djordje Mihailovic began the 2022 season as one of the players with much to prove in his quest to make the USMNT World Cup roster. Although injuries plagued his chances, the AZ Alkmaar attacker warranted a better look this year.

Mihailovic, 24, set a new career-high with nine goals scored in 2022 while also adding six assists. He impressed in his time with CF Montreal over the past two seasons, before injuries hurt his chances of being included in the June roster.

Now with a new challenge ahead of him in the Netherlands, it will be interesting to see how Mihailovic adjusts to a new league and club.


Which snub were you most surprised by? Who were you happy to see left off the roster?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. I honestly care less about the “Snubs” in this list and more about the inclusions that Gregg selected. In an interview with Herc of ESPN after the roster reveal, Gregg said that the striker competition was Pepi Vs. Ferreira and Wright Vs. Pefok. In this context I can somewhat accept Wright over Pefok (in form Vs. cooling off), but the margin of difference is minimal after taking into consideration the level of competition between Turkey & Germany 1st divisions. That said its the exact reverse of Ferreira over Pepi. Jesus plays in a weaker league and was poor down the stretch for Dallas, while Pepi has been heating up for his club in Holland. So once again Gregg is talking out his a$$ to and making excuses for what 90% of us know is a bad decision.
    Many are claiming that the inclusion of Morris & Roldan is irrelevant because they are unlikely to even see the field, and they’re good locker room guys. I disagree. Everyone on the roster when has to be able to contribute something on the field and neither Morris or Roldan do. Some have said Roldan is a decent 2 way player…when in fact, outside of MLS, he’s not…and even in MLS i’d consider him only a hair above average. He can’t receive the ball under pressure and turn. He can’t pass worth a damn, he coughs up the ball constantly, is a poor crosser, and can’t find space. I’d much rather have seen Mihailovic (able to pass and retain possession), Sands or Cardosa (able to play defense to close out a game) to have been given Roldan’s roster spot. Morris is similar to Roldan on the attacking end. He’s a 1 trick pony (speed), and he’s not even very good at that 1 trick any more. I’d have much rather seen Tillman or Mihailovic be given the 5th wide attacker spot.
    Last but not least wasn’t a shock he made Gregg’s roster, but it’s still disappointing….and that’s Aron Long. This guy has been terrible for Club & Country ever since his injury. Yet Gregg has overlooked all the evidence of this. EPB or Trusty (possibly even Sands) are all more deserving based on current form.
    Morris, Roldan, & Long are being given a golden ticket because they’ve got no shot in Hell of making a WC if not for Gregg’s favoritism and there will be no way that even Gregg could justify having them in the squad in 2026.

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    • Lost, Morris is probably the physically strongest player on the roster and that means he offers something Pepi doesn’t. I would have taken Pepi too but I understand the decision. Tillman and Mahailovic aren’t defenders; you can’t bring them in to kill a game and you can’t bring in LDLT either. Acosta will be the first choice but he is Adam’s backup so if Adams gets hurt, he isn’t available. Roldan is the best next option for that. Cordosa was given chances but defended poorly. McKenzie gave the ball away twice as many times as Long in September in half the minutes. EPB was significantly outplayed by Long in June and was obviously outplayed in September training that Gregg didn’t even play him in a match if I recall correctly.

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  2. RF is good at combination play, off the ball movement, and finding holes by getting into the right place at the right time to score. He does this well against naive teams that don’t depend on physicality in their game.

    When up against Asia’s top 5, e.g, Japan and Saudi Arabia, he was ineffective because they are not naive and possess high level combination play. This proves he cannot do well against higher level non-physical teams. Iran is another team in this top 5 that we will face. We had our starting lineup against Japan, and RF still couldn’t score with service from them. If he can’t prove himself against Asia’s top 5, what makes you think he will do anything against physical teams like Wales and England?

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  3. I was initially shocked by the roster but, after a little thought, I’m fine with it. Not excited. Fine.

    Our core needs to stay healthy. That’s how this roster works. We can also add replacements if needed.

    I still don’t agree with:
    -Including Morris over a 4th striker. Some have guessed Morris is cover for an injury prone Reyna, but I would consider Sargent for that. You could still bring Pepi.
    -The 5th FB, but, as some have guessed, Dest isn’t 100%, may only be able to go 45-60 minutes.
    -Jesus at the 9, but we’ve all made that case ad nauseam. It doesn’t matter. Hope he can do his job of “unsettling” the defense so that our wingers and mids can provide “verticality” and put in the goals.

    As for the fringe guys who likely won’t play, like Morris and Roldan: These guys have shown a hunger and dedication to the program across careers that have seen them play (and even sometimes succeed) in big games. These players have been in the program for a while, and not just with Gregg. This is why you might bring a Morris, Roldan, and even Shaq Moore to a degree during GGG’s time. These players have a sort of “seniority” over the players folks (myself included) are clamoring to replace them with, like Pefok, Pepi, and Tillman. Wright is the the odd one there, but it’s true that he’s in form *now* while Pefok currently isn’t. Pepi (who I would have included) is also only recently part of the team and only recently starting to produce after almost a year of dead silence. He’s only recently started scoring in a league known for padding the stats of aspiring strikers. I’m on that train, feel for him but… he’s 19. Pepi will have his chances if he continues to build his game in Europe.

    In all, it comes down to our core playing some of the best games of their very young careers. If we’re relying on 19yo off the bench who hasn’t scored outside the Eredivise in almost a calendar year… or a cold striker who was scoring a month ago, before an apparent minor injury… or a guy who can dribble around the orange-cone defending in Scotland but looks lost against Saudi Arabia… We aren’t getting out of the group in the first place. After sleeping on it, I think GGG got the roster about 90% right.

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  4. I for one am very happy with Berhalter’s roster and I don’t have to have any of the guys listed here. Steffen probably is the second best goalkeeper in the pool but Turner is likely to play every minute and now there is no question of switching keepers if the starter has a mistake in one game. I do think Pepi is going to be a really good forward but he is also going through growing pains with adapting to the top level and being consistent. Fans should be happy that the core are all healthy. The team is very lucky in that regard. Success will rest on their shoulders.

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  5. Gregg B. made a mistake in taking a fifth fullback. We have 2 fullbacks in Dest and Scally that can play on both sides so mathematically 3 out of 4 would have to be injured for the position not to be covered. Even if that happened we have players that have played there in an emergency. We should have padded the position with an additional center back, because running short of those would be a real problem for any team.

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  6. I was never on the Pepi train but I don’t see the logic in leaving him off in favor of Wright. Pepi has been with the team and contributed, and when he hit a slump with club and country, got his situation sorted out and is now productively scoring goals. I have nothing against Wright but I don’t think he warrants last second inclusion barring an emergency, which we do not have at the striker position. It is definitely a head scratcher.

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    • I personally think Wright is better than Pepi, full stop. At the moment, anyhow. Haji’s faster, more dangerous on the ball and can legit beat you 1-on-1, bigger, way stronger, more athletic, and is superior in the air.

      Mind, I don’t think he sees it like Pepi does, and Pepi’s feel for the game and movement and natural poacher’s nose for the finish are likely going to separate him at some point as he matures, but right now I’d take Wright, who I think is probably going to be making a good living in the Championship or as an MLS DP the rest of his career once he moves on from Turkey. Haji’s going to have a bunch of suitors with big checks in hand in January and beyond, for sure, the way he’s scoring for fun in Turkey since the end of last season.

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      • As I said I have nothing against Wright and you are correct in saying he is in good form. That still doesn’t mean that Gregg’s choice makes sense. He has always rated Pepi over Wright and Pepi, like Wright, is in good form? To just upset the apple cart at the eleventh hour makes no sense. That, more than the decision itself, is what I find questionable. If Gregg thinks Wright is better then Pepi then why did Gregg give him so few opportunities to integrate with the team? It just seems so half baked.

    • Alex, despite what Gregg said, it was Sargent that made the team ahead if Pepi, not Ferriera. He had already decided to take Ferriera and Pefok in September barring horrible performance by Ferriera. Pefok fell off a cliff and hasn’t scored in something like 10 games and is battling injuries. Wright and Pepi aren’t the same type of player. Pepi stopped getting called in for qualifiers when he was in similar form to Pefok in the same league but on a much worse team. That was how Ferriera got his chance. Gregg has been happy with Ferriera’s performance even if fans aren’t and none of Pepi, Sargent, or Ferriera showed anything to change his opinion in September except possibly the hustle and defensive work from Sargent ( goal line save). That might have been enough … if the US is going to get out of their group, they are going to have to do a lot of defending.

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  7. Steffen surprised me. Why would GB do something drastic with the third goalie position? He’s creating drama for literally zero probability of impacting a game.
    He could have benched Steffen and had one less thing for people to question him about. And he has enough of those.

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    • It’s the right call. Steffen is injury prone and has a potential howler every game. He doesn’t command the box well at all. You don’t want a guy like that coming off the bench in a high pressure moment. Horvath, while far from perfect, has shown he can come right into a game and make key saves. Johnson won’t play, if we’re lucky. A number of core players have talked about how they see Johnson as a mature presence, so why not bring him over Steffen, who might be a bit whiny and under confident.

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    • Zack has not been right for a couple of years now, and it has cost the teams he was playing for. I believe it began with injury that led to bad performances that led to drop in confidence. I am happy for him that he seems to be healthy and is getting games at a decent level, but his rebuilding is ongoing, and the timing didn’t work for this tournament. I would not trust him at this moment in time at the biggest stage. Props to Berhalter for making this tough call, especially since it’s a guy he has a long-standing relationship with. There is time for Steffen next cycle if he regains the form he had a couple years ago.

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    • “He’s creating drama for literally zero probability of impacting a game.”

      There’s no drama there.

      If you look at all 4 keepers Steffen’s big problem is that, among other things, he has been more prone to making the big howler.

      That’s a deal breaker. You can’t let him anywhere near the team right now.

      I understand Sean recently had a few of those but overall he has been very steady. More to the point, barring injury, he’s almost certainly not going to play one minute.

      And if you’re looking for sentimental reasons which should not be taken into account, Zack still has a shot at 2026 whilst Sean is probably going to age out by then. Call it a lifetime achievement award . Plus, for the conspiracy fans, Sean increases the MLS presence.

      Matt should be the #1 but we don’t know his injury status. In which case, Ethan has been very steady for Luton Town and would slot right in without issue.

      Goalkeeper is the least of Gregg’s problems.

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  8. Ferreira and Roldan are overrated! Tired of players being rewarded for nothing. Hopefully next coach will actually evaluate our players, instead of playing favorites in a lack luster system. Scoring goals against Grenada 🇬🇩 is not a representation, of how Ferreira will do in the world cup. The competition will be levels above a Grenada. Pepi, Pefok, and Tillman should be on the roster.

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    • Agreed on Jesus, disagree on Roldan. I would be ok with JF if he scored against competitive teams, but he doesn’t. I think Pepi’s movement, while not as quick, is more dangerous given his greater potential to score. He’s also taller, bigger, and might actually hold the ball. For Roldan, I actually like him both as a backup/utility guy and as glue. Unlike other options, he has put in a good cross or two over the years and may be minimally competent against a Wales or Iran late in the game (as long as we aren’t chasing the game). Tillman is still raw and has shown he’s a bit too laid back in possession. He’s also competing with other wingers or midfielders who are better and more established with the team. The more I look at it, while I don’t like some of the selections, there is some logic to them. Not the picks I would have made, but they do make sense.

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      • And just to be clear, Roldan probably isn’t seeing the field. Neither would Tillman for that matter given who we have in the midfield. I buy the glue guy take.

      • Tillman is not a two way player so he would only get on the field as a winger, center fwd, or 10 whi h would never happen. There are very few choices for 2 way midfielders. Right now he has McKennie and LDLT recovering from injury, Musah showed poor stamina and was injury prone during qualifying, other than set pieces, Acosta doesn’t contribute much to the attack, Aaronson got pushed around and wasn’t effective as a midfielder twice against El Salvador and is really probably a winger or 10 despite being listed as a midfielder, and Adams is a 6. I am not even sure who he could even consider other than Roldan; very thin at two way midfielders. Also, expect to see Roldan or Acosta ahead of LDLT if he needs to close a game out. LDLT has shown that he is not very good in that role and Roldan has shown that he is, albeit against significantly weaker competition than the team will afce in the WC. In other words, if the US gets out of the group, Roldan will probably see the field.

      • Tele57: That makes sense. I did mention that Roldan could work against Wales or Iran, but you did a better job of specifying the defensive aspect of his game (relative to Tillman). I’m sure someone will chime in to name drop a young 2-way player, but I like what Roldan has shown over the years and trust his mental resilience more in big games. Plus glue. Go team.

      • Really what options are there? Busio has had some injuries and doesn’t appear to be rocking it in Serie B. Williamson 0g 6a on the season but is guy that’s not afraid to give the ball away in attempt to make a highlight reel pass. Aka he’s a risk seeing out games. Then your to Mendez or Booth for their first cap at the WC or Ledezma for his second cap in a position he’s just starting to play at PSV.

    • Preach brother. I hope you are wrong and RF actually performs against top competition). But my analysis is the same as yours. RF doesnt seem effective unless its against a team who we are stomping. People give Pefok so much stick for the Mexico miss. In his limited chances-he did well. Without his goal against Honduras in the semifinal–we would more than likely have 1 less trophy. Roldan is a head scratcher in general.

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    • Both Jesus and Roldan should not be on this team. I cannot believe Roldan made this team. I’ll throw in Morris too. All 3 of those guys have always sucked for the USMNT in any real game.

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