The USMNT squad for the last camp before the World Cup includes Ricardo Pepi, who has not scored in 11 months

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Ricardo Pepi has played more than 1,300 minutes of football since the first week of October. He has played for four different teams in seven different countries and five different competitions. He still hasn’t scored a goal in over 11 months – and yet he’s one of three forwards on the roster of a US men’s national team that’s been twice nominated for the World Cup.

The USMNT announced this roster, the last before the 2022 World Cup, on Wednesday. That doesn’t include Jordan Pefok, who scored 27 goals last season and has already scored a few for the German Bundesliga leaders this season. It also doesn’t include Brandon Vazquez, a breakout MLS star.

However, they include FC Dallas sensation Jesus Ferreira, rejuvenated Norwich City forward Josh Sargent and Pepi, a 19-year-old forward who burst onto the scene last year but last scored on October 7, 2021.

Head coach Gregg Berhalter justified the decision on Wednesday by saying that he wanted to “look at” Pepi and Sargent and that he was “trying to get them [Pepi] Confidence, we’ll try to get him in the group and see if he can push through for the final line-up.”

Speaking of Pefok, Berhalter said: “We’re pretty confident that we know Jordan’s profile, we know what he’s capable of [World Cup] roster or not.”

Elsewhere, 20-year-old midfielder Malik Tillman and left-back Sam Vines join the squad from Royal Antwerp, who has not played for the USMNT since last summer’s Gold Cup.

These include Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers, who appears to have won a World Cup berth as a centre-back; but not Rangers defender James Sands, who appears to be looking in from the outside, nor Fulham captain Tim Ream, who has been out of the picture since last autumn.

The World Cup squad will be revealed on November 9th before the FIFA deadline on November 14th. Injuries to Antonee Robinson, Zack Steffen and Tim Weah prevented this squad from truly anticipating November. There are no clear answers to questions on positions such as full-backs, wingers and third-row goalkeepers.

It is also “Not the final lineup,” Berhalter stressed during a Zoom call with reporters. “That is Not the final line-up for the World Cup. A lot can happen before November 9th.”

But it certainly hints at what the final lineup might look like.

Full USMNT Listing for September Camp

Berhalter has called up 26 players, as many as at the World Cup. They will be his 26 for friendlies against Japan (September 23, 8:26am ET, ESPN2/UniMás/TUDN) and Saudi Arabia (September 27, 2pm ET, FS1/UniMás/TUDN), the last two of the USMNT , its games before gathering in Qatar ahead of its World Cup opener on November 21.

goalkeeper: Matt Turner, Sean Johnson, Ethan Horvath
defender: Sergiño Dest, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon, Joe Scally, Sam Vines
centre-back: Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers
Central midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta, Malik Tillman
Winger/attacking midfielder: Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, Paul Arriola, and Jordan Morris
striker: Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Ricardo Pepi

Ricardo Pepi helped USA qualify for the 2022 World Cup but has not scored since last October. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Who would be on the squad if not because of injuries?

Steffen, the USMNT’s No. 1 goalkeeper throughout qualifying, has not played for Middlesbrough, his English Second Division club, since August 20. Berhalter said on Wednesday that Steffen was “struggling with a minor knee injury” that he recently had a PRP shot and “is waiting for it to calm down a bit. But we expect that he will be on the field shortly.”

After Steffen was out, Berhalter called both Sean Johnson and Ethan Horvath. When Steffen returns it was assumed all along that he would be one of the three goalkeepers traveling to Qatar. But Berhalter spoke as if that were not a certainty. The only lock (and likely starter) at the position appears to be Matt Turner.

Robinson and Weah are also close to returning, both with sprained ankles. Robinson was injured in a Premier League game at Tottenham on September 3 and is “everyday life,” Berhalter said. When healthy, he is the undisputed starting left-back and his World Cup status is unquestionable. For camp in September, Berhalter hosted both Joe Scally and Vines in his place; but there’s probably only room for one on the World Cup list.

Weah is the third and final squad likely to miss the September friendlies through injury. If he does return, he’ll likely knock out either Paul Arriola or Jordan Morris from the squad.

Who are the biggest nudges?

At Wednesday’s Zoom call, Berhalter rattled off the names of 13 players who are not on the September list and are “considered”: Chicago Fire goaltender Steffen, Nashville right-back Gaga Slonina, and Cincinnati center-back Shaq Moore , Matt Miazga, Genk centre-back, Mark McKenzie , Sands, Ream, Troyes centre-back Erik Palmer-Brown, Internacional midfielder Johnny Cardoso, Portland Timbers midfielder Eryk Williamson, Pefok, Antalyaspor forward Haji Wright and Vazquez.

Aside from Pefok, the biggest snubs are Sands and Ream. Sands regularly starts in Scotland and in the Champions League. His performances have been up and down but his ability to play at centre-back, right-back and defensive midfield seemed to make him a logical pick.

Ream, meanwhile, started in every single game of Fulham’s English championship campaign last year and has been outstanding in the Premier League so far this season. His solidity and shrewdness led to renewed calls for Berhalter to reintegrate a player who had been a regular at USMNT and often a starting XI until last fall. (Ream also led the USMNT players’ association until last summer.)

The argument against Ream, however, is that he was never the lightest on his feet and now, at the age of 34, even less so. The USMNT’s pressing system requires a center back with pace – someone who “can play a high line, cover a lot of space behind him,” Berhalter said Wednesday. He also wants someone who is “dominant in the air, dominant on offense and defense set pieces. And that’s not Tim’s forte.”

Pepi about Pefok

The most controversial decision is Pepi over Pefok. The latter, a 26-year-old goalscorer, made a deserved move to Union Berlin in the summer and has scored or assisted five goals in his first five Bundesliga games. He missed one with a minor injury but played 74 minutes in a 1-0 win on Sunday; the violation is not a reason for exclusion.

Pepi, on the other hand, has had a turbulent year. He broke into the USMNT last fall as an 18-year-old, and without him, the US might not be here. He led a comeback in Honduras and a win over Jamaica to stabilize a shaky World Cup qualifying campaign. By October, he had established himself as the national team’s starting striker.

His exploits at FC Dallas and USMNT earned him a $20 million move to FC Augsburg in the German Bundesliga. But there, in the second half of the 2021/22 season, he played sparingly, sometimes out of position and often not well at all. He recently joined Groningen in the Netherlands on loan, apparently in a bid to revive his club career. And Berhalter, who watched Pepi’s first game against Groningen last weekend, is desperately hoping he can revive his US career as well.

“He started really important games [for the USMNT], and we just didn’t want to give it all up now,” said Berhalter. “We still think he has a big advantage. We still think he has really good potential. … He’s a guy we’ve counted on in the past and we want to give him a chance in this window.

But Pefok seemed like the logical choice. Berhalter is expected to take three strikers with him to Qatar. Fans and pundits have argued that one of the three should be a penalty area goal, which doesn’t necessarily fit Berhalter’s “game model” but one he can throw at if he scores with 20 minutes left when game models go out the window.

And of course it still could be. At the media call and in discussions with players on Wednesday, Berhalter repeatedly emphasized that the squad was not yet complete.

But he also said his striker choices are “maybe not the best striker” but rather the “type that best suits what we do best”.

He looks for forwards who can lead a press and drop deep to connect with midfielders and bolster an opposing defence. One of the three will be Ferreira, the likely starter, a ‘press machine’ with creative qualities who is on a MLS goalscoring streak. “He checks all these boxes,” Berhalter said on Wednesday.

Another should be Sargent, a hard-working and expansive opponent who has found his form again.

Third place is up for grabs. “I can understand that Jordan should be considered,” Berhalter said. “He was considered. Big consideration. In the end we decided to go to this camp with these three strikers to be able to evaluate them.”

Other USMNT positional battles

Berhalter told the Associated Press earlier this month that barring injuries, his World Cup roster is about 85% complete. On Wednesday, he formulated a hypothetical phrase: “If we’re 80% done with the roster now, or think we’re 80% done, things can still change from there.”

The five unsettled spots are believed to be second and third row goalies (Steffen vs. Johnson vs. Horvath), reserve left-back (Scally vs. Vines), reserve winger (Arriola vs. Morris) and third forward (Pepi vs. Pefok) .

Aside from the striker, the most interesting and relevant choice could be at full-back, where four of the five most talented and successful players – Sergiño Dest, Reggie Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin and Scally – are right-footed. Berhalter has to decide whether to take a second left footer – Vines – to support Robinson; If not, both Dest and Scally can provide cover.

When Berhalter decided not to name a second left footer behind Vines, Berhalter said: We didn’t feel we had enough depth on the left to go with two left-footed players, so choosing one also showed that he’s ready to play with a right-footed player on the left.

Updated USMNT World Cup Squad Prediction

With the September roster in mind, here’s our updated USMNT Worlds roster prediction, assuming she’s healthy:

goalkeeper: Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, Sean Johnson
defender: Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon, and Joe Scally
centre-back: Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers
Central midfielders: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Luca de la Torre, Kellyn Acosta, Malik Tillman
Attacking midfielder/winger: Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, and Paul Arriola
striker: Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Ricardo Pepi





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