USMNT WCQ
Ricardo Pepi celebrates his game-winning goal for the USMNT against Honduras on Sep. 8. (Photo by Moises Castillo/Associated Press)

USMNT WCQ Roster Reaction: McKennie Back; Pulisic, Reyna Out

On Wednesday, the USMNT released the 27-man squad for the second slate of World Cup Qualifying games over the October international break. There were some notable omissions as always, but several of the young additions to the roster made many American fans, including myself, very happy. Let’s get into the USMNT WCQ roster reaction and breakdown.

USMNT WCQ Goalkeepers

Matt Turner USMNT
(Photo of Matt Turner by Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Zack Steffen (Manchester City); Matt Turner (New England Revolution); Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
Glaring Omission(s): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest)

I figured the trio of goalkeepers that manager Gregg Berhalter would roll with for the remainder of World Cup Qualifying would involve Steffen, Turner and Horvath, in whatever pecking order he may want. Horvath’s absence here is likely due to England’s COVID-19 regulations regarding players traveling to red-list countries and recent form with his club. Still, it’s a surprising knock that he wasn’t included.

As for the goalkeeping battle itself, the USMNT has a poor man’s version of Germany’s combo of Manuel Neuer and Marc-André Ter Stegen. Both Steffen and Turner have excellent cases to be in between the sticks for the opening match against Jamaica on Oct. 7. However, Turner’s run of form with both the Revolution and the Americans – especially after the prior trio of WCQ matches – likely gets him the nod over Man City’s No. 2. I believe Steffen is better with his feet, but he has only been on the pitch for two matches this season with the Citizens and his play out of the back isn’t going to be enough to knock Turner from the XI.

Satisfaction: 8/10

USMNT WCQ Defenders

Chris Richards
(Photo of Chris Richards via U.S. Soccer MNT Twitter/@USMNT)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg); Sergiño Dest (FC Barcelona); Mark McKenzie (Genk); Tim Ream (Fulham); Chris Richards (Hoffenheim); Miles Robinson (Atlanta United); Antonee Robinson (Fulham); DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray); Shaq Moore (Tenerife); George Bello (Atlanta United)
Glaring Omission(s): None

Chris Richards was finally called up for a camp and I could not be happier. The 21-year-old has all the tools to be the United States’ best center-back in a few years’ time, and he could truly announce himself on the international stage in these World Cup Qualifiers. I’ve raved about Richards in the past, so no need to do it here, but I am not exaggerating when I say that he checks nearly every box. I just hope that Berhalter finally uses a 3-4-3 so I can see Richards, (Miles) Robinson and Brooks in a back three.

As for the rest of the group, it’s what was expected. If Berhalter rolls with his typical 4-3-3, then expect Brooks and Miles Robinson to form the center-back duo. Despite some subpar and frustrating performances, the talent of Dest alone should have him starting. He figures to slot in at right-back with Antonee Robinson slotting in at left-back.

Ultimately, I just want to see Richards get some minutes.

Satisfaction: 10/10

USMNT WCQ Midfielders

Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie
(Photo of Weston McKennie (left) and Tyler Adams (right) by Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig); Weston McKennie (Juventus); Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy); Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids); Yunus Musah (Valencia); Gianluca Busio (Venezia); Luca de la Torre (Heracles); Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Glaring Omission(s): None

This was a pretty standard fielding of players by Berhalter. I really don’t see where he went wrong, if anywhere. The most notable feature of this roster is McKennie’s presence. No one is knocking the talent of America’s No. 8, but his expulsion from camp just one month ago left a lot of fans and pundits frustrated. Clearly Berhalter has moved past it and told all of us that we should too.

“I spoke to Weston. He was very forthcoming at the time, and as far as I’m concerned, this is something that’s done. He’s still going to be held accountable for his behavior. Everybody’s going to be held accountable, but this isn’t something that we hold on guys, and that’s not the type of culture we have in the group, and it won’t be moving forward. So Weston’s back in, and we’re in conversations with him, and he’s focused on helping the team win.

VIA ESPN

That’s all I need to hear. McKennie’s energy is needed on the field and his natural hunting of the ball pairs well with Adams’ cerebral nature and calming presence. Those two should anchor the midfield for the next decade for the Americans.

Luca de la Torre’s inclusion is an interesting one, as he’s likely at the bottom of the totem pole. Musah and Busio are back in the squad though, which is an absolute win. The former has struggled to have a complete performance under Berhalter, but the talent and upside is there. Similar to Musah, Busio has shown great flashes in the midfield, but it’s tough to break into a team where your two main positions are held by a pair of guys that aren’t going anywhere. Still, both are great rotation pieces and could see some good minutes.

And finally for the MLS guys. Roldan will probably get some run in the attacking mid position as a substitute. Acosta is another one of those guys that has had a very rollercoaster summer with the U.S. and could start or come on a sub depending on Berhalter’s mood. Insert Lletget joke here because the 48-year-old manager will never host a camp without him.

Satisfaction: 7/10

USMNT WCQ Forwards

Ricardo Pepi and Brenden Aaronson
(Photo of Ricardo Pepi (front) and Brenden Aaronson (back) by Orlando Sierra / AFP via Getty Images)
Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg); Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas); Tim Weah (Lille); Matthew Hoppe (Mallorca); Paul Arriola (D.C. United); Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
Glaring Omission(s): Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC, injury); Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, injury); Josh Sargent (Norwich City); Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys)

Well, this is the one spot of contention and potential struggle for the squad this international break. Sargent and Pefok’s absence from the team is noted. However, both have had their fair share of lackluster performances and Berhalter is still trying to find a true No. 9. That guy may be Ricardo Pepi. The FC Dallas product is coming off of a fantastic performance against Honduras where he secured the Americans a much needed three points. He figures to start in the front three.

Obviously, this camp the United States will be without their two best attackers in Pulisic and Reyna who shoulder so much of the attacking load. Guys like Aaronson, Hoppe and Weah will need to be sensational because the Americans need at least six points from this window, if not more than that.

Satisfaction: 6/10 (largely due to injuries)

The USMNT will face Panama in their second game of the slate on Oct. 10, four years to the day after that heart breaking loss against Trinidad & Tobago that ended all hopes of an American run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Hopefully we won’t see any exasperated faces or bodies slumped over in the rain and mud, at a loss for what has just happened in a foreign country. This team can’t rewrite the past, but it can take another step forward towards Qatar. Berhalter has plenty of talent and depth to choose from for his starting XI this October. I’d like to see Richards and Musah get some minutes especially, but I will be an obnoxious American fan regardless of who’s on the pitch. Secure the nine points.

***

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