FIFA Men's World Cup
USMNT roster: Five players to watch in World Cup qualifying
FIFA Men's World Cup

USMNT roster: Five players to watch in World Cup qualifying

Updated Jan. 23, 2022 7:42 p.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

There weren’t many surprises on the 28-man roster named Friday by U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter for upcoming World Cup qualifying games against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras.

Not only does the squad feature Christian Pulisic, who was limited to just two starts in the Americans’ first eight matches on the road to Qatar 2022, but also the USMNT headliner has been getting more regular playing time for European champion Chelsea than at any other point in his injury-ravaged three seasons with the Blues.


Weston McKennie? "He's probably in the form of his life," Berhalter said Friday of the all-action midfielder who has scored in his past two appearances for Italian titan Juventus

Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah, two more lineup locks for the U.S., have started the second halves of their seasons strong after some ups and downs with their clubs in the first half.

After that, though, things get a bit murkier on the personnel side — for a variety of reasons. 

Here are five players to keep a close eye on when the matches kick off later this month.

F Brendan Aaronson

The 21-year-old was perhaps the Americans’ most consistent performer during the first three qualifying windows (and the only one besides Adams to appear in all of the USMNT’s games so far). Aaronson was particularly effective against two of the foes the U.S. will face over the next 10 days; he started and finished the play that gave his side a short-lived lead in the disappointing 1-1 tie against Canada in Nashville, and he notched the back-breaking third strike in the 4-1 comeback victory in Honduras.

But the former Philadelphia Union standout hasn’t played a competitive match for current club Red Bull Salzburg since Dec. 11, before the Austrian Bundesliga’s extended winter break began.

Aaronson is young and fit enough that the long layoff shouldn’t impact his engine too much, even if his game is built on relentlessly pressuring defenders and trying to create turnovers in the opponent's half of the field. And as Berhalter noted Friday, "Brenden has played three friendly games for Salzburg" recently.  

Still, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be quite as sharp as he was at the end of 2021.

D Sergiño Dest

A coaching change with Barcelona, an adductor injury and a bout with COVID-19 have conspired to keep Dest from playing a full 90-minute match since Dec. 4.

Dest lost his starting job with Barca after club legend Xavi Hernandez replaced Ronald Koeman in November, and Xavi immediately reacquired 38-year-old Dani Alves

However, Dest, 21, won’t arrive in Columbus next week completely cold: The Dutch-born Ajax product played all 30 minutes of extra time Thursday in Barcelona’s 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao.

Despite his lack of recent playing time, it’s hard to imagine Berhalter sitting Dest in favor of fellow right backs Reggie Cannon or DeAndre Yedlin, even if those two are sharper. After all, Dest remains one of the USMNT’s most gifted players and one of the few capable of changing a match with a moment of individual brilliance.

"Sergiño is an obvious choice" for the roster, Berhalter said. "That's certainly a guy that we think can play there. We think DeAndre could play there if needed. We think Reggie could play there. We also think that Kellyn Acosta can play there, so there's plenty of cover."

F Jordan Morris

The inclusion of Morris might come as a surprise to some, but it shouldn’t after the hard-running Seattle Sounder returned from an ACL tear at the end of the 2021 MLS season. With fellow winger Giovanni Reyna (hamstring) still out, picking Morris was a no-brainer.

"He's a guy who's an absolute game-changer for us in terms of bringing a different dimension, bringing a different dynamic to the team," defender Walker Zimmerman told FOX Sports earlier this week.

"His ability just to get behind the [defensive] line and cause problems for the opponent is huge and something that I think we've missed a little bit, and certainly hope that he can have some sort of impact over these next three games."

F Ricardo Pepi

With Pepi starting at center forward in five of the Americans’ past six qualifiers, the job up top remains his to lose. Yet much has happened since November for the now-19-year-old striker, who transferred from MLS side FC Dallas in his native Texas to German Bundesliga struggler Augsburg.

Pepi has made two appearances for his new squad so far. He still needs more time to adjust to his new surroundings. Returning to the familiar national team environment could give Pepi a timely confidence boost.

However, unlike in November, when Pepi was the only "No. 9" brought into training camp, he will have competition behind him in the form of veteran Gyasi Zardes

Zardes has the second-most caps on the roster (66) after Yedlin’s 71.  But there was no place for Josh Sargent, who scored his first two Premier League goals for Norwich City on Friday in the hour after the roster was released.

F Tim Weah

This time last week, Weah seemed unlikely to be included because of the hamstring injury he suffered Dec. 1 playing for French champion Lille. That changed when Weah came off the bench with about 20 minutes remaining in Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over Lorient, all but guaranteeing that he would be summoned this month.

The question now is how much the 21-year-old winger will be able to contribute. Weah was lights-out for the U.S. in November, taking home Man of the Match honors in both the 2-0 win over El Tri in Cincinnati and the 1-1 tie in Jamaica, where he scored the Americans' lone goal after a slick give-and-go with Pepi:

Surely, Weah won’t be anywhere near ready to start all three games. But even if he can’t, he’ll be among the more dangerous attackers available to come off the substitutes bench.

"The value of a guy like Brendan and Tim is worth it," Berhalter said, "even though they're not 90-minute fit."

One of the most prominent soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports, the New York City native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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