FIFA Men's World Cup
World Cup 2022: USMNT roster sees key absences, pressure on Pulisic
FIFA Men's World Cup

World Cup 2022: USMNT roster sees key absences, pressure on Pulisic

Updated Mar. 18, 2022 11:47 a.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

Now that U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter has revealed his 27-man roster for the final three 2022 World Cup qualifiers, we know which players have the responsibility of getting the USMNT back to the biggest stage in sports following an eight-year absence.

Sort of. 


A little more than three hours before Berhalter named his squad Thursday for the pivotal matches at Mexico on March 24, against Panama on March 27 in Orlando (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1 and the FOX Sports app) and at Costa Rica on March 30, starting right back Sergiño Dest limped out of Barcelona’s Europa League win over Turkey’s Galatasaray due to a hamstring injury. 

"It's not great news," Berhalter told reporters on a Zoom call following the announcement. 

"We may need to replace him."

Weston McKennie, another lineup lock, central defender Chris Richards and goalkeeper Matt Turner had already been ruled out due to injuries. With another round of club matches in Europe and MLS this weekend, the hope is that everyone else comes through unscathed. 

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s roster announcement. 

1. Christian Pulisic has to step up 

Back in January, Pulisic talked about the pressure he puts on himself to carry his country. At the time, the Chelsea attacker was in the midst of a rough patch with the European champs. But he has been in his best form of the season lately, helping the Blues win the FIFA Club World Cup last month and notching three goals and an assist in his past five Premier League and Champions League games.

With McKennie out and likely Dest, too, Pulisic must carry that lights-out club form into the international break. That’s not to say he won’t have help in the attack. Giovanni Reyna, another key U.S. player who missed all but the first qualifier in September due to hamstring issues, is back. So is striker Jordan Pefok, who hadn’t been summoned since that first window.

But Pulisic is the Americans’ headliner for a reason. Opponents fear him. When matches get tough, his teammates look to him to make a difference — and for good reason. Pulisic is the USMNT’s most talented player. And he’ll have to perform like it this month if the U.S. are to qualify for Qatar in anything approaching a comfortable way.

"It's been a pleasure to watch," Berhalter said of Pulisic’s current run of form. "We know when he gets in good position, he scores. If he just continues to focus on the basics, he'll be the leader that we expect him to be."

2. Leaving John Brooks out again is risky 

Brooks is easily the most experienced U.S. defender. The 29-year-old played in the 2014 World Cup, and this season, he has made 27 appearances for Germany’s Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga and Champions League. 

Yet even with Chris Richards injured and Mark McKenzie, another regular, omitted because he’s hardly playing in Belgium, Berhalter opted for two backup center backs (after starters Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman) who have never played in a World Cup qualifier in Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown. 

If Brooks can’t crack this roster, it seems unlikely that he’ll be in the coach’s plans for the main event — if the Americans make it. Is this team really deep enough to ignore a player of Brooks’ pedigree for such important games? It’s a gamble, no doubt. 

For what it’s worth, Berhalter left the door open for Brooks to return in the summer. 

"When this whole thing settles down, and, hopefully, we're in the World Cup, and we have the June window, the September window, I think there'll be another opportunity for him where we can really start addressing where we think his deficiencies are to be the starting center back in our pool," he said. 

3. Lineup rotation could be crucial  

The middle game against Panama is easily the most critical of the three. Because of that, the U.S. might consider resting several first-choice starters in the 7,000-plus-feet altitude of Mexico City, where the U.S. are 0W-16-L-3T all time, in order to keep them fresh for the match in Orlando and what could be a decisive finale against the Ticos.

"Some of them will be able to play three 90-minute games, and it's just identifying who and then rotating other ones out that aren't able to play that amount," Berhalter said.

Yellow cards could also become an issue. Tyler Adams, whose value as a pace-controlling defensive midfielder only increases with McKennie missing, is another caution away from a one-game suspension. Same goes for three other projected starters: goalkeeper Zack Steffen, winger Tim Weah and veteran right back DeAndre Yedlin, who is likely to step in for Dest. 

Berhalter probably can’t risk having any of them miss the Panama game, least of all Adams, who has no true backup close to his quality in camp.

Replacing McKennie will be Berhalter’s biggest challenge, though. In addition to Kellyn Acosta and Luca de la Torre, Berhalter said Reyna, Brendan Aaronson and Gianluca Busio are among those who could man central midfield in place of the Juventus star, who was the best U.S. player through the first 11 qualifiers. 

"He's been so important to this group that we're not going to plug a guy in and get a like-for-like," Berhalter said. "But that's OK. We've won games before without him, and we'll do it again."

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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