by Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
US Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter on Friday named a 27-man roster for next month’s World Cup tune-ups against fellow Qatar-bound squads Morocco other Uruguay and a pair of CONCACAF Nations League games.
“I wouldn’t be expecting him to play major minutes in these first couple of games,” Berhalter, speaking to reporters after the squad was announced, said of McKennie. “Hopefully, we can get to a point where he can start one of the Nations League games.”
Injures to other projected World Cup starters like Sergino Dest, Giovanni Reina other Chris Richards lingered too long for them to be invited, opening the door for several players who didn’t appear for the USMNT during World Cup qualifying matches.
Among those are central defenders Cameron Carter-Vickersstriker Haji Wright and 19-year-old Bayern Munich prospect Malik Tilmana former US youth international who is in the process of permanently switching his international allegiance from Germany.
Here are three thoughts on Berhalter’s picks.
The striker position is less certain than ever
But center forward has been shallower than a kiddie pool during this World Cup cycle. Now, it’s not even that deep. Two of the strikers who played during the final qualifying window in March aren’t here: Jordan Pefok is injured, and Ricardo Pepi was given a rest following his high-profile January transfer to Bundesliga side augsburg.
Josh Sargent, who started two of the first three qualifiers, is also hurt. That’s how it is Daryl Dikeleaving MLS scoring leaders Jesus Ferreira as the only regular USMNT striker — and a typical target man the diminutive Ferreira is not — involved next month.
With other MLS options like Jeremy Ebobisse other Brandon Vázquez overlooked (Berhalter said Vazquez was “close”), the door is wide open for the still-uncapped Wright — who was called up for a 2019 camp but didn’t play — to prove that he deserves serious consideration for Qatar. It’s a huge opportunity for the red-hot 24-year-old, who has scored in each of his past seven games for Turkish Super League club Antalyaspor.
“We only have two true strikers on the roster, so he will get an opportunity,” Berhalter said of Wright. “I’ve watched a lot of his games, and he’s doing an excellent job, so I think now is the perfect time.”
Scally, Mihailovic get their chance
In his maiden season with Borussia Monchengladbach’s senior team, 19-year-old fullback Joe Scally appeared in 30 Bundesliga games — 20 of them starts. His quick rise was enough to earn an invite for November qualifiers against Mexico other Jamaicabut Scally didn’t play.
He wants next month.
“He’s done a good enough job to get an opportunity, and that’s what this is,” the coach said of Scally. “He will get game-time in these four games.”
Still, even though the naturally right-footed Scally is comfortable at both right and left back, there’s a ton of competition among the outside defenders, even with Barcelona’s Dest missing.
On the right, Dest’s usual spot, Scally will be up against speedster Reggie Canon and 2014 World Cup Veteran DeAndre Yedlin. Antony Robinson is a lock on the left, but it’s slim pickings after Jedi. Scally’s best chance of sneaking onto the plane to Doha in November might be to outperform George Bello next month.
Djordje Mihailovic scored the first goal of the Berhalter era back in 2019 but hasn’t been involved much since. His play for Montréal this season got him back in the picture, though. With Gianluca Busio also given an extended break following his first season in Europe, Mihailovic will be competing with Luca de la Torre for a playmaking role.
No way back for John Brooks now
More than once during Friday’s call, Berhalter insisted that omission from this roster doesn’t spell the end of any individual player’s World Cup dreams, estranged USMNT vet John Brooks included.
“Trust me, he’s not out permanently,” Berhalter said of the 29-year-old. “That’s not our idea.”
Still, as a practical matter, it’s clear at this point that Brooks just isn’t in the coach’s World Cup plans.
The Berlin native hasn’t played for the US since the end of last summer. By the time the Americans’ final pre-Qatar camp commenced in September in Europe, Brooks will have been away from the national team for an entire year. He’s moving to a new club this summer, but it’s hard to believe there’s anything Brooks can do to force his way back in.
It’s not like Berhalter is short of alternatives in central defense, even with Miles Robinson out long-term with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Aaron Longa US starter before suffering the same injury as Robinson a year ago, is perhaps the likeliest candidate to play big minutes next month alongside Walker Zimmerman.
Walker Zimmerman on Nashville SC and USMNT
Walker Zimmerman talks with Doug McIntyre about the chemistry on the US Men’s National Team and much more.
“Aaron Long has speed,” Berhalter said. He also boasts a level of familiarity with Zimmerman.
“We had a run of games together [at] Gold Cup 2019 and a few other friendlies, so we definitely have some experience there,” Zimmerman told FOX Sports earlier this week.
“Both have good comfort in the ball, both good one-on-one defenders,” he said. “They have speed, they can cover space behind them. So we’re excited to see them in camp, and what they can do for us.”
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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