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Winners & Losers

Winners and losers from USMNT's World Cup roster reveal as Pepi and Steffen snubbed while Ream rises

11:47 PM EST 11/9/22
Ricardo Pepi Tim Ream GFX
GOAL breaks down Gregg Berhalter's 26-man squad, from the surprise calls-ups to the shocking omissions.

On Sunday afternoon, members of the U.S. men’s national team felt their phones buzz. One by one, their screens lit up with a text from Gregg Berhalter, all with the same message.

“Hey, are you available to talk?”

As everyone knows, there are few scarier messages from a boss than that. When it comes from your national team coach just days before a World Cup roster is announced, it can cause your heart to stop entirely.

For 26 of the players that received that text, what ensued was a dream come true. That text was followed by a video call with Berhalter that confirmed they’d be going to the World Cup. Smiles, laughs, tears of joy all in equal measure.

But, for others, the news devastated. The nature of the squad-trimming system forced Berhalter to crush the dreams of some players who had been a part of the program’s difficult rebuild throughout the last four years.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll find out if Berhalter made the right decisions.

For now, here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers from Wednesday’s roster announcement.

  • Moore USMNT 2021

    WINNER: Surprises

    There was no Landon Donovan-esque omission from this squad. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna, the team’s big stars, are all involved as expected.

    But there were some omissions that few could have seen a few months ago, and some inclusions that have played their way onto the roster from purgatory.

    Tim Ream is one of those latter players, as is Shaq Moore. Neither was really involved recently and both looked like players destined to miss out.

    Haji Wright was another stunner, having seemingly fallen out of the picture after this summer. Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris, meanwhile, were always on the bubble, and both heard their name called on Sunday.

    No roster prediction is ever 100 percent accurate as there are always twists and turns before a World Cup, and there may still be more if someone were to suffer an injury in the run-up to the tournament. But it's safe to say that Berhalter threw in a few wrinkles that few saw coming, with the biggest being the next on our list...

  • Steffen USMNT 2021

    LOSER: Zack Steffen

    The one that no one would have ever seen coming before this week.

    For the better part of four years, Zack Steffen was the USMNT’s starter. He was the No. 1 all through World Cup qualifiers and, despite the rise of Matt Turner, Berhalter seemingly leaned towards Steffen in the USMNT’s goalkeeper race.

    And that race is now over. Turner is in the squad. Steffen is not.

    When asked why that is, Berhalter wasn’t fully willing to go into details. He preferred to talk about the guys he does have, he said. He talked up Turner’s skill set, Sean Johnson’s leadership, Ethan Horvath’s willingness to step up when called up on.

    What Berhalter did say, though, was how hard it was to tell Steffen the news that he wouldn’t be part of the 26.

    "It was a lot of emotion involved for them and me," Berhalter said of his call with Steffen. "Me and Zack go way back and he's been there for me a bunch of times, so to tell him that he wasn't going to be a part of the World Cup team was heartbreaking. But these are the decisions that have to be made."

    The fact is that Steffen simply hasn’t played enough over the last two years. His time as Ederson’s backup at Manchester City may have made him better, but it hasn’t made him sharper. He hasn’t played like the USMNT’s No. 1 in some time, but it is surprising to see that he isn’t No. 2 or No. 3.

    At just 27, Steffen’s World Cup dreams may not be over. He’s a very good goalkeeper, and goalkeepers get better with age. Who knows where he is in a few years when 2026 rolls around?

    This one will hurt, though, and rightfully so, for a player that always seemed to be destined to start in Qatar.

  • Tim Ream Fulham 2022

    WINNER: Tim Ream

    When asked to explain why he’d selected Tim Ream, a player that hadn’t put on a USMNT jersey in more than a year, Berhalter offered a simple explanation.

    “Have you watched any Fulham games lately?”

    And that statement, in many ways, is more than enough justification for including the 35-year-old central defender.

    Ream has been incredible for Fulham this season, serving as the club’s captain in the Premier League after leading them back from the Championship last season. You could easily argue he’s the USMNT’s most in-form central defender at a time when form matters most. Add in the fact that he’ll be very, very familiar with most players involved with group-mates England and Wales and you have all the reason needed to bring Ream in.

    Now the question is where he fits. Walker Zimmerman is all but solidified as the No. 1  center back, but there is still some debate when it comes to his partner. We now know it's down to three: Ream, Aaron Long and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

    Long is probably the favorite as he’s partnered Zimmerman the most. But, if it does come down to playing with Ream, Zimmerman says he’s more than okay with it.

    "He's one of those guys that can come in and fit in right away due to that experience and leadership," Zimmerman said. "So we feel confident with him and he's obviously performing at a really high level this year for Fulham. We believe in him on and off the field and I'm excited that he made the squad."

    Zimmerman's partner may be TBD, but Ream may just get his chance after spending an entire year out of the picture.

  • Pepi USMNT Honduras 2022

    LOSER: Ricardo Pepi

    From the USMNT’s No. 9 of the future to missing the World Cup entirely, the last year or so has been a nightmare for Ricardo Pepi.

    His move to Augsburg totally backfired as his struggles in the Bundesliga dropped him out of the picture completely. He’s now been left out of the World Cup despite a strong start on loan with Groningen, with Berhalter opting to bring Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright to Qatar.

    It’s another horrible lesson in what happens when a transfer goes wrong. A year ago, Pepi was the hottest prospect in American soccer. But his move to Augsburg, a bad team with a bad attack, stifled his momentum to the point where he was leapfrogged by at least three of his competitors.

    This won’t be Pepi’s last chance, not by a long shot. The teenage striker has brighter days ahead, with his spell at Groningen so far proving that the talent everyone saw in him a year ago is still very much there.

    But spare a thought for Pepi, a young player who will certainly be heartbroken to miss out on a dream opportunity. Brighter days may be ahead, but this one will sting for a while given the position he was in just one year ago.

  • Morris USMNT El Salvador 2022

    WINNER: Jordan Morris

    Whatever you think of Jordan Morris, put it aside. For one second, don't look at the player; look at the person.

    What a journey Morris has been on over the last few years. He emerged as a college hotshot that turned down European offers for MLS. He became a key USMNT regular, then ripped up his ACL. He returned, then ripped his ACL up again while on loan at Swansea. And, despite all of that, here is in the squad, ACL healed with one hell of a story.

    There were times when many wrote him off, and Morris himself admits that there were moments he too never thought he’d ever be able to reclaim his dream.

    "Those doubts come into your mind," Morris said, "especially during the tough times where you're watching qualifying games and you're sitting there not able to bend your leg fully or when you're not able to run. You're like, 'I'm so far away from getting back on the field'.

    "Those doubts definitely creep into your head but I just had to put my head down, keep working hard and know that I'm going to put everything into trying to get there. At that point, whatever happens happens but as long as I gave it my all, I was gonna be proud of myself. Just to be here, it's all so special."
    Here he is, in the squad and on the plane to Qatar. He may not play much of a role once they get there, as he’s likely the fifth winger or fourth striker. The most likely scenario for Morris to play is as a break-in-case-of-emergency substitute when the U.S. desperately needs a goal - or as a human victory cigar if the Stars and Stripes are up big at the end of a match.

    Still, even if Morris never sees the field in Qatar, you have to acknowledge how cool this must be. Eight years ago when Morris first emerged, we assumed we’d see him at the World Cup some day. After his second ACL tear, we thought we may never see him at this level again. 

    And that’s what World Cups are about: moments, memories, and stories. Morris’ story got another chapter this week, one that seemed impossible at several times over the last few years.