Gregg Berhalter on what it will take for USA to qualify for World Cup

The USA closes out World Cup 2022 qualifying with three games in seven days.

A potential "must-win" game against Panama in Orlando -- a victory will assure the USA of no worse than fourth place in the Octagonal and a berth in the intercontinental playoffs in June -- will be sandwiched between games at Mexico and Costa Rica, where it has never won in World Cup qualifying in 16 and 10  meetings, respectively.

"There's going to be ups and there's going to be downs," said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter on Thursday, "but we're in good position right now, and our goal is to finish it off and qualify for the World Cup by the end of these three games."

The USA will begin to gather on Sunday in Houston, where it will train until leaving for Mexico City on Wednesday morning. It will then face Mexico on Thursday, host Panama three days later and then travel to play Costa Rica in San Jose. On April 1, FIFA will hold the draw for 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

A theme of Berhalter's national media call was how much he will rotate his squad, given the demands of opening against El Tri -- at altitude -- in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, the short turnarounds between games, and the qualifying scenarios.

The USA (21 points, +9 goal difference) could clinch a berth in the World Cup on March 27 with a win over Panama (17 points, +1 goal difference) after a loss against Mexico (21 points, + 6 goal difference). But it might have to beat or tie Costa Rica (16 points, +1 goal difference) on the road in its final game to avoid being eliminated from the World Cup again even if it beats Mexico, but it loses to Panama.

Berhalter said it's a matter of one game at a time:

"For us, it's not trying to get cute. It's trying to put teams on the field in each game we think can win the game. I think the beauty of this thing is we have five subs and when we're in Mexico City we're going to use all five subs. We may use some earlier. We may be more purposeful where we use these substitutes, but there's going to be five subs in that game. And then it's about, how are we planning for the next game?"

Another theme of the media call was how does Berhalter patch together lineups for three games, given the team's injury situation, which took a turn for the worse hours before the call, and the limited loads some key players will be able to play.

Here is a look at the squad (with the minutes players have played in World Cup 2022 qualifying in parentheses):

Goalkeepers. 'A last-minute decision'

Who's in. Zack Steffen (270 minutes), Sean Johnson (0), Ethan Horvath (0).
Who's not. Matt Turner (720 minutes), Gaga Slonina (0).

Turner's foot injury -- no, he didn't have frostbite -- likely leaves the choice between Steffen and Horvath, both of whom could play Sunday for their respective teams in the English FA Cup.

Steffen, the No. 1 keeper at the start of qualifying but limited to three starts because of back problems (and Covid), has returned to full training at Manchester City after injuries kept him from even dressing for all but three games in 2022 before his appearance on the bench at Crystal Palace on Monday.

"They're confident enough to put them on the bench," said Berhalter, who added that Steffen might start on Sunday when City plays at Southampton in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Horvath hasn't been called in for the USA since the opening window in September following his move to Nottingham Forest, where he was the No. 2 behind Brice Samba until the incumbent's red card and suspension in February. Since then, the Colorado product has started all six games -- four wins, two ties, three shutouts -- for Forest, which hosts Liverpool in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Horvath came on for Steffen in the second half of the Concacaf Nations League final and was the hero with the save on Andres Guardado's penalty kick to preserve the USA's 3-2 overtime win.

"He's definitely in contention, there's no question about it," said Berhalter of Horvath. "He's performed excellent lately, and it's going to be up to a last-minute decision. We're going have to assess both of them when they come into camp."

Outside backs. 'Not great news'

Who's in. Antonee Robinson (792 minutes), Sergino Dest (419), DeAndre Yedlin (363), Reggie Cannon (105).
Who's not. George Bello (135 minutes), Shaq Moore (81), Joe Scally (0), Sam Vines (0).

Hours before the roster announcement, Dest was injured in Barcelona's 2-1 win at Galatasaray. He has been playing his best soccer of the season, blossoming as a two-way defender under new coach Xavi. He'll likely miss Sunday's Clasico at Real Madrid and the three March qualifiers.

"It's not great news," Berhalter said. "The initial diagnosis seems to be a hamstring injury, but we're going get the final details tomorrow."

Dest was the standout in the October window but otherwise has had a rather quiet qualifying campaign -- six starts, five at right back. He was expected to split time on the right side with Cannon and serve as the backup to Antonee Robinson at left back. The plan will now be for Cannon and Yedlin to handle the duties at right back and bring in a second outside back from among the other players who have previously been in camp to back up Robinson (Bello, Moore, Scally and Vines).

"We also see Kellyn Acosta potentially being able to play left back," said Berhalter, "but with him having minutes in midfield, it may not be ideal."

Center backs. 'Details we need to improve on'

Who's in. Miles Robinson (718 minutes), Walker Zimmerman (545), James Sands (72), Aaron Long (0), Erik Palmer-Brown (0).
Who's not. Chris Richards (361 minutes), Mark McKenzie (180), John Brooks (135), Tim Ream (90).

Once again, no Brooks, and once again, a lot of questions about his absence for the fourth straight window.

Not for the first time, Berhalter referred to the "game plan for the window" and how a particular player not recalled did not fit into those plans.

"In October, he had an injury," Berhalter said of Brooks. "In November and January, we weren't happy with his club form. Now, he's back playing, and it becomes about what our game plan is for this window. And there's some details in his game that I talked to him about that we need to improve to fit into our game model, and we don't have time on Tuesday to improve these things. The game's on Thursday, the [next] game's on Sunday. There's not a runway here. So I think 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 will 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, but like a lot of players, we're never going to rule a guy out. That's not how we work."

The surprise pick of the window was Palmer-Brown, chosen over Mark McKenzie, who started road games at Honduras and Panama. EPB was acquired by Manchester City from Sporting KC in 2018 and was loaned out to four clubs before being transferred to French club Troyes this winter.

"We just kept watching him," said Berhalter, "and seeing the improvement every single week and seeing the tenacity and how he defends, his ability to deal with pace, deal with runners behind the back line, his ability to carry the ball forward, to make passes and build up."

Berhalter said Ligue 1 is a good testing ground for central defenders.

"When you look at a lot of the top center defenders, they've come from Ligue 1," he said. "And he's doing a great job lately, and we're really excited to get him back into camp and work with him."

Midfielders. 'Mind over matter'

Who's in. Tyler Adams (825 minutes), Yunus Musah (545), Kellyn Acosta (453), Luca de la Torre (104), Gianluca Busio (103), Cristian Roldan (80).
Who's not. Weston McKennie (623 minutes), Sebastian Lletget (230), Jackson Yueill (0).

Adams or McKennie has been on the field for the USA for all but the first half of the match at Panama -- one of the USA's worst halves of qualifying -- and the final seven minutes of the match against Honduras in St. Paul.

The issue the USA will face in the final three qualifiers is that McKennie is out (two broken bones in his foot) and Adams has played sparingly for RB Leipzig in the last four weeks.

Berhalter said McKennie is one player whom the USA can't easily replace.

"That's the thing," he said, "he's been so important to this group that we're not gonna plug a guy in and get a like for like, but that's OK. We've won games before without him [editor's note: the only qualifier the USA won without McKennie was the 4-1 win at Honduras] and we'll do it again."

The other players listed as midfielders are Acosta, Musah, de la Torre, Busio and Roldan though Berhalter added that Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna can play in midfield. "We'll have enough bodies to get someone on the field that we feel cab perform the role adequately."

Adams isn't the only key contributor who hasn't been getting a lot of minutes -- Berhalter also addressed the same situations regarding Ricardo Pepi and Tim Weah -- but Adams, the team leader in minutes and de facto captain -- is indispensable in the No. 6 role.

"With some guys, it comes down to mind over matter," said Berhalter when Soccer America asked him about Adams, "and that is going to be the case for Tyler. He's an important part of his team. We need to have him on the field, and even though he hasn't been getting game time, he's been training, he's fit and he's ready to go."

'It's a roller coaster'

Who's in. Brenden Aaronson (654 minutes), Timothy Weah (462), Christian Pulisic (378), Paul Arriola (164), Jordan Morris (105), Gio Reyna (90).
Who's not. Konrad De La Fuente (71 minutes), Matthew Hoppe (18).

For the first time since the start of qualifying, the USA could get Pulisic and Reyna on the field at the same time. Reyna was injured in the opening qualifier -- which Pulisic missed after being quarantined due to Covid -- and hasn't played for the USA since.

But given his limited minutes, Reyna is not expected to start. Berhalter said he mapped out with Dortmund coach Marco Rose the minutes Reyna  might play in the three qualifiers. "The important thing is us qualifying for the World Cup, first of all," he said. "But secondly is Gio returning healthy to his club, and we're mindful of his load."

Pulisic scored in both legs of Chelsea's UEFA Champions League series against Lille and has regained a starting position in the Blues' attack ahead of such players as Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.

"It's a roller coaster," Berhalter said of Pulisic's situation, "especially when you're at a club like Chelsea, when you're at these massive clubs, it's very, very difficult. And all you ask him to do is just to keep fighting, keep working and wait for his opportunity. And he's done that. And he's taken it. He's become, again, an important part of their team. He's shown that he can step up and score goals and make assists. And he has got a great knack for arriving in the penalty box, and he's got a finishing touch to him."

Pulisic's return to form has come as Weah's role at Lille has diminished. Weah was the USA's most consistent attacker over the last three windows, but he has played little in recent weeks and was caught napping on Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta's go-ahead goal in Chelsea's 2-1 win on Wednesday.

"We're going to have to use him in spots in this window," said Berhalter. "I don't think it's realistic to think that Timmy can play three 90-minute games, but he's certainly gonna be valuable for us in this window."

Forwards. 'Just goals'

Who's in. Ricardo Pepi (522 minutes), Jesus Ferreira (109), Jordan Pefok (109)
Who's not. Gyasi Zardes (179 minutes), Josh Sargent (116).

Like Horvath and Reyna, Pefok has been recalled for the first time since the opening window.

"Just goals" was Berhalter's explanation for Pefok's return -- 17 for Young Boys in the Swiss Super League and 22 overall.

Berhalter said Pefok is being brought in for the Panama game in Orlando: "We think we're going to need a box presence. We think we're going to need someone in there that can finish off crosses and he's been doing great."

Berhalter didn't come and and say it, but that leaves Pepi, who hasn't scored a goal in his last 17 games, as the likely starter up front against Mexico.

"Am I concerned about Ricardo Pepi? Absolutely. No question about it," he said. "We want him scoring goals. We want all our strikers scoring goals, and you could make the case that, why isn't Josh [Sargent] included the roster if he's not scoring and Pepi's not scoring? One thing with Ricardo is, getting back to the basics with him. He's a goalscorer. That's comes naturally to him and that's something we need him to refocus on, clear his mind, focus on doing the small things, getting in good positions, because if he gets in good positions, we're comfortable he's going to score."

25 comments about "Gregg Berhalter on what it will take for USA to qualify for World Cup".
  1. John Sabala, March 18, 2022 at 10:36 a.m.

      Same Old Idiot Rosters Selections,
    Lets start with the Fullbacks - If Dest is out we have no fullbacks with any type of attacking skill set that will help in the build up and taking on players 1v1 in the attacking third.  A. Robinson will get in the way and not allow the US to attack down the left side of our offense regardless of who is up top.  How do you leave Scally (Especially) and Vines off.  Scally could play RB if needed and has better skill sets than all those listed above him with the exception of Dest.  So think here....again need to go to a back 3 and use more of your athletic centerbacks.

    Centersbacks - Don't give me this crap about how Brooks does not fit your gameplan for the window.  He is arguably the best passer out of the back and you don't bring in Brooks, McKenzie and you don't have Richards. WTF!!!  Again this is the deepest part of our talen pool.  We don't ahve to worry about our outside back with this style of play using wingback gives us more control of the midfield and more on the ball talent to help in the attack.

    Midfieders and Wingers - Have to combine this one as they are related.  You need to move Aaronson and Reyna to Midfield to combine with Musah.  Musah can handle the physical play and give the ball to the other two in dangerous spots free from being hammered outside the box trying to dribble.  You also bring in Julian Green and not Roldan as he has much better vision and would be a far better sub off the bench for Musah as they play similar roles on their clubs. Green has the experience.  We should not have Morris or Arriola.  How did he leave Sargent off!!! Another WTF.  A dual role now winger and striker gives you so many more options on the pitch over the three game window.  The dude is flat out playing great soccer on a bad team.  Should have brought Hoppe, I know he is not playing much, but his height and skills with the left foot bring something missing in the other wingers.

    Strikers - Pepi as a third one, but should have left off Ferreira. Again Sargent should be on the team clearly. Best pressing forward we have.

    Goal Keeper - Horvath is the starter for me. Steffan last game if he is fit.

    Strap in will be a bumpy ride with a very good chance of going to the playoff scenario.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, March 18, 2022 at noon

    Agreed John. 

  3. Santiago 1314 replied, March 18, 2022 at 6:32 p.m.

    Pretty much agree JB... Can't see going to a 3 back at this Late Stage

  4. Seth Vieux replied, March 18, 2022 at 6:41 p.m.

    Yep - this man continues to mystify me with his roster construction.

  5. Santiago 1314, March 18, 2022 at 1:37 p.m.

    1st things First... Anyone want to see what a "Real" Coach is, and How he Communicates his Vision for a Program, Team, Game and Individual... Go to Utube: FifaAmerica interview with Hugo Perez ... THE REALITY OF THE CRAP, we have been Living thru with Ggg, will become SOOOoooo Clear.!!!

  6. Santiago 1314, March 18, 2022 at 2:02 p.m.

    Let's Breakdown the GKs:
    1st: Where is the "Documentation" that Turner does not have Frostbite.???
    (Is this going to be like the Hunter Biden Lap Top "DisInformation" that even NYTimes now says, One Year Later, It was ALL True.!!!)
    Steffen will come Up, with another Mysterious "Injury", When it is Determined Horvath will Start.
    Steffen should NOT Start, 7 games played since last August... only 2 were Competitive 10/27/21  and 12/7/21.
    (Lady)Gaga Slonina {Hope you all took my Movie Advice and Watched: House of Gucci} Should be Brought IN, even as 4th GK ... IF, "IF"(Big IF) We are Qualified after First 2 games, He should play In Costa Rica... That will "Cap Tie" him to USA (over Poland)... Again, Long Term Vision( see Hugo Perez UTube)
    Horvath is Playing Well RIGHT NOW, If FORM and NOT Favoritism is Deciding Factor... (But, we know Form doesn't matter to Ggg; just Look at choice of. Long vs Brooks)

  7. Wooden Ships replied, March 18, 2022 at 4:04 p.m.

    Hugo intimidated the powers including klinsmann and goofy assistant. They knew he was the real deal, it was unspoken. I mean if Cryuff wants you to play for him, lol. 

  8. Seth Vieux replied, March 18, 2022 at 6:43 p.m.

    100% agree on Horvath and Slonina Santi.

  9. Kevin Leahy, March 18, 2022 at 2:03 p.m.

    John, I hope somehow he gets it right. Agree with your thoughts. It is hard to understand some of these choices. He will have to live or die with his choices. If Canada doesn't take 2 points off of Costa Rica, I see Costa Rica ending up in third. Losing any points to Panama will kill us off. Hope for the best!

  10. Wooden Ships replied, March 18, 2022 at 4:14 p.m.

    Kevin, I hope we get through too, really do. If not this is on Stewart, McBride and Greggiola. Think they'll do the honorable thing and step down? I don't. We are still playing this dual national mind meld and MLS vs abroad crap. It ruined us last Cup and it's still there. Heard an anonymous USSF staffer state that the GG hire wasn't nepotism but a careful review of his accomplished coaching resume. If we don't qualify again, not only should the three above resign, we should raise the Soccer House and get the hell out of Chicago too. Is Lightfoot on retainer? 

  11. John Sabala replied, March 18, 2022 at 4:34 p.m.

    Lets face it.  The hiring of GB was nothing more than the Good Ol' Boy Club and nothing more.  His resume has no accomplishments on it. If you go by that account you should have left Bruce Arena. If they wanted to stay home based the best choice was Tab Ramos IMHOP.

  12. John Sabala replied, March 18, 2022 at 4:39 p.m.

    Also, if USSF cronies pick a coach with a coach with no real MLS ties they know these players will not be used for the national team.  USSF will not do that for a million years. You are correct that there is this us verus them mentality with the Europe based players versus MLS players.

  13. Kent James, March 18, 2022 at 2:10 p.m.

    I think GB has generally done well, given all the injuries this squad has faced. I think most of his picks are fine; I get concerns about Arriola, Roldan, and Morris; they will never be as good as some of these young guys might be, but they do provide some reliability (you kind of know what you're going to get) and Morris and Arriola are very capable of doing quite well.  I am also not privvy to how these guys interact with each other, which is important to building a team, and sometimes players can help others around them play better.  

    I have two concerns; first, I thought De La Fuente was very good in his last outing, so he deserved a spot.  The other one is the absence of Greg Sargent.  GB actually addresses the question (why pick Pepi but not Sargent when neither is scoring goals?) but the answer he gives makes more sense to pick Sargent, since he points out that Pepi is a pure goalscorer (if you're a pure goalscorer who isn't scoring, what are you bringing to the team?).  I feel like Sargent has a lot of attributes (great touch, great runs off the ball, very good at pressing the other team, and has more versatility).  I'd like to see him get a chance.  I don't mind Pepi being called in (maybe with a boost of confidence from the coach he'll get back to scoring goals), but I'm not sure he should be starting against Mexico.

  14. John Sabala replied, March 18, 2022 at 3:34 p.m.

    Bottom line this is the last window to qualify for the WC and we did not bring our best players in for this window.  Forget all the other BS Berhalter spouts, because he speaks with two faces. It is not about skill, form or anything other than his favorites.  This is the toughest window to play with two away games where we have not won in WC qualifying.  So there is no excuse to not bring in your best players.  You build the play around the team, don't bend the team to your system. 

  15. Santiago 1314 replied, March 18, 2022 at 6:37 p.m.

    JS, if he would loosen his Underwear, we could hear what he is saying out of that other face.!!!

  16. R2 Dad, March 18, 2022 at 9:01 p.m.

    No one is talking about beating Mexico. We beat them twice last summer, and now we're in their heads. What would it mean to win at Azteca? That means the rest of the week is just business and no more drama. I want our program to look forward to Azteca so we can beat them at home--again. 
    Leaving Brooks at home is a Bruce Arena-ish thing to do, as our back line is the weakest link we have. Scally's D is top shelf--can't say that for everyone on this list of defenders.
    USSF seems to have forgotten what a setback Couva was. With GB's linecard and subs, it's still possible to screw the pooch again. If we don't qualify I expect every last USSF employee involved with the USMNT to fall on their swords. All the way down to scouts. Everyone is replacable.

  17. Santiago 1314 replied, March 18, 2022 at 11:05 p.m.

    FACT: Every Team will have to "Use Up" their Players, Starting in Game #1 ... None of the Top #5 is IN or OUT.!!!...  Does It make Any sense for a Team #4 or #5 to "Rest" Players for Game #2.????... because, if you Lose Game #1, you are probably OUT,... by game #3 Costa Rica will be Lucky to have 11 Healthy Players.

  18. Karl Schreiber, March 19, 2022 at 12:07 a.m.

    Surprisingly, an important topic has not been brought up here: Why are we assembling and preparing our team at SEA LEVEL for a match that will be played at an elevation of 7,300 feet? Why not assemble and prepare at Denver (5300 feet)?
    On player selection, I defer to the experts. However, after reading Paul Kennedy's report several times, I still do not understand Berhalter's blah blah blah about leaving Brooks out and why we are cutting Pepi a lot of slack while he is struggling to perform at club and USMNT levels.
    USA! USA!

  19. John Sabala replied, March 19, 2022 at 4:47 a.m.

      Karl, yes I did not even mention this part of training, but you make a very good point about training for Mexico.  Training in Denver would have helped with acclamating to the higher elevation. Again, it shows the ineptitude of decision makers, just like the winter window venue choices. And as a matter of fact, the choice to play Panama at home in Orlando. Should have went northeast somewhere.

  20. Santiago 1314 replied, March 19, 2022 at 6:35 a.m.

    Karl, Just another Reason Ggg should be Fired.!!!... They are Basically "Throwing Away" the First Game... They Should be meeting in Denver and Training at The US Air Force Academy, Like we did, IF THEY WERE COMPETENT AND SERIOUS ABOUT WINNING in Mexico.... 6788ft and the Training Field are even Higher UP, on the side of the Mountains. (You do have to watch out for the Snow coming over the Mountains, like happened to us, IN JUNE. But Our Players are Used to MinnaSOcold, so shouldn't have been an issue)
    (Remember, we have Chartered Plane) Flight Time from Houston to D.F. 2:20... from Denver 5:20 ... So for 3 hours Difference, you "Piss Away" any opportunity to Aclimatize and PSYCHOLOGICALLY prepare a Group of Young Players who have NEVER Played, a CONcacaCrApF World Cup Qualifier, in that Altitude... whole USSF Staff needs to be Fired.!!!

  21. Santiago 1314 replied, March 19, 2022 at 6:53 a.m.

    2nd point: why Houston.??? ... If the Point is: "Forget about the First Game" and to Aclimatize for 2 "Hotter" games in Orlando and Costa Rica, Then WHY NOT just fly into Orlando Directly.???...
    Set Up "Base Camp" and Train and Fly IN/Out of there.???...3hr40min to D.F. ... Less Stress on the Players and Staff, having to Pack and Re-Pack... Just gonna be Gone to the D.F. For a few Hours... Flying IN Day Before Game
    And because you have Chartered Flight; you Fly OUT right after the Game, Back to the same Hotel and Rooms you had in Orlando.!!! ... Another Reason the Whole USSF Staff should be Fired.!!!

  22. Santiago 1314, March 19, 2022 at 7:29 a.m.

    I'm going to Skip OUTSIDE Defenders and Jump to Central Defenders; Because the "Brooks" Debacle is "Played Out" in each Unit, but In Brooks' Case we have the Own words of Ggg to Work with:
    "...there's some details in his game that I talked to him about that we need to improve to fit into our game model, and we don't have time on Tuesday to improve these things."
    BUT Ggg, you did have the Chance to Bring him IN, in NOV, DEC, JAN and Fix those Issues.!!!
    Even if you didn't Plan to play him, you could have Been Fixing ISSUES... And this Goes for about 10 players... Hoppe, Sargent, Dike, Pefok, KDLF, LDLT, Horvath, Moore, Green, Scally, CCV, EPB, Vines, Bello, Reynolds, Giocochino... (I'm at 16, probably leaving out Someone)
    I advocated FROM THE BEGINNING: Bring IN 35-40 players per Window... This could have, AND SHOULD HAVE, Been Set-Up as more of a "Club Team"... ANY Player that was ON THE DEPTH CHART, should have been Brought IN, No Matter their Club Form... EACH WINDOW.Remember what Hugo said in the Beginning: "USA IS 3 TEAMS DEEP"
    If Ggg thought they were Good Enough at "Some Point", Why didn't he have them Ready AT THIS POINT, When we Need ALL HANDS ON DECK.!!!
    As has become Painfully Evident, with 5 STARTERS OUT, We are at Crunch Time and Trying to Intergrate: Pefok, EPB, Bello, Horvath, LDLT... And the One Player with All the Previous Experience in WC: BROOKS IS STILL NOT "FIXED" since he Screwed Up in ONE EARLY WINDOW.
    100 million sitting in the Bank, and they CAN'T figure this Out.!?!?!?

  23. Wooden Ships, March 20, 2022 at 9:21 p.m.

    And now a 3rd important player injured. That's the way it usually goes. 

  24. Santiago 1314 replied, March 20, 2022 at 11:03 p.m.

    Dang, Let's Hope it's a "Minor" Knee Injury... Sounds like RB held him out... Otherwise, why would they let him travel to Houston.??? ... He's worth about 22million on the TransferMarket...
    A good showing IN this Window and he will go up to Leeds another 10mil.

  25. Santiago 1314 replied, March 22, 2022 at 12:38 a.m.

    Dang He's OUT... How Stupid of Red Bull... Putting 22mil Out in a game versus Team you are 15 points ahead of in the Standings and you lead the aLiga by 12 Points .. just Lost 10 million and maybe More Down the Line ... Stupid Investing I say.!!!... Someone oughta be Fired for that.!!!!

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