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Pefok, Wright and the USMNT's biggest snubs for the final pre-World Cup friendlies

3:12 am AEST 16/9/22
Jordan Pefok USMNT 2022
Several World Cup hopefuls have been left out of the final squad for friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. men's national team's final pre-World Cup squad was announced on Wednesday. Two friendlies before the big decisions, two more chances for players to stake their claim for a spot on the plane to Qatar.

But most notable wasn't the names in that 26-player squad, it was the names that were left out with the World Cup edging closer.

Gregg Berhalter omitted several hopefuls from his team who were previously thought to be in contention. He made difficult cuts.

"It's important to keep in mind that this is not the final roster," Berhalter said. "It's not the final roster for the World Cup. A lot can happen between now and November 9, which is when we're announcing the final roster. The actual date for FIFA is November 14, and a lot can happen between the ninth and the 14th."

He continued: "It's not easy when I have to have these conversations with guys but I've spoken to all of them and explained the reasoning. I also let them know the same message I'm giving you guys: it's not decided. There's still some time that they can try to earn their way onto the team."

As Berhalter said, these cuts aren't death sentences for players' World Cup dreams. There is still time to make a case before the roster is decided by performing well at club level. It's just going to be difficult to get his attention without being in the upcoming camp.

Here's a look at some notable snubs from Berhalter's squad...

  • Antonee Robinson Fulham 2022

    The injury absences

    Before anyone gets too stressed, there are some regulars who haven't been named to the squad because of injury issues.

    Antonee Robinson is still the go-to left-back, but he's out right now with an ankle injury. Sam Vines has been called in and will now have a chance to push to be Robinson's backup.

    Tim Weah is also out, having missed the start of the season with Lille due to a foot injury. Like Robinson, his World Cup spot is not in doubt.

    At goalkeeper, Zack Steffen has been nursing an injury at Middlesbrough, giving Berhalter a chance to call in both Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson, two players pushing for that third goalkeeper spot, while Cristian Roldan, a regular for the U.S. off the bench, misses out due to an injury as well.

    And finally, there's the long-term absence of Miles Robinson, who remains out after suffering a catastrophic Achilles injury this summer.

  • Vazquez MLS All-Star 2022

    Brandon Vazquez

    There was perhaps no one who needed to be in this camp more than Vazquez. He'll be sorely disappointed to have missed out.

    The FC Cincinnati forward has broken out in a big way this season, scoring 16 goals in 29 MLS games. That's good for sixth best in MLS, with the only American scoring more than him being Jesus Ferreira, who looks set to be a part of the World Cup squad.

    With his breakthrough so recent, Vazquez has yet to earn a USMNT call-up, having last played at the international level as a U-20 back in 2016. The thought was that Berhalter could take a look this window, giving the 23-year-old striker one last-gasp chance to prove he should be on the plane to Qatar.

    "I feel bad for Brandon," Berhalter said. "I talked to him and I told him it's not the end and to continue to do what he's doing and keep himself in the conversation. That's all I can do."

  • Gabriel Slonina Chicago Fire 2022

    Gabriel Slonina

    It looks like the race to be the third goalkeeper has been narrowed down to two.

    Johnson and Horvath were called in to join Matt Turner as the three goalkeepers in the squad, with Steffen, already a World Cup lock, out. Johnson and Horvath have both gotten looks from the staff before, and it has been widely expected that the race to be the third goalkeeper would be down to those two.

    Slonina, though, was one that many thought had an outside chance. A young, up-and-coming future star, Slonina sealed a move to Chelsea this summer and is seen by many as the goalkeeper of the future.

    Many teams bring their top young goalkeeper to the World Cup in that No. 3 spot, offering them a major life experience in preparation for the day where they take over.

    Berhalter, it seems, won't make that move, with Johnson and Horvath set to duke it out as Slonina waits his turn.

  • James Sands USMNT 2021

    James Sands

    There was no room in the squad for Sands despite a strong overall start to his club campaign.

    A player who can play in both midfield or as a central defender, Sands would offer the USMNT tactical flexibility. He's a great fit for a back three, should Berhalter ever want or need to change things up.

    But Berhalter instead looked across Glasgow to Cameron Carter-Vickers who, to his credit, has also shined with Celtic, to join regulars like Chris Richards, Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman among the central defenders.

  • Tim Ream Fulham 2022

    Tim Ream

    It's a shame that Tim Ream will almost certainly never play at a World Cup.

    Ream has been strong for Fulham to start the Premier League season, with the recently-promoted club sitting midtable through six games. They've allowed just nine goals in those six games, all Ream starts.

    But the 34-year-old defender, who has 46 caps to his name, has fallen totally out of the picture as younger options have seized spots. Ream hasn't played for the U.S. since last September, when he started the World Cup qualifying opener against El Salvador.

    "He has been doing well," Berhalter explained. "His team's doing well. He's been captaining the side.

    "Some of the things that we're looking for in our center backs is to play a high line, cover a lot of space behind them, be dominant in the air, dominant on offensive and defensive set pieces, and that's not Tim, but he's a guy that can help the team with the ball. He reads the game really well and is a very good player.

    "In this particular camp, we went with slightly different profiles. We'll give these guys an opportunity to see what they can do."

  • Pefok Union Berlin 2022

    Jordan Pefok

    Pefok's good form wasn't quite enough to get him called in.

    The striker has hit the ground running for Union Berlin, having made the jump to the Bundesliga from the Swiss league this summer. He's scored three goals in his first six games for the club in all competitions.

    However, he has dealt with an early-season injury that seems to have popped up at the worst possible time. Pefok potentially needed these minutes and this camp to show what he could offer at the in-flux No. 9 spot.

    However, Berhalter says to not write him off just yet.

    "It's never easy," Berhalter said. "It was a decision that we weren't going to bring in four forwards. We didn't feel like we had enough game time to get four forwards an opportunity, so we went with these three.

    "We're pretty confident we know Jordan's profile. We know what he can do, and we didn't feel like we needed to see him in this camp to determine whether he can be on the roster now."

  • Wright USMNT 2022

    Haji Wright

    Berhalter was seemingly left unimpressed by the striker previously as he called him out for his performance against El Salvador.

    “It’s always difficult when players get an opportunity and don’t fully capitalize on it. It’s not nice for a coach, it’s not nice for the player, it’s not nice for the group,” Berhalter said at the time. “We’re all rooting for Haji to be a force. We purposely played more direct in the first half, because we thought he could be the force that would unsettle them. And it just wasn’t his night tonight.”

    He added: “It doesn’t rule him out for anything in the future. We don’t work like that. Now it’s about him going back to his club and continue to score goals and do his thing. But you know, it was an unlucky night for him tonight for sure.”

    Wright's absence from this camp speaks volumes, though. He's scored five in six games for Antalyaspor after scoring 15 times for the club last season.

    However, it looks like it won't be enough.

  • Mihailovic Montreal 2022

    Djordje Mihailovic

    If not for an ill-timed injury, Mihailovic could be in contention.

    The CF Montreal midfielder, who recently earned himself a move to AZ Alkmaar after the MLS season, was set to join the U.S. this summer after emerging as a star for his club. However, an ankle injury ruled him out of camp, robbing him of a chance to impress Berhalter and his staff.

    He won't get that chance this month, either.

    It would have been nice to see how the former Chicago Fire midfielder fits with this current group. He hasn't featured for the U.S. since 2020, making just one appearance that year after earning his first five caps the year prior.

    But, at age 23, even if he does miss this tournament, the door isn't shut for Mihailovic to continue to evolve into a valuable USMNT contributor going forward.

  • Moore USMNT 2021

    Shaq Moore

    This summer, Moore moved to Nashville after spending several years in Spain's lower leagues. The idea was to get more playing time in MLS, giving him a good push towards the World Cup.

    It wasn't quite enough to get him in this squad.

    Sergino Dest's spot is locked in on the right. DeAndre Yedlin and Reggie Cannon are experienced players battling for that backup spot. And, on the other side, Berhalter turned to Vines, with Joe Scally versatile enough to play on the left or the right.

    That left no room for Moore, who has shown well during his more recent USMNT appearances.

    "Shaq Moore was a really difficult decision," Berhalter admitted. "He's been playing well for Nashville. We really like his one-on-one defending but, again, opted for other players in this window."

  • Busio USMNT 2021

    The best of the rest

    There are plenty of other players who could have been called in despite seeing the writing on the wall for this particular World Cup.

    Gianluca Busio looked set to be a key player, but was leapfrogged by Luca de la Torre when it came to that creative midfield spot.

    Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie have been in the mix at center back, as has Matt Miazga, but it seems there is just too much ground to make up.

    Berhalter also name dropped the likes of Johnny Cardoso and Eryk Williamson as players who have been, and remain, on the radar.