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Pefok, Vazquez, Ream: Can any of the USMNT's September snubs earn a World Cup spot?

22:21 BST 29/09/2022
Jordan Pefok Gregg Berhalter USMNT
GOAL looks at five players that still have USMNT hopes with the World Cup around the corner.

There always seems to be some sort of surprise when World Cup rosters are announced.

From shocking omissions to risky inclusions, the U.S. men's national team has seen its share of World Cup controversy. Who can forget Julian Green's rise from anonymous to World Cup star, or the fact that it perhaps came at the expense of Landon Donovan?

As the USMNT prepares for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, there could still be some surprises. With squads expanded to 26, Gregg Berhalter will have more roster flexibility than any of his predecessors.

Could he use that flexibility to take a big swing with a surprise September omission? Could he bring in a hot hand to replace an out-of-form regular? Could a familiar face make a late surge?

Here's a look at five players who could force their way into the World Cup squad after being left out of September camp:

  • Pefok Union Berlin 2022-23

    Jordan Pefok

    The first and most obvious one.

    It could certainly be argued that Pefok was the big winner of the camp despite not being called in to play against Japan and Saudi Arabia. As his competitors floundered, Pefok was able to watch on knowing that his club form could be enough to lift him into the squad.

    So far, his club form has been spectacular. He's scoring goals for Union Berlin, who are right at the top of the Bundesliga. That's a level that no other USMNT striker is playing at right now.

    Will that be enough to get him into the squad? Well, it probably should, even if he isn't the perfect fit for Berhalter's system. Worst case, Pefok is a good change of pace for when the USMNT needs a goal because, at least for his club, he's proved he can get them.

  • Tim Ream Fulham 2022

    Tim Ream

    Given what we saw from Aaron Long during this past window, is it smart to write Tim Ream off?

    Ream has, for all intents and purposes, been written off for much of the past year. The veteran defender doesn't quite fit with this young USMNT group, and his lack of mobility makes him a less-than-ideal partner for Walker Zimmerman.

    But, like Pefok, can you really deny the level that Ream is playing at? He's been a rock for Fulham for years, including during the early stages of the Premier League this season.

    Ream brings leadership, experience and a bit more quality on the ball than any other healthy defender in the pool right now. He may be older, yes, but, if you're choosing the best center backs, Ream might have to be on that list considering the level he is playing at week in, week out for his club.

  • Brandon Vazquez FC Cincinnati

    Brandon Vazquez

    Could Brandon Vazquez's first cap really come at a World Cup?

    Going by purely goalscoring form, Berhalter should at least consider it. He's got 16 goals so far this season, after all, for a surging FC Cincinnati team.

    Ricardo Pepi, meanwhile, has scored once in the last year. Josh Sargent has started well this season, but spent basically all of last season not scoring goals. Ferreira has been great for his club, but generally wasteful with the USMNT, even if he does fit the system better than anyone else in the pool.

    Even so, Vazquez faces an uphill battle, simply because he's never been on the field for the USMNT. Throwing him to the wolves at a World Cup would be a big ask, even if he was brought in as a third striker.

    That said, stranger things have happened, and goals solve most problems.

  • James Sands USMNT 2021

    James Sands

    The Rangers defender/midfielder seems to be on the outside looking in.

    He wasn't called up in September and is seemingly way down the depth chart at center back, the position he's most likely to play with the U.S.

    He's had some growing pains with Rangers, notably against Ajax in the Champions League, but the former NYCFC star is playing at a high level with the Scottish giants. He's not super fast and he's certainly not very experienced against top teams at the international level.

    But Sands is also a unique player in this player pool as he has a different kind of game than any of his competitors. He can play center back in a back two or three and can operate as a No. 6 as well.

    If Plan A, the 4-3-3, isn't working, it would be nice to have a Plan B, and Sands is a player who can turn Plan B into a reality.

    Still, the fact that Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie were both called in ahead of him is a worrying sign that says Sands' hopes are pretty much over.

  • Williamson USMNT 2021

    Eryk Williamson

    The Portland Timbers midfielder was one of many players namedropped by Berhalter ahead of the camp and, after watching how the USMNT handled Yunus Musah's absence, you do have to wonder...

    Williamson earned four caps for the USMNT in 2021, but hasn't been called in yet this year. However, his skillset seems like it could help in Qatar.

    One of the big takeaways from the September window was that the U.S. simply cannot afford to lose Musah, who is possibly the only player in the pool that can be trusted to consistently bring the ball up field.

    At least in MLS, Williamson can do that. He can receive the ball, turn, run a little bit and find a pass. It's something the U.S. sorely lacked against Saudi Arabia and Japan.

    Luca de la Torre is still probably the Musah backup, even if he struggled against Japan. But, if Berhalter needs to go in a different direction, he could do worse than Williamson.