Gregg Berhalter explains USMNT squad choices: 'This was the hardest roster that we've ever had to pick'



With a chance to win the third consecutive Concacaf Nations League title on the line, Gregg Berhalter has named his 23-man roster for the United States Men’s national team. Taking place in Arlington, Texas the USMNT will face Jamaica in the semifinals on March 21 (with coverage starting at 6 p.m. on Paramount+) ahead of a date with the winner between Panama and Mexico if they’re able to emerge with a victory. It won’t be an easy road as Sergino Dest is suspended for the Jamaica match due to receiving a red card against Trinidad & Tobago but Tyler Adams‘ return to the squad will bring a morale boost.

After captaining the USMNT at the World Cup, Adams has suffered numerous hamstring injuries and has only featured in 20 minutes of play for Bournemouth this season in the EFL Cup in September before returning to the bench for their most recent match against Sheffield United over the weekend. With such a lack of fitness, it’s unexpected for Adams to play a role on the pitch during these games, but for the USMNT, having one of their leaders back is quite a boost.

“We’ve been monitoring Tyler really closely, I had a chance to speak with his coach two days ago to see where he’s at and he’s making a ton of progress with them, he’s hoping to get him some game time today so he is progressing to the point that he can make an impact,” Berhalter said on Adam’s fitness.”

Playing time concerns don’t end with Adams, however, as Yunus Musah, Tim Weah, and Gio Reyna have all had diminished roles in 2024 so far. While Musah and Weah are at least coming off the bench for their clubs, Reyna has only logged 38 minutes for Nottingham Forest since moving to the club on loan from Borussia Dortmund. His fitness will be in question as while Reyna is one of the most talented players in the entire player pool, if he’s not match-fit to play 90 minutes, he may be a liability if Berhalter chooses for him to start these must-win games.

Speaking about the roster on UEFA Champions League Today, Berhalter mentioned how hard these choices were to make.

“This was the hardest roster that we’ve ever had to pick based on the players in form at their clubs and performing at high levels. So, it was really difficult,” Berhalrer said. “When I think about some of the names left off… it just shows you how difficult the selection is these days for the United States national team.”

Looking at the roster, there are no frills and no experimentation for Berhalter, which shows the importance of the competition. He has brought in what would be considered his most trusted members of the USMNT at the moment as even Zack Steffen returning to health and working out the rust with the Colorado Rapids hasn’t been included in this roster. Another major absentee from this roster is Brenden Aaronson. Struggling for form at Union Berlin this season, the versatile midfielder is absent from the USMNT without an injury for the first time since November of 2020, excluding Gold Cups and January camps. It’s quite a call by Berhalter as Malik Tillman and Johnny Cardoso are likely the players who made if over Aaronson, but it’s a call that shows no one’s spot in the USMNT is guaranteed. 

Let’s take a look at the roster:

Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): 22-Drake Callender (Inter Miami; 0/0), 18-Ethan Horvath (Cardiff City/WAL; 9/0), Matt Turner (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 37/0)

DEFENDERS (8): 2-Sergiño Dest (PSV Eindhoven/NED; 32/2), 23-Kris Lund (Palermo/ITA; 3/0), 16-Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 13/0), 13-Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 55/1), 3-Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG; 14/1), 5-Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 39/4), 12-Miles Robinson (FC Cincinnati; 28/3), 19-Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 8/0)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 4-Tyler Adams (Bournemouth/ENG; 36/1), 15-Johnny Cardoso (Real Betis/ESP; 9/0), 14-Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 20/0), 8-Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 49/11), 6-Yunus Musah (AC Milan/ITA; 33/0), 7-Gio Reyna (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 24/7) 

FORWARDS (6): 20-Folarin Balogun (Monaco/FRA; 8/3), 17-Malik Tillman (PSV Eindhoven/NED; 8/0), 9-Ricardo Pepi (PSV Eindhoven/NED; 22/10), 10-Christian Pulisic (AC Milan/ITA; 64/28), 11-Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 23/5), 21-Tim Weah (Juventus/ITA; 35/5)

Stability is key

On this roster, 13 of the 23 players have more than 20 caps each and 13 also represented the USMNT at the 2022 World Cup. While there has been tinkering at the fringes of the squad to learn who else Berhalter can trust which has led to players like Kris Lund and Johnny Cardoso’s rise among the ranks, it’s a clear sign that the top roster is becoming quite stable. This is good as it allows the players to gain more familiarity with those around them, but it does speak to the lack of depth around certain positions. Even with playing time concerns, Reyna, Weah, and Musah made the squad and while I’m not looking to say that they shouldn’t have, if the USMNT had depth of the teams ahead of them in the FIFA rankings, it may have been a tougher decision for Berhalter on who to include as opposed to who to leave home.

There were still tough decisions as Aaronson, Walker Zimmerman, and Steffen were all left home but with rosters like this one, it’s a good chance to look at where the USMNT wants to be. To get there, Berhaler will need at least 30 top quality players to choose from so that if injuries happen to his regulars, there is the ability to mix and match the squad as needed, while also ensuring that no one gets too comfortable in their spots. After gaining experience at the Olympics, members of the U23s may flesh out some of this depth but there is a long way to go to jump into the top 10 teams in the world. 

Where is Brenden?

It took a few passes at the roster to see that Union Berlin midfielder Brendern Aaronson wasn’t on it. Floating between midfield and the wing, he has become a regular for Berhalter racking up 38 caps for the National team and when he hasn’t missed a competitive match since 2020 excluding the Gold Cup for the USMNT that wasn’t due to injury, it’s usually pretty safe to assume that Aaronson is in the squad but when he plays on the wing and in deeper roles in midfield, there are other options for his minutes. 

“This selection, this group in March is obviously not a permanent group. This is not going to be the group guaranteed moving forward until 2026 and that’s an important distinction. Any player anytime has the opportunity to play their way into the team,
 Berhalter said when asked about what went through leaving Aaronson out of the squad.

“With Brenden, when we’re looking at our midfield in particular as he’s been playing there a lot for Union Berlin there are guys ahead of him right now and this is only a slice in time. He’s been a valuable member of our team, we’ve got a lot of respect for Brenden and what he’s done in his career and how he’s been able to grow and progress over these last couple of years and the message for him was, ‘I know this hurts, I know it’s a setback but use it to make you stronger and to keep going and to keep fighting your wat though the obstacles that you have to overcome right now’ and it was a good conversation, players are always disappointed but it’s not a permanent solution.”

Aaronson has only scored one goal for Union Berlin this season and in 2024, he has only started two matches for the German side despite them trying to stave off relegation. While the door is never closed between Berhalter and players in the squad, this is a time that shows that Aaronson needs to earn his spot back into the roster.

What to do without Dest?

While he’s in the squad, Dest’s suspension means that Joe Scally will need to start the first game against Jamaica at right back which changes the defensive configuration. While it would be great to see Mark McKenzie and Chris Richards start at center back as Berhalter works to figure out the central pairing of the future, that’s harder to do considering the situation which is why Tim Ream is in the squad. Ream may not be flashy but he’s consistent and that counts for a lot in must win matches. If I had to guess, it will be Scally, Richards, Ream, and Antonee Robinson in front of Matt Turner on March 21.





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