Christian Pulisic Weston McKennie in USMNT squad for September friendlies

Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, and the Leeds United duo of Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams are among those chosen for the United States men’s national team’s 26-player roster ahead of the last set of pre-World Cup friendlies.

The US will play Japan in Dusseldorf, Germany, on Sept. 23, with a match against Saudi Arabia scheduled in Murcia, Spain, four days later. The team will convene in Cologne for the first day of training on Sept. 19.

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The US opens the World Cup on Nov. 21 against Wales, with matches against England and Iran to follow.

“It’s important to keep in mind that this is not the final roster,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said during a virtual media availability Wednesday. “It’s not the final roster for the World Cup. A lot can happen between now and Nov. 9, which is when we’re announcing the final roster.

“That was the conversation I had with the players not selected in this camp is that a lot can happen. Some of the positions, we’re looking to evaluate certain guys that we don’t have enough information on. Other players just weren’ t selected.”

Given this is the last time Berhalter will see his players up close until the team meets up in Qatar, the players who are absent are notable as well. Union Berlin forward Jordan Pefok, who has three goals and two assists so far this season, was among the omissions.

While he has been dealing with a muscle injury of late, he did log 75 minutes in last weekend’s 1-0 win over FC Cologne that sent Berlin to the top of the Bundesliga.

“Regarding Jordan, it’s a difficult one,” Berhalter said. “It was a decision that we weren’t gonna bring in four forwards. We didn’t feel like we had enough game time to give four forwards an opportunity. So we went with these three, and we’re pretty confident. We know Jordan’s profile. We know what he can do. We didn’t feel like we needed to see him in this camp to determine whether he could be on the roster or not.”

Fulham left back Antonee Robinson was also excluded due to an ankle injury he picked up in a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur back on Sept 3. His spot on the roster is secure if he’s healthy. Injury also prevented Lille midfielder Timothy Weah from taking part.

Defender John Brooks is another omission. Long on the outside looking in, and despite his playing pedigree from years spent in the Bundesliga, Brooks has yet to log any minutes for new club Benfica.

Even with Pefok’s absence, the competition at the forward spot figures to be intense.

Norwich City forward Joshua Sargent has been rewarded for his stellar start to the season in the English Championship, one in which he has scored five goals in eight league appearances. His call-up is his first since the first round of World Cup qualifiers back in September 2021.

Ricardo Pepi earned a surprise recall, his first since the World Cup qualifying window held in March 2021. Pepi has endured a barren spell in front of goal, having failed to score since October 2021.

But Pepi contributed an assist for new club FC Groningen in last weekend’s 1-0 win over Cambuur and thus was included.

Pepi and Sargent are joined by FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira, who tallied his 18th goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-1 win over LAFC. That means FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez and Antalyaspor’s Haji Wright, both in fine form for their respective clubs, miss out.

“When you talk about a guy like Ricardo [Pepi]who has three goals in qualifying, has played in a number of World Cup qualifiers with us,” Berhalter explained. “When you think about Josh Sargent — started in some really big games for us, played in qualifying, played Nations League semifinal , final, has also been around for a while.

“The decision was made to give these guys an opportunity. I feel bad for Brandon [Vazquez]. I talked to him, and I told him it’s not the end and continue to do what he’s doing and keep himself in the conversation. That’s all I can do.”

The goalkeeper position is another one that has been a concern of late, given the lack of first-team minutes for some members of the contingent.

A knee injury to Middlesbrough’s Zack Steffen has seen him miss four consecutive matches and will prevent him from appearing for the Americans. Arsenal keeper Matt Turner, Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and New York City FC’s Sean Johnson will vie for minutes during the upcoming window.

“Matt Turner, I don’t expect fitness to be an issue,” Berhalter said of the former New England Revolution goalkeeper who has made just one competitive appearance for Arsenal since joining the Premier League club this summer. “Maybe a little bit of rhythm and rust could come into play.

“I think for Zack [Steffen]it’s getting rhythm, it’s getting training with him,” Berhalter added “He’s been out a considerable amount of time, and for him, I think the important thing — and this is the conversation I have with him — is to stay in his daily environment, work every single day to get back on the field.”

Berhalter also revealed that he has been in contact with dual-national midfielder Alejandro Zendejas. The Club America player represented the US at youth level before subsequently appearing in two senior friendlies for Mexico, although questions have been raised over his eligibility, given that he has not signed an official one-time switch with FIFA to represent El Tri.

“This is a guy that’s been in our youth programs,” Berhalter said. “So when you ask if he’s on our radar, he’s been on a radar all along, and he’s a guy that participated in youth national teams and has grown up in the [U.S.] youth soccer system.

“We’ve been watching him, we’ve been monitoring him. I actually spoke to him on the phone, and he’s in a good spot. So, we’ll continue to monitor him in these next couple of months.”

DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB/COUNTRY; CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 18/0)

DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 27/1), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 11/0), Sergino Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 17/2), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 27/3 ), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG; 8/0), Joe Scally (Borussia M├Ânchengladbach/GER; 2/0), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp/BEL; 8/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 74/0 ), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 31/3)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 52/2), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 30/1), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 11/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 35/9), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 19/0), Malik Tillman (Rangers/SCO; 2/0)

FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 22/6), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 47/10), Jes├║s Ferreira (FC Dallas; 13/7), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 48/11), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen /NED; 11/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 51/21), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 12/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 19/3)

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