Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget, 25 others called up by U.S. for World Cup qualifying
The U.S. will enter the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying next week with arguably the youngest, least-experienced squad the national team has fielded in the tournament. The 26 players coach Gregg Berhalter named to the roster Thursday average 24 years, 43 days of age and only six have played in a qualifier.
The eight-team final round of qualifying, which was delayed — then expanded — because of the pandemic, will be the largest and most arduous in history with the U.S. playing 14 games in eight countries in 209 days. The top three finishers win passage to Qatar for next year’s World Cup, a tournament the U.S. missed in 2018 for the first time in more than three decades.
“The work that’s been done over the last two years was all about building the foundation, building the culture of the team to get us to this point,” Berhalter said. “It was about developing a young player pool while giving them the tools to succeed on the international level.
“Now it’s about competing. It’s about a chance to earn the right to participate in the World Cup. It’s a great moment for this team. We’re excited about the challenge.”
The U.S. opens the first qualifying window Sept. 2 in El Salvador before meeting Canada on Sept. 5 in Nashville, Tenn., and Honduras on Sept. 8 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
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Thirteen players will be 23 or younger when the brief training camp opens in Nashville next Monday. Three are under 20 including FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi, an 18-year-old dual national from El Paso who grew up with family on both sides of the border.
“I am very proud to be Mexican-American,” Pepi, who is being called up to the senior team for the first time, wrote in a social-media post after his selection was announced. “At the same time, I was born and raised in the USA. This country have given me and my family everything. I am very proud to be called in to the help the USMNT qualify for the 2022 World Cup.”
Pepi is one of nine MLS players summoned, a list that includes New England goalkeeper Matt Turner and Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, who has played more games for the U.S. (24) than any other national team player since 2019.
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, whose 13 appearances in World Cup qualifying are the most on the roster, also was called up but his participation remains uncertain after he tested positive for COVID-19. Pulisic, who was vaccinated, is in quarantine in London but Berhalter is hopeful he will join the U.S. team Sunday in Nashville.
“There’s a lot of things that need to happen before that for him to actually get on the plane and come,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of tests that he needs to go through before he arrives.”
As for Pulisic’s availability for three matches, Berhalter said that is to be determined.
“It’s really too early to tell. We just don’t know right now. It’s going to be a wait-and-see type of thing.”
The U.S., 17-1-1 over the last 22 months, beat Mexico in both the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup tournaments this summer and is ranked 10th in the world by FIFA, its highest ranking in 15 years. But Berhalter says that all goes out the window now.
“It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t qualify for the World Cup,” he said. “It would be a failure. All the work would be undone. So this is our next challenge.”
The roster will have to be cut to 23 players by next week’s game in El Salvador.
Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders: George Bello (Atlanta United), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), James Sands (New York City FC), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Sebastian Lletget (Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg), Konrad de la Fuente (Olympique Marseille), Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Norwich City), Tim Weah (Lille)
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