This week, the USMNT announced its roster for their final dress rehearsal ahead of November’s World Cup: Friday, Sept. 23, against Japan at 8:25 a.m. ET on ESPN+ (sign up HERE). And then Tuesday, Sept 27 at 2 p.m. ET, we take on Newcastle United Saudi Arabia on FOX.
This is players’ final shot to get a rose (or at the very least, a pair of Travis Scott 6’s) from Gregg come November’s The Final Rose Ceremony: World Cup Edition. Here’s a look at our boys’ recent study abroad form, and how that may have affected the Bounce Pass King of New Jersey’s selection.
BATTLE FOR THE NEIN SHIRT
The roster’s biggest talking point: Gregg’s selection of strikers Josh Sargent, Ricardo Pepi and Seattle’s Jordan Morris (he’ll always be Stanford Messi to us). And the omission of Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok and Turkish League early season hot hand Haji Wright.
Josh Sargent is a great American. Can we just acknowledge that right off the bat? Wednesday, Ginger Lewandowski scored his sixth goal in six games for second-in-the-Championship Norwich City. American relations in East Anglia have not been this good since 1942, and we are thrilled for Soccer Gritty.
A player who hopes he can emulate Sarg’s steep learning curve after a difficult campaign last season: Ricardo Pepi. Immediately anointed our savior after bagging an impudent brace against Jamaica in World Cup qualifying last October, Pepi made a high-profile $20 million move to Bundesliga strugglers FC Augsburg in the January transfer window. It turned out not to be all Luftballons and Kinder eggs in Bavaria’s third largest city, where he failed to find the back of the net in 15 appearances. This summer, in need of a boost, the FC Dallas Youth Academy product headed to the Dutch side FC Groningen (of Arjen Robben fame!) on a season-long loan. And in his first Eredivise appearance Sunday, on as a halftime sub, he registered an assist*
*Yes, we know, “assist” might be generous in this case. But after the run Pepi has had… we countin’ it. May it be the first of many.
With Sarg, Pepi and Jordan Morris in, it brings us to two gents who you wouldn’t blame for taking to their slam books Regina George-style about Gregg. We begin with Jordan Pefok. Three goals and three assists in all competitions for Union Berlin this season have cemented Pefok as the starting striker for a team that’s Top of the Table in the Bundesliga.
To be clear: The fact he was not selected here does not mean he will not make the final roster. Need a goal off the bench as the minutes tick down at the World Cup. Screw the system. Unleash the Pefok!
Another player who was left checking his SPAM folder after failing to get the email from Gregg: Haji Wright. The LA-native came through the youth ranks with Tyler Adams and Co. He has five goals this season in the Turkish Top-Flight for Antalyaspor. But, ultimately, Haji may be (cruelly and perhaps unfairly) left to reflect on his Nations Cup half-opportunity earlier this summer, of which Gregg was - some may say oddly judgmentally - critical.
Other notes on the roster, concerning our Baby Eagles Abroad:
- Defenders Sam Vines of Top of the Table Royal Antwerp in Belgium, and Gladbach’s Strong Island Joe Scally make the cut. The pair have started every game for their respective clubs this season. No Clean Sheet Tim Ream, though. 😥
- Zack Steffen will not be included in this camp. Gregg said in a news conference after the roster drop that it was due to injury. But earlier this week, Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder said that Steffen may not return as Boro’s starter after his back up, Liam Roberts, played so well during Steffen’s recent injury absence. This is an odd one – after all of the QB-Controversy Gregg’s flip-flopping has created, might Zack not even make the final squad?
EUROPEAN NIGHTS, AMERICAN STARS
There were no fewer than nine Americans in Champions League action this week. NINE! If John Brooks and Owen Otasowie get off the bench for Benfica or Club Brugge, respectively, then it will break the record of 10 Americans playing in the UCL in a single season, according to Paul Carr. Want more Paul Carr? You’ve come to the right place. Through the first two matchdays of the UCL season, Americans have played 17 games, most by any country outside of Europe and South America. 🤯 What a time to be alive? Some news and notes on our boys in action:
Gio Reyna: After a year beset by injuries, Gio received his first start of the season in the Champions League away at Manchester City against former BFF (Big Friendly Friend) Erling Haaland. The 19-year-old from Bedford, N.Y. started and played 62 minutes in Dortmund’s 2-1 loss. Gio looked sharp and fit throughout, and seems to be getting back to full fitness at just the right time. Praise the old Gods and the new.
Christian Pulisic: CP10 found himself back on the bench in Graham Potter’s first Starting XI. He came on in the 84th minute of a 1 - 1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg. Maybe Potter resting him for the All-Star game?
Weston McKennie: Went a full 90 in Juve’s 2 - 1 loss to Benfica. Madone. An American finally starts at Juve, only for the club to enter a period of freefall.
Sergino Dest: The 21-year-old came on as a 78th minute sub in AC Milan’s 3-1 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb and was used in a right attacking midfield role, not at right back. Unleash them tekkers, Sergino.
Josh Cohen: One of our favorite stories in American soccer: Goalkeeper Josh Cohen of Mountain View, Calif., who plays for Maccabi Haifa. The 30-year-old ground his way through UC San Diego and the lower tiers of US football before moving to Israel in 2019. Wednesday, he started against Lionel Messi and PSG. He now has the honor (and we don’t mean that facetiously) of being scored on by Messi. A story he can tell his grandchildren.
AMERICANS IN ACTION THIS WEEKEND
Select match cancellations in England due to Queen Elizabeth II’s passing mean we’ll be deprived of our weekly shot of Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic and Chris RIchards. However, plenty of other offerings on this menu. Here’s a look at where and when they’re playing, along with how you can tune in. (Also, check out our comprehensive “Americans Abroad: How to Watch” weekly breakdown for a complete look at when our boys abroad are on TV.)
English Premier League:
Tim Ream | Nottingham Forest v Fulham | Friday, 3 p.m. EST (Peacock)
Matt Turner | Brentford v Arsenal | Sunday, 7 a.m. EST (USA Network)
Luca de la Torre | Valencia v Celta Vigo | Saturday, 2:30 P.M. EST (ESPN+)
Yunus Musah | Valencia v Celta Vigo | Saturday, 2:30 P.M. EST (ESPN+)
Sergino Dest | AC Milan v Napoli | Sunday, 2:45 P.M. EST (Paramount+)
Weston McKennie | Monza v Juventus | Sunday, 9 A.M. EST (Paramount+)
Jordan Pefok | Union Berlin v Wolfsburg | Sunday, 9:30 A.M. EST (ESPN+)
Gio Reyna | Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 | Saturday, 9:30 A.M. EST (ESPN2 & ESPN+)
Joe Scally | Borussia Monchengladbach v RB Leipzig | Saturday, 12:30 P.M. EST (ESPN+)
Ethan Horvath | Luton Town v Blackburn Rovers | Saturday, 10 A.M. EST (Not on TV)
Josh Sargent | Norwich City v West Brom | Saturday, 10 A.M. EST (Not on TV)
Zack Steffen | Middlesbrough v Rotherham United | Saturday, 2:45 P.M. EST (ESPN+)
Belgian Jupiler League:
Sam Vines | Royal Antwerp v RFC Seraing | Friday, 2:45 P.M. EST (ESPN+)
Cameron Carter-Vickers | St. Mirren v Celtic | Sunday, 7 A.M. EST (Paramount+)
James Sands | Rangers v Dundee United | Saturday, 10 A.M. EST (Not on TV)
Malik Tillman | Rangers v Dundee United | Saturday, 10 A.M. EST (Not on TV)
Ricardo Pepi | Sparta Rotterdam v FC Groningen | Saturday, 10:30 A.M. EST (Not on TV)