NEW YORK – Gio Reyna, Jordan Pefok and Ethan Horvath are back for the United States' final World Cup qualifiers but Sergiño Dest appears likely to miss the three games.
A short time before U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter announced his 27-man roster Thursday, Dest grabbed his left hamstring and limped off in the 56th minute of Barcelona’s Europa League match at Galatasaray.
“It's not great news, the initial diagnosis,” Berhalter said, listing George Bello, Joe Scally, Shaq Moore or Sam Vines as possible outside back replacements.
Three defenders on the roster missed the winter qualifiers: Aaron Long returns for the first time in a year after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon; defender Erik Palmer-Brown could make his first international appearance in four years; and James Sands is back for the first time since September.
Midfielder Gianluca Busio returns after a positive COVID-19 test caused him to be dropped in January.
Three players missed out because of injuries: midfielder Weston McKennie (broken foot); defender Chris Richards (ankle); and goalkeeper Matt Turner (foot/ankle).
Five others from January also were left off: forward Gyasi Zardes, midfielder Sebastian Lletget, defenders Brooks Lennon and Mark McKenzie, and backup goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina.
Seeking to return to the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament, the U.S. is at Mexico on March 24, hosts Panama three days later at Orlando, Florida, and closes at Costa Rica on March 30. Training starts Monday in Houston.
Canada leads North and Central America and the Caribbean with 25 points and the U.S. is second with 21, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. Panama is fourth with 17 points, followed by Costa Rica with 16 and El Salvador with nine.
The top three nations earn berths for this year’s tournament in Qatar and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff in June against the Oceania champion, likely New Zealand.
Seventeen players are Europe-based and 10 from Major League Soccer.
Reyna, a son of former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, was hurt in the opening qualifier at El Salvador on Sept. 2 and was sidelined until Feb. 6. He injured a leg two weeks later while playing for Borussia Dortmund in his first club start in six months, then returned with second-half appearances Sunday and Wednesday.
Berhalter said the staff will evaluate whether the 19-year-old can play wide rather than centrally but appeared to doubt Reyna was fit enough for 90 minutes.
Pefok appeared in the first two qualifiers in September, then was dropped. He is the Americans’ most in-form forward with six goals in his last seven club games, raising his season total to 22, including a Swiss league-leading 17.
Berhalter envisioned Pefok with a role against Panama.
“We think we're going to need a box presence." the coach said. “We think we're going to need someone there that can finish off crosses.”
Among the other forwards. Ricardo Pepi has not scored in 17 matches for club and country since getting a pair of goals against Jamaica on Oct. 7.
"Am I concerned about Ricardo Pepi? Absolutely, No question about it," Berhalter said.
Jesús Ferreira has not scored in 11 matches for club and country since Oct. 30. Jordan Morris scored for Seattle on Saturday against the LA Galaxy, his first goal since Nov. 24, 2020, three months before he tore his left ACL.
Horvath was on the bench in September, then was dropped but has gained the starting job at Nottingham Forest and helped his club to four wins and two draws in its last six matches.
“He's definitely in contention," Berhalter said. “It's going to be an up-to-the last-minute decision.”
Steffen, on the initial January roster, has not played for Manchester City since Feb. 5 due to back and shoulder injuries and dressed Monday for the first time since Feb. 9.
“There's potential that he plays this weekend,” Berhalter said, looking to City's FA Cup quarterfinal at Southampton. “He's been training really well.”
Turner has not played a competitive match since the qualifier against Honduras at St. Paul, Minnesota, on Feb. 2. He injured an ankle on Feb. 9, according to New England.
Long has not appeared for the national team since last March 28. He tore his right Achilles tendon on May 15 and returned this season with the New York Red Bulls, starting the first three matches.
Midfielder Tyler Adams, Steffen, defender DeAndre Yedlin and winger Tim Weah carry yellow cards and would be suspended for one match with anothe.
Defenders John Brooks and Tim Ream have not been picked since September.
Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest, England), Sean Johnson (New York City), and Zack Steffen (Manchester City, England).
Defenders: Reggie Cannon (Boavista, Portugal), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona, Spain), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes, France), Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England), Miles Robinson (Atlanta), James Sands (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), DeAndre Yedlin (Miami), and Walker Zimmerman (Nashville).
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, Germany), Gianluca Busio (Venezia, Italy), Luca de la Torre (Heracles, Netherlands), Yunus Musah (Valencia, Spain), and Cristian Roldan (Seattle).
Forwards: Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Paul Arriola (Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle), Jordan Pefok (Young Boys, Switzerland), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg, Germany), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, England), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), and Tim Weah (Lille, France).
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