Berhalter: ‘Heartbreaking’ to drop Steffen for WC

Berhalter: ‘Heartbreaking’ to drop Steffen for WC

8: 22 PM ET

  • carlisle jeff m

    Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent


      Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.

United States manager Gregg Berhalter said it was “heartbreaking” to tell goalkeeper Zack Steffen that he had been left off the World Cup squad for Qatar.

Steffen was thought to be a lock to make the team after featuring regularly for the U.S. during this World Cup cycle and battling Arsenal‘s Matt Turner for the starting spot during World Cup qualifying.

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Steffen was also viewed as a favorite of Berhalter’s given that the two worked together at the Columbus Crew from 2016 to 2018.

But when the squad was announced on Wednesday Steffen was left off the team, with Turner, Luton Town’s Ethan Horvath and New York City FC‘s Sean Johnson preferred.

“Me, Zach and Zach go back a long way, and Zach’s been there to me a lot of times,” Berhalter stated during Wednesday’s news conference following the squad announcement. It was heartbreaking for him to hear that he would not be joining the World Cup team.

“But these were decisions we made as a team and we move on. Now it’s about ‘Well, who are we having in camp and how can we be successful? ‘”

Berhalter stated that the decision was based more on who we have and how comfortable we feel with the other players. We felt very comfortable with [Turner and Horvath] Johnson, so that’s where we decided to go. “

Berhalter was also questioned about this choice of central strikers, with FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira, Norwich City striker Josh Sargent and Antalyaspor forward Haji Wright chosen. The U.S. coach praised Ferreira’s link play and movement in the box, as well as his ability to initiate the team’s press. Berhalter said that Sargent is a forward who “does many things well”. He also valued his physicality, familiarity with English, and Welsh oppositions, which will be the U.S.’s first two opponents in Qatar.

Wright was a surprise selection, as he hadn’t played in any World Cup qualifiers. He was praised for his aerial threat, ability to transition, and finishing. The striker selections came at the expense of FC Groningen forward Ricardo Pepi — scorer of three goals in CONCACAF qualifying — and Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok. “I think that when we looked at this as coaches we were evaluating Haji against Jordan Pefok and I think that’s what it came to,” Berhalter stated. “And in this case, we felt that Haji is in a great goal scoring form.

” Both are physical strikers. Jordan might be faster, but Haji is quicker. Haji is a great player in the Turkish league. He can play one-vs-one, and he can finish with both his feet. “

Berhalter added that timing also played a part in the Wright-Pefok decision.

” If we had made the decision in September, Jordan Pefok would have been likely to be in. This was based on his experience with Union Berlin.” Berhalter stated. It’s been a change of pace since then. Haji has added more. That was the trickiest part about it. “

Pepi said that he lost against Ferreira and Sargent in a competition.

“We thought it was valuable that Josh was playing at that competition where two out of three of our opponents are coming from,” the U.S. coach said. “We believe that that adds value. I think the Dutch League is a great league but it lacks the same physicality as the Premier League and the Championship. “

The U.S. begins play in Group on Monday, Nov. 21, against Wales, followed by matches with England and Iran in its first World Cup since 2014.

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