Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie headline USMNT 26-man roster for World Cup qualifiers

Chelsea's Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund's Giovanni Reyna and Juventus' Weston McKennie headline the 26-player roster for the U.S. men's national team ahead of three World Cup qualifiers.

Pulisic had been considered doubtful to be called up after contracting COVID-19 but has recovered sufficiently to be on the roster that will contest World Cup qualifiers at El Salvador on Sept. 2, at home against Canada in Nashville three days later and away to Honduras on Sept. 8.

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"It's going to be just day-to-day, seeing where he's at," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said about Pulisic's status. "He's still under quarantine conditions in England, and we're going to have to get him stateside once he clears the quarantine and assess him. It's really [difficult] to tell if he will be available for the 2nd, for the 5th or for the 8th.

"There's a lot of tests that he needs to go through before he arrives."

Although game-day rosters remain at 23 players, the fact that the window contains three games compelled Berhalter to bring in additional reinforcements. Players will begin reporting to camp in Nashville starting on Sunday.

In terms of World Cup qualifying, the group lacks experience, with just six of those called having previously played in a qualifier. But the current crop of players has been excelling at club level.

Ten players are on clubs that have qualified for the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League group stage: Brenden Aaronson (FC Salzburg), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), John Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), McKennie (Juventus), Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys), Pulisic (Chelsea), Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Timothy Weah (Lille).

"I talk about the progress we've made as a team, a lot of it has to do with the individuals, as well, and the level that they've been playing at,'' Berhalter said.

One notable call-up is FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi. A dual national who can still represent Mexico, Pepi's emergence this season -- he has scored nine goals for Dallas -- gives the U.S. team additional depth in a position that Berhalter has found difficulty filling. Pepi scored the game-winning penalty kick in Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game.

"I want to start by saying that I am a Mexican-American and that I am super proud of my heritage," Pepi told FCDallas.com. "It's something that will never be taken away from me, no matter what national team I play for. I made this decision because I felt the USA trusts me and I think that's due to [USMNT head coach] Gregg Berhalter and how he emphasized this to me.

"I had good talks with Gregg and I feel I can make an impact with the [USMNT] and help this national team really do something special now and in the future."

There was little in the way of surprises, although injuries to the likes of Columbus Crew forward Gyasi Zardes, Orlando City forward Daryl Dike and Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah limited Berhalter's options to a degree. But the U.S. team's success in winning the 2021 Gold Cup while fielding a young and inexperienced lineup is already bearing fruit. Twenty-four players on the roster played in the Gold Cup or in CONCACAF Nations League, which the U.S. also won.

"It's nice to win a trophy in Nations League. It's nice to win a Gold Cup trophy. It's nice to be ranked 10th in the world,'' Berhalter said. "It doesn't mean anything if we don't qualify for the World Cup. ... Everything we've done until now is only a foundation.''

Unlike previous cycles in which six teams contested the final round of qualifying, eight teams will take part this time. The teams will play a round-robin, home-and-away format that comprises 14 matches each.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a process that normally takes place over 18 months has been reduced to seven.

Additionally, the condensed schedule includes four dates consisting of three matches during a seven-day window. The other teams to reached the final round are Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama and Mexico.

Detailed Roster by Position (Club/Country; Caps/Goals):

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 7/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 23/0), Matt Turner (New England Revolution; 7/0)

DEFENDERS (10): George Bello (Atlanta United; 3/0), John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 43/3), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona/ESP; 11/1), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 6/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 45/1), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 12/0), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 9/3), James Sands (New York City FC; 6/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray/TUR; 64/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 17/2)

MIDFIELDERS (5): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 37/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 14/1), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 29/7), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 24/7), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 25/0)

FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg/AUT; 7/3), Konrad De La Fuente (Marseille/FRA; 1/0), Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys/SUI; 6/1), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas; 0/0), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 38/16), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 8/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 16/5), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 13/1)