USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said he had to make some difficult decisions on leaving out several players from camp. (USA TODAY Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Even with a 28-player roster, a coach might not be able to bring everyone he wants into a training camp before three vital World Cup matches.

And that includes U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter, who did not call in several familiar names to Columbus, Ohio prior to the winter qualifying window on Friday.

Among the excluded were center backs John Brooks and Tim Ream, midfielder-forward Gio Reyna, midfielder Gianluca Busio and forwards Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok and Daryl Dike.

They didn’t get the call for various reasons – whether they were injured, not performing at a high level or didn’t fit into the coach’s plans.

The Americans, who are in second place in the Concacaf Octagonal, welcome El Salvador to Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, Jan. 27, play Canada in Hamilton, Ontario on Sunday, Jan. 30 and host Honduras in St. Paul, Minn. on Feb. 2.

Busio, who performs for Venezia in Italy’s Serie A, has contracted COVID-19, and that forced Berhalter to drop him from the roster.

“He was called in and he got COVID,” Berhalter said during a Zoom media session from Phoenix on Friday. “That’s unfortunate, but he was part of the roster and we had to make changes.”

Reyna still hasn’t played for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga since suffering a hamstring injury while playing for the USMNT in WCQ in September. He has started to train with his club again.

“He’s close. He’s close to getting involved in the squad,” Berhalter said, adding it was “a difficult decision” not to bring the talented teenager into camp.

“In the end, we thought the best thing for him to do is to stay at Dortmund and train these weeks and try to get into their squad,” the U.S. coach continued. “That’s vital for him because the big picture for Gio is him playing regularly for Dortmund. That’s absolutely crucial for him. He’s done a great job rehabbing. He’s gained a ton of muscle and we think he’s going to come out on the back end of this [qualifying in March], ahead of the game.”

Brooks hasn’t been called into the USMNT camp since the September qualifying window. He last played in the 4-1 win at Honduras on Sept. 9. His form has been dodgy at times for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, but the intimidating central defender appears to be finding his old self in recent weeks.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the form of John,” Berhalter said. “We think that he will continue to play a role with us in the future for this window. We decided, based on how we’re looking at these games, and what are the strengths of our opponent that he wouldn’t be the best fit for this particular window. We’re hoping that he regains his form for Wolfsburg, and they start winning games and move themselves up the table. He’s a key part of that.”

Berhalter stressed that a player not making any camp is “written in stone.”

“It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a future with the program,” he said. “That goes for Jordan Pefok. It goes for Josh Sargent. We saw that he scored [Friday night]. That’s great news for Josh and great news for Norwich.”

Sargent scored twice for Norwich City in its 3-0 win at Watford in the English Premier League on Friday, about when news of the training camp roster was released.

Pefok recently rediscovered his scoring form for Young Boys in Switzerland.

Ream, who has captained Fulham’s recent run in the English Championship in which it tallied an stunning 22 goals in four games, also was left out. The Cottagers won for the fourth consecutive time on Saturday, recording a 3-2 win at Stoke City.

The former Red Bull last played with the USMNT in the scoreless draw at El Salvador on Sept. 2, which kicked off the Concacaf Octagonal.

“It was a difficult decision because in from a build-up standpoint, Tim gives us everything we need,” Berhalter said. “He’s probably the best center back on the ball that we have to able to break lines passing and really set the tone from a passing perspective. Some of the gameplan for this for this January window, is we think it suits other players a little bit better. It doesn’t mean that Tim is out of the picture. It means for this window, based on the opponent’s based on what we think we’re going to be facing, we’re going with other players that we feel can execute better.

“Time will tell if that’s the right decision. We value what he can bring to this team, but unfortunately didn’t make this roster.”

Ream’s Fulham teammate, Antonee Robinson, an outside back, is on the USA roster.

Berhalter did not address Dike’s absence. The former Orlando City FC player recently joined West Bromwich Albion in the English Championship.