Four players from California made the final US Men’s National Team roster for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, tying New York for most.
When the Americans open play 2 p.m. Monday against Wales, Aaron Long, Luca de la Torre, Cristian Roldan, and Haji Wright will pull on red, white, and blue with a shot at soccer immortality in this country just four years before the US co-hosts World Cup 2026 with Los Angeles and San Francisco two of the host cities.
(And maybe, just maybe, sports betting in California will be legal by then.)
Meet the 4 California Products on the USMNT
Luca de la Torre, Midfielder
Hometown: La Jolla
Professional club: Celta Vigo (Spain)
Details: A pulled hamstring injury two weeks ago jeopardized de la Torre’s previously expected inclusion, as had playing only 54 club minutes over five games this season. de la Torre has made 10 national team appearances, four in World Cup qualifiers, and is likely in a reserve role behind 19-year-old Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah.
“He has been training, he’s up to 95% of his top speed. He’s doing a bunch of fitness work,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “He’s going to be ready, I think. If I was to say now, my guess is he wouldn’t be 90 minutes fit for Game 1. He’s a guy we’re going to have to ramp up during the tournament.”
A product of the US youth program, de la Torre reached the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals and debuted for the senior team in 2018.
“For me, making the World Cup roster means that all the work I put in over the last few years has paid off,” de la Torre said via US Soccer. “It’s confirmation that if I really believe in something and I work for it, it can happen.”
Meanwhile, in California: Born and raised near San Diego, de la Torre attended Torrey Pines High and was a product of local youth clubs Nomads and Surf before moving to England to join Fulham’s academy in 2013. His mother, Anne Bang, earned a Ph.D. in biology from UC-San Diego, and is the Director of Stem Cell Biology at the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla.
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Aaron Long, Defender
Hometown: Oak Hills
Professional club: New York Red Bulls (MLS)
Details: The 2018 MLS Defender of the Year figures to be next behind Walker Zimmerman at center back after starting six USMNT matches this year. Inconsistent play in the MLS after returning from an Achilles injury clouded his prospects but three goals and two assists in 29 international appearances bolstered his resume. So does the Red Bull captain’s experience on a young roster. Rumors out of the English Premier League have West Ham considering a move for Long in the January transfer window.
Meanwhile, in California: Long was a football and soccer letterman at Serrano High before four seasons at UC Riverside, where he scored 13 goals and recorded five assists. The late Lakers star Kobe Bryant is his favorite athlete.
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Cristian Roldan, Midfielder
Hometown: Pico Rivera
Professional club: Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Details: Roldan’s place was very much in doubt after he underwent surgery in late August to treat a sports hernia. While unable to push through the Tyler Adams, Weston McKinnie, and Yunus Musah midfield starting group, he can be a plug-and-play at multiple spots.
Meanwhile, in California: Roldan was the 2013 Gatorade high school player of the year as a senior at El Rancho, leading the Dons to a state championship with a 29-2-1 record and scoring 54 goals with 31 assists. He played club for Union Independiente. His older brother, Cesar, is the head athletic trainer for the LA Galaxy. On April 5, Roldan’s family partnered with the city of Pico Rivera to open a futsal field.
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Haji Wright, Forward
Hometown: Los Angeles
Professional club: Antalyaspor (Turkey)
Details: Wright was one of the more surprising inclusions, surpassing Pepi and Jordan Pefok to secure the third striker spot.
Berhalter said in a conference call this week that Wright’s recent form and ability to score goals in a multitude of ways pushed earn him a spot on the plane.
“If we would have made the decision mid-September, Jordan Pefok probably would’ve been a lock to be in, based on his form in (the Bundesliga with) Union Berlin,” Berhalter said on Wednesday. “But since then, it’s a different story. Pefok hasn’t scored at all. Haji is in great goalscoring form. They’re both physical strikers. Jordan maybe a little more so, but Haji has pace, he’s got the ability to go 1-v-1, he’s finishing with his head, both feet. And he’s performing really well.”
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Wright only made his national team debut in June, scoring in his debut against Morocco. He’s made three appearances — none of them in World Cup qualifiers — but his performance in the Turkish Super Lig was pivotal for Berhalter, with nine goals in his first 12 games.
Former American defender and Fox Sports analyst Alexei Lalas was displeased, saying: ““Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Haji Wright! See, this is the one that gets me p***ed off. I do not understand how Haji Wright is going to the World Cup over Pepi, over Pefok.”
Meanwhile, in California: A diehard LA sports fan, Wrights calls Kobe Bryant his all-time favorite athlete.