As Mexico game nears, key USMNT stars confront health, form, new coaches and roles


Two weeks from Friday, the U.S. men’s national team will host rival Mexico in Cincinnati in its most anticipated home World Cup qualifier of the Concacaf Octagonal. That much is a fact. But beyond that, the certainties about the match from a U.S. perspective aren’t so bountiful.

This is only a two-game window, with the second taking place in Jamaica, so in terms of roster building, things are a bit more conventional for U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. That doesn’t necessarily mean a significantly smaller crew will be brought in, but it does lessen the stress put on the squad. There’s bound to be a lower level of concern over watching minutes and taking load management into consideration, and there are even three full days in between games instead of two, as has been the case in the past two three-match windows. It’ll be a welcome, if temporary, return to the norm.

Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Pefok remain the only U.S. players carrying yellow cards—accumulating two at any point in the Octagonal results in a one-match suspension—with all of those being incurred in the September window. The October trio of games may not have been the cleanest from a performance standpoint for the U.S., but in terms of discipline, it was rather flawless. On top of that, neither the U.S. nor Jamaica is on the U.K.’s red list for travel, removing one of the other variables that was part of last month’s calculations. That leaves Berhalter with a full complement of healthy players from which to choose—but healthy is the operative word.

As it stands, Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna remain out for their respective clubs after being hurt in the September window with ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively.

Pulisic missed Chelsea’s 7–0 thrashing of Norwich City over the weekend and its League Cup round-of-16 triumph in penalties vs. Southampton on Tuesday, meaning it’s been more than six weeks since his last match. What was supposed to be a 10-day window to return has evolved into significantly more, though his return to training Thursday was surely a welcome sight on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said Friday that Pulisic would remain out this weekend vs. Newcastle and for next Tuesday’s Champions League match vs. Malmö, targeting the Nov. 6 league clash vs. Burnley for his return.

“Christian Pulisic, we are looking forward to the Burnley match,” Tuchel said. “If it all goes right, he should be in the squad for the Burnley match and ready to play.”

That doesn’t leave much, if any, time at all to ramp up to full-on, U.S.-Mexico levels of intensity after the injury ordeal he has just endured, rendering his status for the U.S. uncertain at best.

Reyna, meanwhile, doesn’t seem all that close to returning, period. He’s had a notable month after being nominated as one of 10 finalists for France Football’s Kopa Trophy, given to the world’s best men’s player under 21, but that’s been the extent of the good news. His hamstring recovery has not gone as hoped, and his status looks far from promising. He hasn’t played since the U.S.’s first World Cup qualifier on Sept. 2.

“There’s no sign yet as to when he’ll be back,” were the ominous words of Dortmund manager Marco Rose before the club’s Bundesliga match last weekend.

The U.S. didn’t have either star for this month’s trio of games and managed to survive with a six-point haul. A combination of Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson and Paul Arriola picked up the slack on the wings, but Arriola had been out for D.C. United until Wednesday’s win over the New York Red Bulls, recovering from a groin injury suffered before the final game during the last camp. With wing options seemingly thinned out again, might Sergiño Dest be used for his country as he has been for his club?

Barcelona has deputized Dest as a right-sided forward of late—at least while Ronald Koeman was manager—and it has produced mixed results. While he had assisted on goals in consecutive league games before the mid-week loss that ended Koeman’s tenure, he’s also missed some clear looks at goal. Considering the spectacular nature of his two goals with the USMNT—including his vital equalizer vs. Costa Rica this month—it appears that the chances with a lower degree of difficulty have proven to be more burdensome to convert. At the very least, he’s getting into dangerous positions.

Berhalter addressed Dest’s new role with Barcelona and whether he could play similarly for the U.S. on the most recent U.S. Soccer podcast.

“I think that we obviously play a lot different, Barcelona and the national team, and he’s playing a role right now based on what they need and he’s fulfilling it and he likes the challenge of it,” Berhalter said. “I spoke to him about it. He’s an attacking-orientated player. He grew up playing winger, so this is something natural for him. What I like is his combination play from that position and his ball security. A lot of times, wingers, their percentage of balls kept is pretty low and he’s able to raise that number.

“I think we have options at that [spot] and we look at the position a little bit differently. We look at it as a speed, as a vertical position a little bit more, but you never know.”

In addition to the positional fluidity, Dest is now dealing with a coaching change, but he isn’t alone in that regard. It’s been a rough few months for Brooks, as he struggled in the September window, missed the October window with an injury and has experienced some club turmoil, with Wolfsburg having dropped four straight Bundesliga matches after already having been eliminated from the DFB Pokal. The club also sits last in its Champions League group. Florian Kohfeldt, the former Werder Bremen coach, has replaced Mark van Bommel as manager. Even with all of those unsettling elements, such is Brooks’s potential and importance to the U.S. at his peak that he should be expected to return to camp—though that doesn’t make him an automatic starter.

Another key area in the back where a starter isn’t set in stone is in goal. World Cup qualifying had been Matt Turner’s show, with the New England Revolution shot-stopper seizing his chance after Zack Steffen was injured and contracted COVID-19 in the September window. After five straight Turner starts, though, Berhalter tabbed Steffen against Costa Rica, adding another layer of unpredictability to the team.

He explained his reasoning this week, citing all of the elements that go into his decision-making.

“We know the situation of Zack is that he’s not going to be playing week in and week out [at Man City]. If I came out and said it’s strictly going to be on form, that would be a tough one to evaluate. So we have to take everything into consideration. What the opponent’s going to look like, what we’re going to need from the goalie in that game, and then what type of sample size we have from their previous performances.

“I think it was important for us to not put all our eggs in one basket and have multiple goalies experiencing World Cup qualifying and knowing what it’s like,” he continued. “So it was important for us to get Zack involved in [the last] qualifying window. We’ll make the decision as we prepare for Mexico and we’ll go from there. What I would say is that I don’t think we’re in position where we’re saying, ‘This guy’s going to play the rest of qualifying. He’s going to be the goalie for the next eight games of qualifying just because he plays against Mexico.’ “

Man City’s surprising ouster from the League Cup—a competition it had won for four straight seasons—takes more playing time off Steffen’s plate at the club level. He’s City’s domestic cup keeper, and being bounced in the round of 16 means up to three fewer games that he’ll be able to play this season. Turner, meanwhile, remains a rock for MLS’s Supporters’ Shield winner and new single-season points record holder.

The U.S.’s summer experience could come in handy on Nov. 12. Three U.S. goalkeepers have played competitive minutes vs. Mexico since June, with Steffen getting hurt in the Concacaf Nations League final and Ethan Horvath coming to the rescue off the bench before Turner blanked El Tri in the Gold Cup final.

With Horvath hardly playing at Nottingham Forest, it’s more realistically a choice between Steffen and Turner, and much of the decision about who starts will come down to the match-specific plan.

“Zack in the Costa Rica game I thought he retained a high number of possessions that really helped us keep the ball moving and keep us moving the opponent around,” Berhalter said. “When they tried to press us we played through them, and that was beneficial to us.

‘When Matt’s on the field we ask something a little bit differently of him, and I think that’s fine. We’re just trying to play to the strengths of our players.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Source link

Denial of responsibility! Planetconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a comment