With the 2022 World Cup quickly approaching, the United States is playing some of their most important matches in recent memory. TWSN Soccer Analyst Christian De Block discusses three major storylines for USMNT as they head into two World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Jamaica in the month of November.
1: The Health of Christian Pulisic
One of the biggest talking points for the USMNT going into these two World Cup qualifiers revolves around the status of Christian Pulisic. The American international suffered an ankle injury in a World Cup Qualifying match against Honduras on September 8. Pulisic was expected to recover from the knock in about a week or two, but the injury continued to linger. The forward nearly missed two months, with his first appearance for Chelsea following the injury coming on November 2 against Malmö FF in the Champions League. Giovanni Reyna, who hasn’t featured for club or country since early September, is still recovering from a serious hamstring injury. His absence means that anything Pulisic can contribute in these two games becomes far more important.
Thomas Tuchel, manager of Chelsea, is concerned about Pulisic going off to international duty. “Hopefully (the US team) and he himself are responsible and he doesn’t get carried away with emotion by helping his country to win a super important match” (The Athletic). Considering his injury history over the last two or three years, it’s pretty understandable that Tuchel is worried about his player re-injuring that ankle.
There is no denying that Pulisic is one of the most important players in the United States squad. The 23-year-old forward has the ability to create big chances out of one-on-one duels in the attacking third. If he is unable to start against Mexico, it will be a major loss for Gregg Berhalter. Considering Pulisic has only made two substitute appearances since returning from the ankle injury, the team has to plan for a scenario where he can only look to change the game from the bench. Expect to see the likes of Brenden Aaronson, Timothy Weah and Paul Arriola on the wings with one of their standout players lacking match fitness.
2: Finding a Quality Alternative at Right Back
Sergiño Dest will miss November World Cup Qualifiers for the USMNT due to a back injury. The 21-year-old full-back has been one of the most influential players in the squad, showing his ability to impact the game in the final third in particular. Dest has a goal and an assist in four World Cup Qualifiers for the national team. The full-back position will be crucial in this window, as they will have to limit the impact of Jesús Corona and Hirving Lozano of Mexico, and Leon Bailey of Jamaica.
With the absence of Dest, Gregg Berhalter will likely go with DeAndre Yedlin at right-back. The 28-year-old full-back is one of the more experienced players in the group, leading the squad with 69 caps. Yedlin has made 20 league appearances for Turkish side Galatasaray since joining the club in February of 2020. Berhalter could also go with Reggie Cannon on the right side of a back four. The 23-year-old full-back has struggled with injuries in the early stages of the 2021/22 campaign, but the American international played 57 minutes for Portuguese side Boavista on November 5.
The most interesting option at right-back in this player pool is Joe Scally. The 18-year-old full-back has shined for Borussia Mönchengladbach this season, contributing to two goals in 11 league appearances. Scally has played a critical role in more than a few positive results for Mönchengladbach, including a 5-0 victory over German giants Bayern Munich in the second round of the DFB-Pokal. The American international has the ability to play on either flank, making him far more versatile when it comes to his future with the national team. If the young full-back makes an appearance in either of these qualifiers, it would be his first cap for the USMNT. Scally may be inexperienced on the international level, but his form with Mönchengladbach shows he is capable of being a starter for the USMNT.
3: Solidifying a Strong Centre Back Pairing
Gregg Berhalter surprised everyone by not including John Brooks in his 25-man squad for November WCQ. The 28-year-old central defender has become a stalemate in the national team, developing into one of the vocal leaders amongst a very young group. While some of his more recent performances for the USMNT haven’t been great, Brooks is in good form for Bundesliga side Wolfsburg. With the team facing one of their toughest tests in a strong Mexican side, it is pretty shocking that one of the most experienced American players won’t play a part.
One player who has quickly become a major piece in the national team setup is Miles Robinson. The Atlanta United defender already has a signature moment for the national team, scoring the winning goal in the 2021 Gold Cup Final against Mexico this past summer. The 24-year-old central defender has started five World Cup qualifiers during this campaign, becoming a near lock-in starter over the past six months. Expect to see Miles Robinson starting in both matches during this international window.
MILES ROBINSON IN THE 117TH MINUTE 😱
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 2, 2021
Another player who has stepped up for the national team over the last few months is Walker Zimmerman. The 28-year-old defender has appeared in three 2022 World Cup qualifiers, starting two of those matches. With John Brooks missing this camp, Zimmerman could slot in as starter in his place.
21-year-old Chris Richards is back in the squad for the USMNT after making his competitive debut against Jamaica last month. The central defender, who is currently on loan at Hoffenheim from Bayern Munich, has made nine league appearances so far this campaign. Richards should see the field in at least one of these qualifiers, as Berhalter would love to give minutes to one of his most talented youngsters.
Mark McKenzie is a player who is struggling for minutes with his club team, as the centre back has only made one start for Belgian side Genk over the last month. The 22-year-old American has appeared in two World Cup qualifiers so far, including 1-0 defeat to Panama on October 10.
Something important to note is that Berhalter has shown the willingness to go with a three-in-the-back formation, most recently in a World Cup qualifier against Honduras during the September international window. If USMNT were to do that against Mexico or Jamaica, any combination of the four centre backs selected for this camp could be slotted in. On the other hand, if Berhalter goes with his conventional 4-3-3, my best guess would be a pairing of Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman back in Cincinnati against El Tri.