Christian Pulisic returns to USMNT for World Cup qualifiers vs. Mexico and Jamaica, but Sergiño Dest and Gio Reyna out injured
Ex-Union stars Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie were also named to the squad, as was Downingtown's Zack Steffen.
Hershey’s Christian Pulisic will make his much-anticipated return to the U.S. men’s soccer team next week for the big World Cup qualifying rivalry game against Mexico on Nov. 12 in Cincinnati, and the game at Jamaica on Nov. 16.
Pulisic, the national team’s starting left winger, was sidelined for nearly two months by an ankle injury suffered during the Americans’ Sept. 8 World Cup qualifier at Honduras. He returned to the field with his club team, Chelsea, as a late-game substitute in a Champions League game on Tuesday — and nearly scored an insurance goal in the final seconds of the 1-0 win at Sweden’s Malmö.
“For us, it’s about progressing him in a safe way,” U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter said. “We know he’s valuable to the team, we know we want him on the field, but we’re also not willing to risk anything. It’s about how he feels, and depending on that will dictate what role he plays in these two games.”
Reyna has been sidelined since September with a hamstring injury suffered late in the U.S.’ World Cup qualifying opener at El Salvador on Sept. 2. His recovery at his club, Borussia Dortmund, has taken a while due to fears over rushing him back too soon.
Medford’s Brenden Aaronson, who continues to play well for the national team and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, could start in Reyna’s place. Other candidates include Tim Weah of French champions Lille, and veteran Paul Arriola of D.C. United.
Berhalter mentioned all three of those names, though he notably said: “I don’t think there’s a great urgency to move Brendan to the right, but we’ll see.”
Does that imply Arriola will start across from Pulisic? Or perhaps that Pulisic won’t start, and Aaronson will start on the left? We’ll see, indeed.
Dest’s absence is a new matter, but not entirely surprising. He has been suffering from lower back pain, and only just made the bench for Barcelona’s Champions League game on Tuesday at Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv.
Barcelona said in a statement that Dest “is unavailable for selection and his recovery will dictate his return.”
U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter called in two right backs to account for Dest’s absence — one with a lot of national team experience, the other a newcomer.
The experienced player is Reggie Cannon. He missed the September and October qualifiers because of an unsettled contract situation at his club, Portugal’s Boavista, and the potential for a move elsewhere. But now Cannon is back, and is likely to add to his 22 national team caps.
The newcomer is Joe Scally, an 18-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., who grew up in New York City FC’s academy and moved to Germany’s Borussia Mönchengladbach in January. He has been a revelation this season, starting every game of the Bundesliga and German Cup campaigns so far. And he has some versatility, with the ability to play right back, left back or right midfield.
Scally has played for U.S. youth teams before, but never the senior team. Now he has his first chance for a breakthrough.
As for the rest of the squad, it includes Downingtown’s Zack Steffen — who signed a contract extension at Manchester City on Thursday — among the goalkeepers; Bear, Del.’s Mark McKenzie among the center backs; and the star trio of central midfielders Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah.
Notably, there’s just one true striker among the 25-player squad: FC Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi. Candidates to back him up include his Dallas teammate Jesús Ferreira, who has 8 goals and 7 assists in 26 games this season; and Weah, who has played up top often in his career. Jordan Pefok and Daryl Dike were two of the more prominent names not called in.
When Berhalter was asked about Ferreira, who hasn’t played for the national team since February, he gave a detailed answer.
“When you look at Jesús’ body of work with the national team … albeit against lesser opponents, we really liked what he did at the No. 9 position,” Berhalter said. “We know he’s a guy that can link play, we know he’s a guy that arrives in the penalty box, we know he’s a guy that leads the line defensively to build pressure, and he’s been in outstanding form in Dallas. We know he’s been playing more of an attacking midfield role, but Jesús has the type of game intelligence that makes him able to adapt to a position very easily.”
The other notable absence is centerback John Brooks. He’s a major veteran presence on and off the field, having played in the 2014 World Cup, but he struggled in the last few U.S. games.
“It was a really difficult decision,” Berhalter said, “and a lot of it was based on how we felt his performance was with the team the last time.”
Brooks owned up to this impressively in a statement to Fox Sports published when the roster was announced.
“In life and soccer, nothing is ever handed to you, nor should it be,” he said. “The decision to leave me out of this camp isn’t surprising, given some of my recent performances for the USMNT that aren’t up to my standards.”
Berhalter saluted Brooks for his honesty.
“That’s all you can ask for as a player’s response,” he said. “I don’t assume that this is going to be his last time in the national team. I’m sure he’ll be back, and it’s just about regaining your form and performing at a high level when you get the opportunity.”
Mexico also announced its squad Thursday, headlined by Wolves’ Raul Jiménez, Porto’s Jesús “Tecatito” Corona, and Napoli’s Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. Jamaica announced its squad on Tuesday. It includes Union players Andre Blake, Cory Burke and Alvas Powell, West Ham United’s Michail Antonio, and Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey.
U.S. November schedule
Nov. 12: vs. Mexico in Cincinnati, 9:10 p.m. (ESPN2, ESPN+, Univision 65, TUDN)
Nov. 16: at Jamaica in Kingston, 5 p.m. (Universo, Paramount+)
Goalkeepers (3): Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Manchester City, England), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista, Portugal), Mark McKenzie (Genk, Belgium), Chris Richards (Hoffenheim, Germany), Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp, Belgium), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray, Turkey), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Midfielders (7): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, Germany), Gianluca Busio (Venezia, Italy), Sebastian Lletget (Los Angeles Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Juventus, Italy), Yunus Musah (Valencia, Spain), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards (6): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, England), Tim Weah (Lille, France)