Hershey’s Christian Pulisic has been cleared to join the U.S. men’s soccer team’s squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers after recently testing positive for COVID-19. But don’t be surprised if he doesn’t play in all of the upcoming games.
Pulisic’s positive test was announced on Aug. 20 by the player and his club, England’s Chelsea. British government rules mandate a 10-day isolation period for anyone who tests positive, which took Pulisic right up to the edge of the U.S. report date.
“There’s a lot of things that need to happen before that for him to actually get on the plane and come,” said Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team. “This is a COVID situation, and there’s a lot of tests that he needs to go through before he arrives. And even then, everyone handles it differently, everyone responds to it differently, everyone recovers from it differently.”
Once Pulisic arrives, Berhalter said, “it’s going to be just day to day see where he’s at.” He said it’s “really too early to tell if he’ll be available” for the full three-game slate.
The Americans open the 14-game round-robin tournament at El Salvador next Thursday (10 p.m., CBS Sports Network, Universo and Paramount+); host Canada in Nashville on Sept. 5 (8 p.m., FS1, UniMás and TUDN); then play at Honduras on Sept. 8 (10 p.m., Universo and Paramount+).
Pulisic is one of four local players on the 26-man squad. That’s a larger group than usual, because the slate is larger than usual: three games in a week-plus instead of two over a long weekend. Berhalter will pick 23 players for each game day.
Downingtown’s Zack Steffen will likely be the starting goalkeeper; Medford’s Brenden Aaronson will be among the first attackers off the bench, and could start one of the games; and Bear, Del.’s, Mark McKenzie will be a backup centerback.
Aaronson is coming off leading Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg to a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage. He’ll be one of 12 Americans in this season’s tournament, and Thursday’s draw put him in a group with two others: John Brooks of Germany’s VfL Wolfsburg and Tim Weah of France’s Lille. Both are also on this U.S. team.
The squad includes a quartet of notable youngsters: left back George Bello, 19 (Atlanta United); versatile defender James Sands, 21 (New York City FC); winger Konrad de la Fuente, 20 (Marseille, France); and striker Ricardo Pepi, 18 (FC Dallas).
Pepi, born in El Paso to Mexican immigrant parents, was hotly recruited by the U.S. and Mexico. Like a high school football or basketball player, he was asked often by media which team he’d commit to. It emerged during Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game festivities, where Pepi played, that he had picked the United States. After the word got out, he capped off the night by scoring the winning penalty kick in the shootout — against the All-Star team from Mexico’s Liga MX.
“This country has given my family so many opportunities and it really has helped me achieve my goals. What better way to help them by hopefully one day lifting up a World Cup?” Pepi said in a statement issued by FC Dallas. “I said that when I made this decision it would be with the heart. It’s been made with the heart. If I put that jersey on, I am fighting for it until I can’t fight anymore.”
Notable absences include midfielder Yunus Musah (Valencia, Spain), who is in the final stages of recovery from an ankle injury, and two players whose club situations are unsettled: centerback Chris Richards (Bayern Munich, Germany) and right back Reggie Cannon (Boavista, Portugal).
The U.S. roster
Goalkeepers (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest, England), Zack Steffen (Manchester City, England), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders (10): George Bello (Atlanta United), John Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg, Germany), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona, Spain), Mark McKenzie (Genk, Belgium), Tim Ream (Fulham, England), Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), James Sands (New York City FC), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray, Turkey), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 17/2)
Midfielders (5): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, Germany), Sebastian Lletget (Los Angeles Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Juventus, Italy), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards (8): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Konrad de la Fuente (Olympique Marseille, France), Jordan Pefok (Young Boys, Switzerland), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, England), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Josh Sargent (Norwich City, England), Tim Weah (Lille, France)