ORLANDO —If the U.S. Men’s National Team is going to exact revenge on Canada and retake control of its Nations League group, it will need to do so without the team’s best player and most dangerous attacking weapon.
Christian Pulisic was ruled out of November duty earlier this week after picking up a hip injury last week with Chelsea. The 21-year-old was coming in on great form after scoring five goals in his least three league matches for Frank Lampard’s team. Now with Pulisic out of the USMNT’s rematch against Canada, it will be up to other players to step up and fill a void that no one American player can fill.
“With Christian not being here, I don’t think we have a like for like replacement for him, I don’t think many teams do,” Gregg Berhalter said on Thursday. “When you think his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see many players like that anymore. We’ll have to make up for his loss with other skills. What we do have is speed and physicality, so we will try to use that.”
Pulisic failed to do much in the USMNT’s 2-0 loss at BMO Field back in October, the first loss for the Americans against Canada in 34 years. The Chelsea winger was replaced after 60 minutes and was seen in obvious frustration on the U.S. bench because of it.
Pulisic’s absence will require Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, and Sebastian Lletget become even more important in the USMNT attack. Morris is coming off a strong end of the MLS season which concluded with an MLS Cup title on Sunday. Arriola and Lletget are the likely replacements for Pulisic’s position, but will need to be impactful in order to help the USMNT have success in the final third.
“It’s been working with the wingers and attacking midfielders, trying to have them focused on spaces where we can hurt the opponent,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with when we played Canada up there was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and getting into the final third and providing good crosses. We got into some good positions, but we didn’t take advantage of them. We’ve been focusing on that this week and it’s looked pretty good.”
“Not every player is able to be in every camp,” Weston McKennie said of Pulisic’s absence. “That’s why we have such a big player pool and of course, he’s a big piece of our team and a big piece of our attack as well, but we have players here who are ready to step into that role and give the best that they can. I have full belief in them and they’re obviously here for a reason. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t prepared to take on that task and step into that role.”
With Pulisic in the starting lineup in the first meeting, the USMNT still struggled to force Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan into any difficult saves. Out of nine shots in total, Borjan was called into action on three and Canada eventually ran away with three points.
Without its star, the USMNT remain confident they can knock off its North American rivals and take another step towards a first place finish in the group. Morris, Lletget, Arriola, and Co. may not bring the abilities that Pulisic does to the table, but the team is excited for the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
“He’s a key player for this team and everyone knows he has quality, but thankfully we have players that can fill in those slots,” Lletget said. “It’ll be a different approach and it may be tough, but we have the players to call on and hopefully it helps us to a good result.”