ORLANDO — The U.S. Men’s National Team is facing crisis heading into Friday’s Nations League clash with Canada.
Christian Pulisic’s absence from the squad leaves a huge hole in the USMNT attack, and now an attack that was already struggling to generate chances will have to find a way to create them without its best player.
“We’re going to have to get creative to find that creativity,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said with a grin when asked by SBI about the squad’s lack of creative options. “But in all seriousness, it’s about putting the right personnel on the field to be able to capitalize on some of the weaknesses that we see in Canada.
“We’ll use this week to determine that, but we certainly want to be aggressive in that game and we want to score some goals.”
The current squad will be without regular starters Pulisic and Michael Bradley, which should provide opportunities for others to step into prominent roles. Paul Arriola is a player who could step into Pulisic’s wing role, while Sergino Dest is also someone who could be deployed further up the field in an attacking role instead of playing at left back, where he is projected to start.
Sebastian Lletget is arguably the most creative player on the current roster and is a good option in central midfield, but he is also a player who hasn’t played since his LA Galaxy were eliminated from the MLS playoffs on October 24th.
Potentially making things even tougher for the USMNT attack is the possibility that Canada will pack numbers back defensively. The Canadians only need a draw to secure their place in the Nations League knockout rounds, so the Americans could find themselves trying to break through a stingy defensive block.
If Canada goes that route, there will be even more of an emphasis on the USMNT being able to execute sharp passing and intelligent movement to unlock the Canadian defense.
The good news for the Americans is that their defensive group should be stronger than the unit that surrendered a 2-0 loss to Canada. The additions of John Brooks, Dest and Alfredo Morales will bolster the U.S. defense, which could allow Berhalter to commit more numbers to his attack.
Also working in the USMNT’s favor is the fact that some of its attacking players enter the current camp in good form. Josh Sargent endured a forgettable showing against Canada in October, but has been performing well for Werder Bremen in the month since then. Jordan Morris is also in outstanding form, having just helped the Seattle Sounders win their second MLS Cup title in four years.
Just how effective Sargent and Morris are will depend on the chances the U.S. midfield can generate, and the ability of Weston McKennie, Lletget and/or Cristian Roldan to deliver dangerous service.
That will be easier said than done against a Canada side that can afford to play for a tie, and it will be much tougher to pull off without Pulisic and his red-hot recent form.