The U.S. men’s national team’s quest to win the 2021 Gold Cup has taken a hit after Walker Zimmerman was ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
New England Revolution defender Henry Kessler and San Jose Earthquakes forward Cade Cowell are set to join the USMNT in training camp in Texas ahead of Sunday’s Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica, though the Americans have yet to formally apply for any roster changes.
No other injury updates were provided by the USMNT on Tuesday evening, but forward Daryl Dike did suffer a shoulder injury late in Sunday’s 1-0 win against Canada, while Paul Arriola has remained sidelined since suffering an injury in the USMNT’s Gold Cup-opening win against Haiti.
Concacaf announced on Monday a change to Gold Cup guidelines, instituting medical replacements for the knockout rounds. Under the new guidelines, teams can make injury or illness-related roster changes up to 24 hours prior to their quarterfinal matches, if the roster changes are approved by Concacaf.
Zimmerman’s departure is a big blow to the USMNT’s defensive setup, and will leave Berhalter pondering how to set up his defense in the quarterfinals against Jamaica. The emergence of James Sands as an ideal central centerback in a three-centerback system helped turn the 5-3-2 formation into the USMNT’s preferred formation at the Gold Cup, but losing Zimmerman could force Berhalter to revert to the 4-3-3 the Americans normally play when at full strength.
One of the best rookies in MLS in 2020, Kessler would bring another sharp-passing central defender into the fold, and while he has more experience playing in a two-centerback system, Kessler does have some familiarity playing in a three-centerback setup.
Kessler has yet to make his USMNT debut, but he did play with the U.S. Under-23 men’s national team at the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament in March and took part in the USMNT’s January camp.
Donovan Pines struggled badly in the second half of Sunday’s win against Haiti after he replaced Zimmerman. The D.C. United defender started out well enough, but committed a series of errors in the second half that the Americans were lucky not to be punished by.
With Pines looking so shaky, Berhalter could be forced to deploy Miles Robinson and James Sands together in a 4-3-3, a setup, which would limit Sands ability to influence the game by shifting into midfield, as he did effectively in the first half against Canada.
As far as Cowell goes, he would make sense as a replacement option if Dike is unable to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered against Haiti. Cowell can operate as a striker and a wide forward. The 17-year-old is one of the most exciting teenagers in MLS, and has not made a USMNT appearance before. Cowell is also eligible to play for Mexico, and an appearance in the Gold Cup would cap-tie him to the United States.
The fact that the USMNT didn’t call in any natural wingers to join the camp suggests Arriola is closer to recovering from his injury, though Berhalter has until Saturday to submit any changes and can still draw from the 59-player preliminary roster, a list that includes wing options such as Chris Mueller and Corey Baird.
The Americans will take on Jamaica on Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas after the Reggae Boyz suffered a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica that gave the Ticos first place in Group C.