Christian Pulisic’s positive COVID-19 test is threatening to throw a wrench in the U.S. men’s national team’s preparations for September’s World Cup qualifiers, and the question now is who will Gregg Berhalter turn to if Pulisic is unavailable?
It isn’t as if Berhalter hasn’t had to deal with a Pulisic absence before. Injuries have cost Pulisic several opportunities to play with the USMNT in recent years, and has forced Berhalter to deploy other alternatives.
That practice should serve Berhalter well as he contends with the possibility of not having his most dangerous attacking weapon for the World Cup qualifying opener against El Salvador on September 2.
As things stand, Pulisic will need to go into a 10-day quarantine from the day he tested positive, which could potentially give him enough time to be cleared to travel to Nashville and join the USMNT camp in time to to be part of the travel party heading to El Salvador on September 1.
However, if there are any delays or complications, or anything that winds up ruling Pulisic out for the El Salvador match, Berhalter does have some alternatives to plug into the left forward/left wing role in his 4-3-3 setup.
Here are the leading candidates to fill in for Pulisic if he is not available to face El Salvador (or Canada, or Honduras).:
Konrad De La Fuente
The Marseille winger is off to a flying start since joining the French side via transfer from FC Barcelona. Much like Pulisic does with the USMNT, De La Fuente has been playing as a right-footed left-winger for Marseille, where his speed and ability to cut inside have made him a real threat for the Ligue 1 side.
The Lille winger started the most recent match for the French champions, and featured prominently for the USMNT against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League final. Weah is more of a right-sided option though, and Berhalter could swap Gio Reyna to the left side if he chooses to go with Weah, who has more national team experience than De La Fuente, which could be a deciding factor considering the opening match will be on the road in Central America.
Deployed mainly on the wing in his USMNT appearances, Aaronson operated in the left forward role in the friendly win against Costa Rica back in June, and he enjoyed a Man of the Match-worthy performance in that position. He has been starting regularly and playing well for Red Bull Salzburg, though this season he has been playing consistently in a central midfield role.
An impressive run playing as a left forward at the Gold Cup makes Hoppe an interesting option, though his lack of playing time to start the season at Schalke could hurt his chances. Will Berhalter bring in a player who doesn’t have World Cup qualifying experience and isn’t match fit? The fact the USMNT will have a larger-than-normal training camp squad could still let Hoppe take part, and once in camp he would have a chance to convince Berhalter he’s worth considering for Pulisic’s spot.
A player with World Cup qualifying experience who Berhalter trusts, Arriola would make plenty of sense as a starting winger down in El Salvador — after all, Arriola has started a qualifier at Azteca, so he’s battle-tested — but an injury he picked up on Wednesday could rule him out. There is no update at the moment on the severity of the injury though.
Who would you like to see get the nod if Pulisic can’t play against El Salvador? Who is an option that we should have included on this list?
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