Any list of top attacking options for the U.S. men’s national team will begin the names Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, which makes their absence from the October World Cup qualifiers due to injury all the more concerning for a USMNT setup that must now find a way to try and replace them.The good news for Gregg Berhalter is the presence of two in-form wing options in Tim Weah and Brenden Aaronson, along with some fresh faces in midfield who could help fill the creative void left by the injuries to Pulisic and Reyna.
“We’re losing talent for sure, without Christian and Gio, those guys play in the top teams in the world and they’re capable of unbalancing a team,” USMNT midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “We’re losing a lot of quality, guys that dribble and find that final pass. However, on the flip side, now we have more runners. We have guys that are playing off the ball, less ball-to-feet and now more into space so we can really stretch guys in behind with the players that we have here.
“It’s next-man-up mentality,” Roldan said. “We know those guys are rooting for us really hard, and we have the guys that can get the job done.”
Aaronson and Weah are the leading candidates to step in and help fill that void, which is something Aaronson already has experiencing doing after shining in the wing role left open by the hamstring injury that sidelined Reyna after the draw against El Salvador. Aaronson struggled in that match, but scored the lone goal in the draw against Canada before coming off the bench to play an instrumental role in the comeback win against Honduras.
Weah wasn’t part of the September squad after suffering an injury prior to the September window, but he has recovered and hit an excellent run of form heading into this month’s qualifiers.
“They both face faced off in the Champions League game last week, and it was great to see them playing against each other,” Berhalter said of Weah and Aaronson. “They’ve both been having good seasons. Timmy has had a couple of assists lately, drew a foul for penalty, and has been dangerous.
“Brendan has been playing a ton of minutes, but really active in the top of a diamond of a 4-4-2, and has been doing a great job as well,” Berhalter said. ” They’re doing really well in the Champions League, which is fun to see, and in the league they’re blowing it up again, so he’s doing a great job. I’m hoping that they can make a similar impact with us, especially with their verticality, with their speed, with their ability to press.”
Replacing the creativity lost by the absence of Reyna and Pulisic won’t just fall to Aaronson and Weah, but also the central midfield, where the likes of Weston McKennie and Sebastian Lletget will be looking to help the USMNT generate chances, particularly on the counter.
“Counterattacking is something that we need to do a really good job of in this game and taking advantage in wide areas,” Roldan said. “I felt that in the Jamaica game, they dropped off when when we tried to run in behind and that’s just going to create a lot of space out wide so being able to exploit the wide areas and also getting runners in the box. Good things happen when we have a lot of guys in the box. That’s how we got our goal, and that’s how we can we can punish Jamaica.
Roldan could also have a part to play in helping the USMNT create chances. The Seattle Sounders midfielder came off the bench and helped set up the winning goal to beat Jamaica in the Gold Cup, and he enters the October qualifiers having scored in four straight matches for the Sounders.
While Roldan, Matthew Hoppe and Paul Arriola are all candidates to play a part in Berhalter’s attack on the wings, it is more likely to be Aaronson and Weah getting the first cracks at trying to fill the void left by the absences of Pulisic and Reyna. Given their recent form and their ability to provide a dynamic two-way threat, Aaronson and Weah could very well be the keys to helping the Americans defeat Jamaica for the third time in 2021, in what will be the most important of those three meetings.