Top Stories

Injury absences present opportunities for USMNT candidates vs. Japan

In an ideal world, Gregg Berhalter would go into his the U.S. men’s national team friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia with a full-strength squad in order to give his preferred starting lineup two valuable opportunities to play together before the FIFA World Cup.

Injuries will keep that scenario from being an option for the USMNT though, and while key starters such as Antonee Robinson and Yunus Musah are set to miss the September friendlies, those absences will give the rest of the player pool a chance to bolster their own cases for a seat on the plane the Qatar.

Berhalter took a bit of suspense away regarding the USMNT lineup he will deploy against Japan on Friday (8 a.m., ESPN2/UniMas), confirming on Thursday that Sam Vines would start at left back in place of the injured Robinson, while Matt Turner and centerbacks Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long also prepare to start.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

One position Berhalter didn’t divulge on Wednesday was which of his midfielders would step into the starting central role left vacant by Musah’s absence. Brenden Aaronson had been seen as a likely option to step in, but neither Berhalter or midfielders Weston McKennie or Tyler Adams mentioned Aaronson first or second when rattling off potential fill-ins for Musah’s spot.

“One of the key attributes of our team is obviously the depth in our team,” Adams said on Wednesday. “Yunus is a vital part to our midfield and obviously what he brings to the team is there’s something special, and me in Weston have obviously built a good chemistry with him. But we look forward to giving guys opportunities to play. We have guys like Luca De La Torre, that can step in there, Kellyn Acosta that can step in there that are all proven guys, so they’ll step in and do their job.”

De La Torre was the first midfielder mentioned by Berhalter when discussing potential Musah replacements, which wouldn’t be such a surprise if not for the fact De La Torre has played very few minutes for Celta Vigo since joining the Spanish club on a free transfer late in the summer.

De La Torre isn’t the only USMNT player struggling for consistent minutes though, with USMNT stars such as Christian Pulisic and SergiƱo Dest currently caught up in the battle for playing time at their clubs, which could limit how many minutes they can play in the September friendlies.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

That reality should mean more opportunities off the bench in the September friendlies for fringe options fighting for the final spots on the USMNT World Cup roster.

“I think it’s where the six subs in friendly games comes into play,” Berhalter said. “We’ll manage those guys until they get fatigued, and then when they can’t produce their actions anymore, we’ll get them off the field. I think that’s the beauty of having six substitutes.

“I can imagine that the World Cup, some teams will be doing that for players that that aren’t playing 90 minutes, that aren’t completely fit,” Berhalter said. “So I think there’s a balance. Ideally, you want guys that can produce high energy throughout the 90 minutes, but with six subs, it gives you some flexibility.”

As things stand, Aaronson and Adams are the only European-based USMNT players earning consistent starts in Europe’s top leagues, with even McKennie facing a fight for a steady role in the Juventus midfield and Gio Reyna working his way back into a locked-in starting spot at Borussia Dortmund.

The MLS-based trio of Zimmerman, Long and Jesus Ferreira have settled in as starters in Berhalter’s first-choice lineup, but the fight for the spots behind them, and even spots to challenge them, will be among the key battles to watch as Berhalter makes lineup changes against Japan. Josh Sargent comes into the September friendlies in the best form of his career, and the same can be said for Mark McKenzie, who is fighting to move up the pecking order at centerback after being included in the September camp as a late injury replacement.

Along with having a chance to see some players like Sargent and McKenzie, Berhalter and the USMNT will face Japan in a match that should help give them a fresh look, much the same way Morocco and Uruguay did in the June friendlies.

“I think it’s amazing, playing these friendlies now, because we’re not familiar with them,” McKennie said. “Maybe some players have played against some of the players on their team over the weekends, but that’s one of the big things about the World Cup. Sometimes you play against teams that you haven’t played against before that you’ve never experienced playing against. And I think this right here is definitely going to help us diversify our play a little bit and adapt to certain situations and certain game plays we may not be familiar with.”


  1. Looking forward to the game tomorrow. Japan should provide a challenge while being a winnable game. While still disappointed that Richards, Jedi, Musah, & Weah won’t have the chance to continue development of the team chemistry I am Looking forwards to seeing how some of the new/returning guys perform. In particular Sargent’s return and how Aaronson & Reyna will be deployed.
    At this point I’ve given up on Gregg and his idiotic player selections and press statements. I just hope that USSF will not renew Gregg’s contract after the WC and we finally get a coach worthy of the players available in our player pool.

  2. Berhalter reminds me of every double speaking, egomaniacal, virtue-signaling, humble-bragging, pretending-to-be-a-man-of-the-people corporate d-bag I’ve ever worked for in a west coast office building. Complete with the sneakers. Come on. Did anyone see his party-line praise of the new kits? He’s a walking Linkedin profile.

    What does he have against the Bundesliga? Belgian league Sam Vines over Joe Scally who starts every game for Gladbach? (and plays both sides)
    He is putting way too much weight on whatever flukes occur in his presence.
    Day in, day out, in real competitive games against the best competition, Scally is better than Vines, and Pefok is the best striker we have. What is wrong with this guy’s ego that makes him think “another look” is necessary?

    • Im genuinely impressed by your ability to work your regionalism, politics, egotism, and personal history as a disgruntled office worker who hates sneakers into a single post about the USMNT. Bravo.

      Scally: He isn’t left footed. Vines is. Haven’t watched either of them recently. But all things being equal, or even with Scally being a little better, give Vines a look in his natural position. If he fails to impress, Scally is in.

      Pefok: Agreed.

    • While I don’t have a real problem with the CB’s, I don’t think EPB has been given enough weight/credit. He has consistently advanced to where he is a consistent starter in a top 5 league. I really think he deserves to start one of these games.. So many of our European players started out in MLS and are in Europe because they are better than MLS, but Berhalter doesn’t seem to recognize that. European scouts know their business and when they pick out Americans for that continent, it’s because they are deemed to be better players than those still in MLS. Similarly, if a player is playing regularly in the Bundesliga, chances are very good that he is better than someone in Belgium, Holland, or a similar league.

      • EPB has looked bad in friendlies and has been average-to-poor for Troyes. European scouts sure do know a lot about him… because he keeps getting moved from team to team. Can’t seem to stick anywhere over there. I’m not sure riding the pine or stinking it up in Eurpope necessarily makes a player better than an MLSer, unless you just like categories. What if Wondo had played in some bottom-table French team? Would that have justified his inclusion of Landon…?

        I don’t like Long either. So, who would I start over EPB? … Maaaaybe Richards? Maybe…? The CB situation has me worried about a group stage exit.

      • Quaker-

        I’m with you on that. Pre-injury Aaron Long maybe could have held up…his distribution’s always been bad, but he was just so athletic and quick to recover his athleticism showed up in big moments the way Miles Robinson’s did, dude would just arrive out of nowhere and whoa, fella, you sure snuffed that one out, rock on. Haven’t seen that guy in awhile. I’d like to. We could use him in Qatar.

        Short of that, we need to find somebody, to the point I definitely am rooting for McKenzie or EPB to show more than they’ve shown in past callups. They’re both young guys, it could happen…but we desperately need at least one of them to come good because if Long starts getting shelled we could have a short disappointing stay in Qatar.

Leave a Comment