Head coach Gregg Berhalter has revealed two members of the US men's national team's lineup for Tuesday's international friendly vs. Saudi Arabia, telling reporters on site in Murcia, Spain forwards Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi will return to the starting XI.
It's significant news for the USMNT's final match before they gather for the 2022 World Cup in November, a game that has taken on added significance in the wake of Friday's ugly 2-0 loss to Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Tuesday's duel at Estadio Nueva Condomina (2 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, UniMás) is Berhalter's last chance to work on team tactics and relationships, as well as make individual player evaluations, in the countdown to his planned announcement of the final roster for Qatar at an event in New York City on Nov. 9.
As the program's most accomplished and well-known player, and the standard-bearer for its generation of young talent, Pulisic's presence is always noteworthy, especially given the recurring injuries that have often sidelined or limited him during the current World Cup cycle.
He did not take part in the Japan loss due to what Berhalter termed a "knock" sustained during training last week, although it was framed as a minor issue that would not have prevented him from taking part in a fully competitive match. Tuesday will mark his ninth start for the USMNT this year, and his 10th appearance.
Berhalter's nod means even more for Pepi, who fell down the pecking order as he struggled in the Germany's Bundesliga after last winter's record-breaking transfer (reported $20 million) from FC Dallas to FC Augsburg, a development that led to him going out on loan at Dutch side Groningen this season.
The 19-year-old striker went nearly a year without scoring a goal for club or country before notching an assist and a goal in his first two Eredivisie appearances earlier this month.
That, combined with his vital contributions in the early stages of the USMNT's Concacaf Octagonal qualifying campaign – where he bagged three goals and three assists to steady the team's rocky start with big wins over Honduras and Jamaica – earned him a return to the fold this month. Against Japan, former FCD teammate Jesus Ferreira started before Norwich City's Josh Sargent was brought on for the second half.
When announcing his roster for this international window, Berhalter made clear Pepi must earn his place at the World Cup, but will be given the minutes to make his case.
"On Pepi, keep in mind this is a guy that scored three goals for us in World Cup qualifying, right, and has had a tough time since then," said the coach. "We're trying to get him confidence. We're trying to get him into the group and see if he can make a push for the final roster. That's TBD right now.
"Pepi has also had some good history with us. He started really important games, and we just weren't willing to give all that up right now with Pepi. We still think there's a big upside with him. We still think he's got really good potential. Let's not forget, in our last qualifying window, he started two of the three games in a crucial World Cup qualifying window. So he is a guy that we've counted on in the past and we want to give him an opportunity in this window."
World Cup awaits
Tuesday’s friendly is the last chance for Berhalter's squad to play together before Group B games get underway Nov. 21 vs. Wales. The USMNT will also face England (Nov. 25) and Iran (Nov. 29) in Group B, with the top two nations reaching the Round of 16.