ORLANDO – As the US men’s national team prepare for their Concacaf Nations League match against Canada on Friday (7 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN), the focus around training shifted from who was called in, to who wasn’t.
First-choice goalkeeper Zack Steffen was ruled out for the upcoming matches due to knee tendinitis, while midfielder Christian Pulisic sustained a hip injury in his most recent match for Chelsea and was a last-minute scratch for the national team. Though Steffen played over the weekend for Fortuna Düsseldorf in the Bundesliga, the decisions to not call him and Pulisic up for these crucial games were not taken lightly by the US coaching staff.
“This was a collaborative decision with the club looking after the best interest of the player,” coach Gregg Berhalter said of Pulisic’s injury, “These situations are always difficult because this group and the coaching staff would want nothing more than to have Christian here, but it was a risk that we just weren’t willing to take at this time.”
While Pulisic’s call-up was a mutual decision between Chelsea and the USMNT, the decision to leave Steffen back in Germany was a more calculated one by the US coaching staff.
“Our performance staff has done a great job of working collaboratively with these clubs,” Berhalter said. “We’re getting all the training data and game data and all of a sudden you see this huge void on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and it kicks up again on Thursday, Friday and what happened is he hasn’t been training. They’re doing everything they can to keep him together to be able to perform on the weekend.
“What we had evaluated at this stage is, ‘okay, does it make sense to keep him pushing at this stage, not be able to train, fly over here, then not train and play the game?’ We said the rest was probably better, this is a long-term play," Berhalter continued. "The health of Zack, him playing this entire season, getting that under his belt, is very important at this stage.”
For the short term, the US will try to fill the voids in their next two games. With no obvious replacements set, it will be up to Berhalter and staff to utilize the next few days as a barometer for his team to see who will step up in their stead.
“It's about putting the right personnel on the field to capitalize on some of the weaknesses that we see in Canada,” Berhalter said, “We’ll use this week to determine that, but we certainly want to be aggressive in that game and we want to score some goals.”