Two of his centerpiece attackers are out injured, and others are freshly recovered from recent knocks. Four regular starters are carrying yellow cards that put them in jeopardy of suspension. Three players based in the United Kingdom are ruled out of the second match of the October window due to that nation’s COVID-19-based travel restrictions. Notable names across the player pool have faded in and out of their club teams’ starting XIs over the past few weeks.

And that’s just a few of the many variables Gregg Berhalter and his staff are juggling as they prepare to reconvene the US men’s national team for another trio of massively important Concacaf Octagonal World Cup qualifiers next week.

The USMNT will gather in Austin for the first time ever after their club matches this weekend, training at Austin FC’s St. David’s Performance Center facility next week and hosting Jamaica at Q2 Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 7. Then it’s off to Panama – a round trip of nearly 4,000 miles – for a clash with Los Canaleros on Sunday, Oct. 10 before pulling up stakes for Columbus, Ohio, site of the home match vs. Costa Rica at Field on Wednesday, Oct. 13.

As they learned in the first batch of Ocho games, even the basic logistics of these intensely draining, COVID-19-impacted international windows are daunting, let alone the opponents, the away-day environments and the nerve-jangling stakes.

“The first round was just an amazing learning experience for the entire group. When we think about how many players made their debut, and the coaching staff and the players learning together what exactly this is about,” said Berhalter in a Wednesday media availability following the release of his latest roster.

“The players learned a lot about what these environments are, what the atmosphere is like and what the level of desperation that the opponent brings to each game, so I think that's important,” he added when asked about the lessons of the September window. “From a coaching standpoint, I think we learned about rotations and the impact of substitutes, the impact of getting fresh bodies on, how we can physically wear down opponents, what these games end up looking like as the window goes on.

“But mostly, we played 21 different starters in this last window. And that's a lot, to be juggling that in seven days, these 21 different starters, is a really interesting task for the coaches. So I think, in general, that's what we're taking away – it's how we need to use the entire squad to be successful.”

Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna are unavailable, still recovering from injuries suffered in the last window. Tyler Adams, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Weston McKennie – who returns after being suspended for the Canada and Honduras games due to a violation of team rules – are carrying cautions and face one-game suspensions with their next yellow cards. While Berhalter didn’t quite close the door on the idea of Pulisic and Reyna getting a late call, it’s a long shot.

“I wouldn't rule them completely out. I think that it is unlikely, just due to where they're at, not even involved in team training yet,” he said. “So I think it's unlikely that they could participate, but we're in constant communication with them, daily communication, and I’d describe the situation as day-to-day.”

Pending any late developments that would exempt them from the policy, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson and Zack Steffen can’t travel to Panama, due to that country being on the UK government’s “red list” of nations considered high risk for COVID and requiring a quarantine period upon return. So the trio are expected to jet directly from Austin to Columbus after the Jamaica fixture. And while that travel limitation wasn’t the main reason Josh Sargent (Norwich) and Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest) were left out of this squad, it couldn’t be ignored.

“Regarding Josh and Ethan, there was some consideration of that, of what type of group we're going to have to leave back, what type of group we’d have available for the Panama game,” said Berhalter. “What I'd say is that that situation is also fluid, it also is day-to-day. We'll learn more information on Monday when we're in camp, but that was certainly a factor.”

With Austin FC drawing big, spirited crowds in their inaugural season, Texas’ capital city has proved a head-turning new addition to the United States’ soccer landscape in 2021 and Berhalter spoke highly of the facilities and setting on offer.

“We're going to be in market basically Sunday to Friday. We'll be training at St. David’s, great facility, have everything we need. We'll eat lunch at St. David's, we’ll do recovery at St. David's and really make it like home, and I think it'll be a good environment to train in and prepare us for the heat in Panama as well, which will be important,” he said.

“Seeing the atmosphere [at Q2] and being there in person, both with the national team and watching Austin, it's amazing,” added Berhalter, whose son Sebastian is currently playing for the Verde on loan from Columbus Crew. “It's really impressive what Austin has been able to do, the fan culture there has hit the ground running with the drums and the lights and the green and all that stuff.”

In an echo of University of Texas football coach Mac Brown’s memorable 1998 message to Longhorns fans to “Come early, be loud, stay late, wear orange,” Berhalter asked USMNT supporters to show out for next Thursday’s meeting with the Reggae Boyz.

“One thing to highlight is right now the kickoff is right around 7:00, and we need the fans to get there early and be loud,” said the coach, “because we're going to need all the home support we can get.”