It’s with good reason. Peril lurks even for those who are fortunate enough to make this final, life-changing cut, at least the ones who play in Europe. Because there’s still one more week of club soccer left across the pond before the FIFA-mandated international pause begins, signaling the honest-to-goodness eve of the big tournament.
We’ll start on the bearish side of things before a Nov. 21 Group B opener against Wales.
The Colorado Rapids product broke his tibia late last week while training with Royal Antwerp. It’s a three-to-four-month recovery process and while the 23-year-old wasn’t a World Cup lock, he seemed to have been the leading option for a specialist backup to Antonee “Jedi” Robinson at left back.
There are tactical implications to consider here, because the next few likely names – Sergiño Dest, Joe Scally and Kellyn Acosta – on Gregg Berhalter’s LB depth chart are right-footed. As we’ve seen in the last few years of match action, using one of them inverted on the left corner tends to shift the team’s overall shape and patterns of play along that flank.
Meanwhile, the Yanks’ first-choice right back is carrying what AC Milan calls “adductor fatigue,” which kept him out of the Rossoneri’s Serie A win over Spezia on Saturday and, if reports out of Italy are accurate, will also prevent him from taking part in Tuesday’s league match vs. Cremonese.
Issues with the adductors, a group of muscles that link the inner thighs to the core, can be both persistent and elusive because they are so central to both general running and movement and soccer-specific elements like ball striking. From where we’re standing, that makes this more concerning for the USMNT than some of the knocks plaguing other players – Dest’s minutes, even in training, may have to be carefully managed in Qatar.
Another highly talented but injury-plagued youngster, Richards is a legit competitor to start next to Walker Zimmerman at center back – when healthy. And Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira revealed to reporters over the weekend that the latter conditional still hasn’t been fully met, even after weeks of recovery and rehabilitation for the hamstring issue that ruled Richards out of the USMNT’s September camp.
“Chris has started doing some work outside but he didn’t do any kind of training with the team yet,” said the former New York City FC coach. “What is important is about him physically, there is a step he has to go through and at the moment he hasn’t done any kind of training with the squad. So the decision is not going to be mine but with the doctor.”
Berhalter could still bring Richards to the Middle East to get a closer look himself, but if he’s not going full bore with his club right now, it significantly drops his odds of being on the final roster.
We already knew about the muscular strains suffered by these two central midfielders in recent weeks, both of which carry estimated recovery times that bump right up against the start of the World Cup. Yet we got encouraging signs from their clubs’ respective training grounds in recent days.
Celta de Vigo posted images of de la Torre jogging on their Instagram, which is as decent an update as we’re likely to get, suggesting he’s on a normal return trajectory. And Juventus head coach Massimo Allegri said on Sunday that McKennie “should be back” in training from Monday ahead of the club’s Thursday-Sunday brace of league fixtures. We’d still be surprised if the FC Dallas academy product is on either of those gameday rosters, but it’s promising news for the USMNT nevertheless.
In Scotland, Cameron Carter-Vickers, who sat out Celtic’s UEFA Champions League loss to Real Madrid due to soreness after a league outing on Livingston’s artificial-turf pitch, returned to the Bhoys’ XI for a 4-2 win over Dundee United.
After missing a few games with a groin injury, the United States’ most-used goalkeeper during qualifying was on the bench for Arsenal's 1-0 weekend win over Christian Pulisic’s Chelsea. That’s not quite as nice as a start, of course, but it suggests that he’s put the worst of it behind him.
Turner’s last likely opportunity for playing time before the World Cup is the Gunners’ opening Carabao Cup match this week, a Wednesday visit from Bright & Hove Albion. Notably, his fellow GK Ethan Horvath posted two clean sheets for Luton Town in the English Championship over the past week, blanking Blackpool and Reading, while Zack Steffen notched a win and a draw to help 20th-place Middlesbrough clamber up the table a bit.
There was end product across the Atlantic as well. Ricardo Pepi assisted on FC Groningen’s goal vs. Utrecht in Eredivisie action on Sunday, only for fellow American Taylor Booth to equalize with a fine strike that set the stage for Utrecht’s 2-1 comeback win.
Josh Sargent played a role in Norwich City’s winner over Rotherham as he returned to the pitch (the full 90 minutes, no less) for the Canaries after two games lost to a calf issue. In Turkey, Haji Wright bagged his ninth goal of the season – tops among Yanks in major European leagues – for Antalyaspor to spark a comeback that ended in a 4-2 victory over Fatih Karagümrük.
And Gio Reyna, one of the USMNT’s most irreplaceable attacking personalities both on and off the pitch, scored from the penalty spot in Borussia Dortmund’s 3-0 Bundesliga win over Bochum, the latest in his encouraging string of injury-free outings for BVB.