AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Gregg Berhalter signaled optimism that US men’s national team talisman Christian Pulisic will overcome his pelvic contusion in time for Saturday’s World Cup Round of 16 meeting with the Netherlands (10 am ET | FOX, Telemundo) as he addressed the media at a matchday-1 press conference ahead of the single-elimination match.
Editor's note: After publication Friday, US Soccer confirmed Pulisic will be available for selection.
“Regarding Christian, we're going to see him on the training field today. What I think is it looks pretty good,” the USMNT manager remarked at FIFA’s media center at the Qatar National Convention Centre. “But we'll have to see him today on the pitch to get confirmation of that.”
That’s a significant endorsement considering how cautious Berhalter usually is in these settings. From the moment the USMNT booked their place in the knockout stages, finishing second in Group B, it always seemed like the pain would have to be astronomical for Pulisic to miss out on this massive stage vs. Group A's winner.
Berhalter nodded to the fierce desire any player would have to seize this opportunity when asked about Norwich City striker Josh Sargent, who injured his ankle in the decisive 1-0 victory over Iran and sounds less promising than Pulisic.
The Chelsea star was hurt when colliding with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand on his first-half goal, while Sargent awkwardly landed on the ball vs. Team Melli.
“He's another one we're going to test in training, see where he's at,” the USMNT boss said of Sargent. “I think with Christian, we're hopeful. I think with [Sargent] a little less so. But we'll see. I mean, he's going to test, he's going to go at this time.
“At this stage, it's go time, and if you can push through it, you do it. So I'm sure he'll have that mindset.”
Aaronson, Wright options
It’s possible either or both of those attackers could be used off the bench for maximum impact. Saturday will be the Yanks’ fourth World Cup match in 13 days, and their preferred high-tempo pressing and possession approach, while quite effective in the first half of their games thus far, has been difficult to maintain in second halves.
If the Netherlands win the possession battle, as many would expect, ground coverage and defensive tracking will be important for the USMNT. Brenden Aaronson replaced Pulisic after his injury on Tuesday and has been used as a substitute in all three matches to date. Both Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams, his teammate at Leeds United, were richly complimentary of Aaronson on Friday.
“The way we look at it, we're lucky to be able to bring a player with his caliber into the game. It's a luxury to have,” Berhalter of the Philadelphia Union product, who’s renowned for his pressing abilities. “I've spoken to him and I know he'd want more of a role, but he's more than willing to accept it and do what he can. And he really gives the team a boost when he comes in with his energy.”
Should Sargent be unable to go, Berhalter could return to Antalyaspor striker Haji Wright after he started the 0-0 draw vs. England and has come off the bench in other Group B games. FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira, the other natural No. 9 option, hasn’t yet played in Qatar.
Wait, the flu?
Berhalter also revealed the US camp, like the Dutch, have been hit with flu-like symptoms at the tournament. Many reckon it’s a product of the icy levels of air conditioning the host nation has maintained at stadiums and other venues, combatting heat in the Middle East country.
“We had it also,” said Berhalter, though he and many others present chuckled when Adams simply said “I’m good” when the topic was pointed in his direction. “The staff, almost every staff member had it. I was, the first week or two it was really, really bad. But now it's much better, breathing a lot better.”