United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter said he’ll analyze the status of his injured players on a “case-by-case basis” ahead of naming his roster for the World Cup that starts later this month.
The 26-player roster for Qatar will be named on Wednesday, and Berhalter told ESPN that his pool of players has numbered around 32 “for the last couple of months.”
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But his calculations have been complicated by a spate of injuries. Celta Vigo midfielder Luca de la Torre will be out until just before the start of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
The status of Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie is slightly better, but a quad injury is set to sideline him for another 10 days. Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner has missed the Gunners’ past three games, while Crystal Palace defender Chris Richards hasn’t played since Aug. 27 with a leg injury.
“Ideally, we’d want guys fit, playing 90 minutes every week,” Berhalter said last week. “There is less lead time to get the guys fit, so we’re just gonna have to take it on a case-by-case basis.
“You do have five subs [per game], so there’s some positions that if you sub regularly, you can say, ‘OK, maybe it’s not that big of a deal that the guy’s not 100% fit because you can get ’em out anyway.’ So there’s a number of things you just have to take into consideration.”
Berhalter is aware that a player possibly getting injured with his club team isn’t something he can control. For that reason, his approach is to plan for any eventuality.
“As a coach, you take it all in stride,” he said. “You know that at some times one position is going to be hot and then the others are going to be pulled down.
“And then there will be change where another position will be hot and then one will pull down. It’s not something we get bent out of shape on. We play a team game. We want to win together, and so we’re constantly thinking about every position in the same way.”
The U.S. is concluding what it called a “fitness camp” for MLS players whose teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. Of the players expected to go to Qatar, only LAFC’s Kellyn Acosta is taking part in Saturday’s MLS Cup final.
Berhalter indicated that with the U.S. U-20 team also taking part in the camp, there are some tactical aspects that the members of the senior team can work on.
“We’re setting them up like our opponents in training every day,” Berhalter said about the U-20s. “We’re able to work through that, see what those looks are like. We have individual programs for the guys, identifying things and strengths that they have.
“We want to continue to amplify those and then work on some weaknesses that we’ve seen. This is a very productive camp.”
The center back position is among the biggest concerns heading into the tournament. Richards’ inclusion is looking more doubtful with each passing day, while Miles Robinson is a long-term absentee with a torn Achilles suffered in May.
But Berhalter still expressed confidence that he’ll be able to put together a group of center backs that will get the job done at the World Cup.
“It’s less than ideal, but now it’s about who’s next, right? Who do we have next in the player pool?” he said.
“Some of the guys we’re working with right now, Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman, we’re able to work with them now for about two weeks, which would be a good period.
“Guys that were injured last camp, like Cameron Carter-Vickers is now back on the field. That’s helpful. Mark McKenzie’s playing every week in Belgium. Eric Palmer-Brown’s playing every week in France. And Tim Ream is playing every week in the Premier League. That’s a good thing. So I’m pretty comfortable that with that group we can get four center backs that can help us win games.”
The U.S. will begin its World Cup campaign against Wales on Nov. 21 before taking on England (Nov. 25) and Iran (Nov. 29) in Group B.