The three most important USMNT matches of the last half-decade are scheduled for March 24-30, seven days that will define whether the Americans qualify for the 2022 World Cup or watch from home. Nearly five years after the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago left the U.S. out of the 2018 World Cup, several USMNT injuries are threatening to derail the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Americans play Mexico in Mexico City on March 24, Panama in Orlando, Florida, on March 27 and Costa Rica in San José, Costa Rica, on March 30. With three Concacaf World Cup qualifiers remaining, the U.S. is in second, only ahead of Mexico on goal difference, with the top three teams qualifying for Qatar 2022; Panama and Costa Rica are the next two teams behind the USMNT.
You’ll be excused if you’re dealing with anxiety issues this week.
The U.S. has had a decent — not great — World Cup qualifying campaign so far. With six wins, two losses and three draws, the Americans control their own destiny. A home win over Panama is likely enough to get the team to Qatar.
Ahead of the final qualifying window, crucial USMNT injuries have cropped up at the worst possible time, forcing coach Gregg Berhalter to juggle his squad and rethink his lineups at the last minute.
Here’s a list of all known USMNT injuries that could influence the March World Cup qualifiers.
USMNT Injuries List (Updated March 23)
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Weston McKennie, Midfielder, Juventus
Expected Return: Summer 2022
A box-to-box midfielder who is the USMNT’s second-highest scorer in qualifying, Weston McKennie broke his foot in a Champions League Round of 16 match against Villarreal on Feb. 23. Soon after, it was revealed the 23-year-old would miss the remainder of the season for Juventus.
McKennie’s loss is huge for Berhalter. The Texan was suspended for the September qualifiers against Canada and Honduras for violating Covid-19 protocols, and the Americans suffered a disappointing 1-1 draw with the Canucks and needed a Ricardo Pepi-inspired comeback to beat Los Catrachos.
Part of what has separated the USMNT from the rest of Concacaf this campaign is the strength of the midfield. McKennie, RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams and Valencia’s Yunus Musah represent arguably the most talented midfield in the region. Without McKennie, that’s not the case.
Berhalter will have to figure out how to navigate three vital matches without McKennie. Luca de la Torre was great against Honduras last time out, but that was an already eliminated Honduras that clearly didn’t want to be out in the Minnesota cold. Gianluca Busio has performed admirably with Venezia in Serie A, but he’s never experienced the type of pressure the U.S. will face in the coming matches. Kellyn Acosta is the most likely replacement, but that could leave the Americans too defensive-minded.
Make no mistake, Weston McKennie is the biggest loss of all the USMNT injuries.
Sergiño Dest, Fullback, Barcelona
Expected Return: April 2022
Finally gaining the trust of Barça manager Xavi, Sergiño Dest picked up a hamstring injury as just about the worst possible time. The 21-year-old missed El Clásico on Sunday and will now miss the entire March international window.
While critics will claim Dest can be a bit of a liability defensively, there’s no doubt the native of Almere, Netherlands, is one of the biggest sparks offensively. His wonder goal against Costa Rica helped the U.S. rally for a vital home win in October, and his ability to bomb down either flank creates problems for any opposing defense.
Fortunately, Berhalter has options at fullback, starting with DeAndre Yedlin. With Fulham’s Antonee Robinson having taken ownership of the left fullback position, Yedlin is the likely starter in place of Dest on the right and is one of the few members of this team with actual World Cup experience. Boavista’s Reggie Cannon can also play on the right while Arminia Bielefeld’s George Bello, brought in to replace Dest, will be Robinson’s backup on the left. Then there’s Rangers’ James Sands, who can play just about from defense to midfield.
Dest will be missed, but his absence might help make the squad better defensively at the cost of offensive production.
Brenden Aaronson, CAM/Winger, RB Salzburg
Expected Return: April-May 2022
USMNT fans were dismayed on Sunday when, shortly before kickoff, RB Salzburg announced Brenden Aaronson was a late scratch from the lineup with a knee injury.
Initial reports suggested Aaronson might be able to play in the qualifiers, but the USMNT announced Monday afternoon he will not be available. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported Aaronson has an MCL injury that will keep him out two-to-four weeks.
We were hopeful he would be able to recover in time; unfortunately, that will not be the case.We hope he makes a speedy recovery.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) March 21, 2022
— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) March 21, 2022
Aaronson, a 21-year-old with two goals in qualifying, plays as a central attacking midfielder with his club but is usually employed as a winger on Berhalter’s team. Without him, the slack will be picked up by guys like Christian Pulisic (maybe, see below), Timothy Weah, Giovanni Reyna (maybe, see below), Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris. U.S. Soccer has yet to announce a replacement for Aaronson on the squad, if there will be one.
Aaronson is the only player who has appeared in every USMNT qualifier, so his value can’t be overstated. Without Aaronson, Berhalter will hope his other wingers are healthy and stay healthy this window.
Matt Turner, Goalkeeper, New England Revolution/Arsenal
Expected Return: April 2022
Matt Turner has started all but three World Cup qualifiers in goal for the U.S. The keeper, who last month signed a deal to join Arsenal this summer, injured his ankle during a practice match against LAFC on Feb. 9. At the time, Revs coach Bruce Arena said it would keep him out “a couple of weeks,” but the New Jersey native has yet to return to action and is not on the USMNT March roster.
While it’s unclear just how severe the injury is, this is probably the least worrying of the USMNT injuries as Berhalter can rest easily knowing he’s got plenty of cover at the goalkeeping position.
Manchester City’s Zack Steffen, who started the three qualifiers Turner didn’t play in, is the easy choice as the No. 1 goalkeeper now that he’s back from a spell on the sidelines with injury. Even if something happened to Steffen, Concacaf Nations League hero Ethan Horvath is the backup, with NYCFC veteran Sean Johnson a steady hand as the third string if needed.
Chris Richards, Center Back, Hoffenheim
Expected Return: April 2022
Chris Richards has enjoyed a breakout season on loan with Hoffenheim. The 21-year-old center back from Birmingham, Alabama, was on pace to record more senior appearances this campaign than every other year as a professional combined. Then he picked up a foot injury late in the World Cup qualifier in Canada, forcing the Americans to play with 10 men in the final minutes after Berhalter had already used all five substitutions. Richards has not played since.
Richards was not among the nine defenders selected to the squad for this window. He was back in full training with Hoffenheim in late March and should return to the pitch soon.
While Richards will be missed for the depth he brought, the center back pairing of Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson has proved stalwart, and Aaron Long returns from his own injury absence that kept him out for most of 2021.
Christian Pulisic, Winger, Chelsea
Christian Pulisic gave Berhalter (and all USMNT fans) a scare on Saturday when he appeared to twist his ankle playing for Chelsea in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
The winger lost his footing and had to receive treatment before continuing to play, though he didn’t look super comfortable out there after the tumble.
Back angle pic.twitter.com/NUxOMg61LV— I Love Shakhtar Donetsk (@buffafalos) March 19, 2022
Pulisic has dealt with injuries in each of his first two seasons at Chelsea, giving Berhalter plenty to worry about. On Monday, Pulisic was all smiles while riding an exercise bike with the team.
Welcome to H-Town, @USMNTProud to have hosted Gregg Berhalter's side as they prepare for a crucial set of @FIFAWorldCup qualifiers. #OnlyForward x #HoldItDown pic.twitter.com/tQmXrSny5X
— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) March 21, 2022
It appears Pulisic is OK to play, but the USMNT will want to place him in bubble wrap during training ahead of the qualifiers. The 23-year-old has two goals this qualifying campaign after leading the U.S. with five in the failed 2018 qualifying campaign.
Gio Reyna, Winger, Borussia Dortmund
Gio Reyna has barely played this season thanks to a nagging hamstring injury he picked up during the September qualifiers. He briefly made a return in February before leaving in tears with another strain. Fortunately, he appears to be back to full health, having set up BVB’s match winner on March 16 and playing the full 90 on Sunday. It was the first time Reyna went 90 minutes since Sept. 2.
While a hamstring injury can always reappear out of nowhere (just ask Jozy Altidore or The18’s Connor Fleming), Berhalter should be able to get at least one or two matches out of the dynamic 19-year-old, which will be good news with all of the other USMNT injuries piling up.