When the forlorn American players trudged off the BMO Field pitch at the conclusion of last month’s comprehensive 2-0 loss to Canada in Toronto, somewhere in the back of their minds they knew that their chance at redemption was one long month away.
Now, with USA-Canada Part Deux set for next week, the wait is almost over. And things are looking up considerably for the embattled Gregg Berhalter’s squad, with a number of key players either returning from injury or rediscovering their form at the perfect time. With roster and lineup decisions looming, here’s where 11 U.S. players stand with just one more week of club matches to go.
USMNT players trending up
D John Brooks, Wolfsburg (Germany)
After missing almost two months of Bundesliga action with the goin strain he aggravated while on USMNT duty in September, the big center back returned to Wolfsburg’s starting lineup Oct. 27 and went the full 90 minutes in the club’s last two games, including Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Borussia Dortmund.
Takeaway: While Brooks has understandably shown signs of rust since returning to action, having its first-choice central defender healthy and available is huge for a U.S. side that missed him dearly last month. Expect Brooks to reunite with Aaron Long in the heart of the American back four in place of Tim Ream, who could shift to left back.
D Sergino Dest, Ajax (Netherlands)
The Dutch-American is set for his first U.S. appearance since committing his international future to the Stars and Stripes last week.
Takeaway: Dest’s return immediately gives Berhalter options in the back. Does the manager deploy him on the left, where he started against Mexico and Uruguay in September, or over DeAndre Yedlin on the right, the position Dest mans for his club?
M Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany)
McKennie (undisclosed muscle injury) made his first start for Schalke since Oct. 5 in Sunday’s comeback win over Augsburg.
Takeaway: The 21-year-old was beaten on Augsburg’s first goal. But as with Brooks, the all-action midfielder’s return to the field couldn’t come at a better time for the U.S., which will need McKennie’s fight. The hard-running Texan was one of the few Americans unwilling to back down during last month’s tussle north of the border.
M Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
The Berlin-born veteran had made a couple of cameos off the bench for Fortuna since injuring his hamstring against Mexico. On Saturday he earned his first start and made the most of it, drawing a penalty kick in a colossal 2-0 win against Cologne.
Takeaway: Morales, 29, was one of the best American players in the 3-0 loss to Mexico, and the U.S. desperately needed his experience, range and bite at Canada. Now healthy again, Morales should slot into the central role Cristian Roldan (more on Roldan below) occupied in Toronto.
M-F Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Morris was perhaps the national team’s top performer in the September and October camps, and his blistering playoff form for the Sounders is one of the main reasons Seattle will play in its third MLS Cup in four years Sunday versus Toronto FC.
Takeaway: Barring injury, Morris is a lock to start on one of the wings this window.
M/F Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (England)
The USMNT’s front man is near the height of his powers right now. A week after scoring a hat trick against Burnley, Pulisic notched his fourth goal in his last two Premier League games in his third straight start across all competitions.
Takeaway: Expect Pulisic to arrive for national team duty early next week on a mission to carry his club form over to the U.S. After being subbed out of the first meeting with Canada, much to his chagrin, he’s going to be bent on exacting some revenge.
G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
He only needed to make one save against Cologne, but it was good enough for Steffen to record his second clean sheet in three weeks.
Takeaway: The 24-year-old’s sterling play in his first go-round as a Bundesliga starter has quietly been one of the stories of the season from a USMNT perspective, which is why Berhalter and U.S. fans alike will be hoping the young backstop gets through next weekend’s trip to Schalke unscathed.
USMNT players trending down
F Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC (MLS)
As optimistic as TFC boss Greg Vanney is that Altidore, 29, will recover from the quad ailment he suffered on the final day of the regular season to play a role in MLS Cup, he’s clearly a long way from full fitness.
Takeaway: Of course the Reds will do everything possible to make sure that Altidore can participate in the finale. It’s harder to see Berhalter relaying on an obviously banged-up player for a match of this magnitude, assuming he even gets through Sunday’s contest on Seattle’s artificial turf without further damage.
M-F Tyler Boyd, Besiktas (Turkey)
The New Zealand-born attacker has struggled in his first season with the Istanbul-based titan; his last Turkish Super League appearance came way back in September, and Boyd is still looking for his first Besiktas goal.
Takeaway: When you consider his idle status at club level and his minutes for the USMNT last window — Boyd came on as a sub in the 7-0 mauling of Cuba on Oct. 11 — don’t be surprised if the 24-year-old isn’t even called in this time around.
M Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Roldan may have helped the Sounders back to the title match, but as far as the national team is concerned it’s hard to forget how poor his performance was against the Canadians.
Takeaway: The 24-year-old probably wasn’t going to keep his starting spot even before Morales returned to health. But Seattle’s MLS Cup trip means that Roldan is at least match fit. That should be enough to earn him an invite.
D Daniel Lovitz, Montreal Impact (MLS)
Lovitz started against Canada and was hardly the biggest of Berhalter’s problems. But with Montreal failing to make the playoffs, the left back hasn’t played a match since.
Takeaway: That alone virtually guarantees that the 28-year-old won’t play, if Dest’s availability didn’t do that already.
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