USMNT Coach Gregg Berhalter Backs Christian Pulisic To Regain Chelsea Starting Place

With Christian Pulisic stuck on Chelsea’s bench this season, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter predicts his biggest star will get back into the English club’s starting lineup.

“I’m a guy that bets on Christian just because I’ve seen it before,” Berhalter said Wednesday after an event to promote Nike’s World Cup jersey launch on Sept. 15.

“He is not counted on in a way that he’d like to, and he gets on the field and he proves everyone wrong and he ends up playing. I mean that’s what he’s been doing. So I tend to believe that’s going to happen. And I think his mind is n a good spot and I think he’s going to fight for it because that’s the type of guy he is.”

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The 23-year-old midfielder, in his fourth season with Chelsea, has been used as a second-half substitute by manager Thomas Tuchel in each of the team’s first five matches, limited from seven to 27 minutes. He hasn’t scored.

Less than three months before Berhalter selects his 26-man roster for the Americans’ World Cup opener against Wales on Sept. 21, several players in his potential player pool of 38-to-40 are on the move.

They include Sergino Dest, who sources told ESPN on Wednesday was set to join AC Milan on loan, and Ricardo Pepi, who has moved on loan to Groningen in the Netherlands.

Goalkeepers are also in flux. Zack Steffen, loaned from Manchester City to second-tier Middlesbrough, missed the last two matches because of a knee injury. Matt Turner, in his first season at Arsenal, appears likely to play only in the League Cup and perhaps the Europa League. Ethan Horvath starts at second tier Luton Town and Sean Johnson at New York City FC.

“It’s something we think about,” Berhalter said. “I think there’s still time and we’ll have to see.”
Christian Pulisic is set to be a key player for the U.S. and coach Gregg Berhalter at the 2022 World Cup.
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

Two prep matches remain for the Americans, against Japan on Sept. 23 at Düsseldorf, Germany, and vs. Saudi Arabia four days later at Murcia, Spain.

“It’s a tough spot because on one hand I would love the guys to be playing every week,” Berhalter said. “But it’s not always possible and the player also has his own career to think about, not just the national team in the World Cup.”

As Berhalter’s Nov. 9 World Cup roster announcement approaches, forward is his most uncertain position. He likely will pick two-to-four.

Jordan Pefok, 26, has three goals in his first five games for Union Berlin, scoring twice in the Bundesliga. Josh Sargent, 22, has four goals in his first seven league matches for second-tier Norwich. Haji Wright, 24, has five goals in four games this season for Turkey’s Antalyaspor. Brandon Vazquez, 23, is tied for second in Major League Soccer with 16 goals this season and Dallas’ 21-year-old Jesus Ferreira has 15.

“You hope that they keep scoring and you hope that they make it difficult for us as a staff,” Berhalter said. “You certainly would rather pick from guys that are scoring than guys that aren’t scoring. And with Ricardo Pepi going to Groningen, hopefully he’s going to get into gear also and then make it challenging.”

Berhalter said he hasn’t decided whether his September roster will include Vazquez, who has not played for the national team.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I think it does make it more difficult — doesn’t make it impossible, though,” he said. “If you have four guys that have been in and are scoring and he’s the fifth who hasn’t been in and is scoring, it makes it more difficult.”

After opening against Wales, the U.S. plays England in a Black Friday matchup on Nov. 25 and close group play four days later against Iran. Qualities for the World Cup roster may be different than during qualifying.

“There could be an example of guys that want to look at in this camp and we know enough information about other players that we don’t need to look at them,” he said. “There could be an argument that the physicality that we were looking for against El Salvador isn’t going to help us as much against England.”

Among center backs, the pool includes Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Aaron Long, James Sands, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Matt Miazga and Tim Ream. Berhalter praised Fulham’s 34-year-old Ream, who was bypassed for the final 11 qualifiers.

“Got a ton of respect for Tim and what he’s doing,” Berhalter said.

Berhalter planned to attend Saturday’s Celtic-Rangers derby in Glasgow involving Sands, Carter-Vickers and Malik Tillman, Valencia’s match Sunday with Yunus Musah and Boavista’s match on Monday with Reggie Cannon against Paços Ferreira.

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