Berhalter: Musah's Nations League Benching for USMNT a 'Tactical Decision'

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As the U.S. men's national team prepares to wrap up its four-game camp, which included a successful and dramatic triumph in the first Concacaf Nations League finals, with Wednesday's friendly vs. Costa Rica, coach Gregg Berhalter lauded the group's effort thus far. After all, 21 of the 23 players on the U.S. roster saw the field, including one backup—and heroic—goalkeeper. There was only one field player who didn't make it between the lines vs. either Honduras in the semifinal or Mexico in the final. All things considered, this was a win for the U.S. collective.

Lost a bit in the hoopla around Sunday's extra-time win vs. El Tri, though, was that Yunus Musah, that one field player, was left on the bench, with the U.S. not taking the opportunity to cap-tie him. He verbally committed to the U.S. months ago, and there's no reason to believe anything has changed on that front, but his absence was notable given his stature as a player on the rise and one with other international options. Musah, who played in the May 30th friendly vs. Switzerland at the start of camp, wasn't and isn't injured, though, and Berhalter indicated he will play vs. Costa Rica at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium. The decision to keep the 18-year-old sidelined for the two competitive matches, as the coach reasoned, was purely tactical.

"For us, it was a tactical decision that he didn't play," Berhalter told assembled media on a Tuesday conference call. "He's a big part of what we do. He's a young player. In these particular games we opted for something different. I don't think it means he's not part of the group, he's a guy we're counting on for the future."

The Nations League was Musah's first exposure to competitive stakes in Concacaf, and Berhalter preferred he get that initial view from the bench. Berhalter said that he and his staff had lots of communication with Musah, who responded well, "understands it's a team," has "bought into the team concept" and is "ready to go" Wednesday night—effectively calling his benching a non-issue.

Another element of the fallout from Sunday's final that is more of a non-issue than it initially appeared is the state of Zack Steffen's knee. The starting goalkeeper was forced out after what appeared to be a non-contact injury in the 69th minute vs. Mexico, but Berhalter indicated that he just has a bone bruise and will require 10 days to recover. That's cause for a sigh of relief for Steffen, the U.S. and his club, Manchester City. No additional goalkeepers are being brought in for the Costa Rica game, leaving Sunday's hero, Ethan Horvath, and RSL's hometown backstop, David Ochoa, as the options to start.

There have been some other tweaks to the roster, however. While Bryan Reynolds—who wasn't on the 23-man Nations League squad but did travel through camp as part of a 25-player contingent—has been ruled out for the match, also with a bone bruise, his fellow defender, Matt Miazga, has been excused from camp to finish preparations for his wedding next week. Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman has been called in to replace him. Steffen and Reynolds will remain with the group while they are on the mend.

Meanwhile, Tyler Adams, who came off the bench in the 82nd minute vs. Mexico after overcoming a back injury that cut his season with RB Leipzig short, said he's in "a really good place" in terms of his fitness and is ready to feature again. 

"I think that in the past couple of games I probably could've played more, but they've done a good job of being cautious with me," Adams said.

Berhalter said Adams's presence in camp, which he had initially called a risk worth taking, was "absolutely vital" and given his stature among the U.S.'s young core, it makes perfect sense that he'd want his star midfielder along for the ride regardless of his availability.

"We knew there was no chance of him playing Honduras," Berhalter conceded. "We knew there was limited chance that he'd start against Mexico. And for us it was about putting him in position to contribute."

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