As another U.S. men's national team World Cup qualifying camp beckons, the spotlight gets brighter on those vying to be part of next month's triple header.
Playing through adversity in the form of positive COVID-19 tests, injuries to key players and a team leader being banished for breaking protocol—in addition to the typical rigors of Concacaf qualifying—the U.S. finds itself with a very acceptable five points three games into the 14-match gantlet, all things considered. The adversity only figures to continue ahead of and during the clashes with Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica, and for good reason. Those same key players, and a potential addition to that group, are hurt, and U.K. travel restrictions could still impact which England-based players are able to make the trip to Panama City for the Oct. 10 match vs. Los Canaleros. On the flip side, players who didn't or weren't able to take part in the September window have shown in recent games for their clubs that they'll be able to assist in the cause if called upon.
First, the potential bad news. The red flag of the weekend comes from Red Bull land, where Tyler Adams missed RB Leipzig's 6–0 thrashing of Hertha Berlin with what the club described very vaguely as a "muscle issue." Whether that was precautionary or a sign of something more detrimental will be known soon enough. The first test will come Tuesday, when Leipzig returns to Champions League action vs. Club Brugge. Another absence there, and then there's something more to be concerned about entering U.S. camp. Adams was one of two players (Miles Robinson being the other) to play all 270 minutes in the U.S.'s opening window, and his importance to the team can't truly be overstated. With Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna still not yet returning to match action since suffering injuries on international duty, not having a fully operational Adams as well would provide another curveball in planning for the next three games.
Yunus Musah getting a start for Valencia and continuing to build his match fitness and Julian Green starting against his former club, Bayern Munich, could be options Gregg Berhalter turns to if reinforcements in central midfield are needed—with Weston McKennie's status still hanging in the balance as well.
Among the most notable and tangible positive contributions over the weekend, though, were those from Tim Weah, whose assist to Jonathan David and drawn penalty (which David converted) helped Lille to a win and earned Weah a place on Ligue 1's (via WhoScored.com) Team of the Week. Given that Weah was due to be in camp for the first three qualifiers and had to withdraw with a thigh injury, it's a good sign for the U.S. to see him playing—and playing well. Competent wing play and depth out wide haven't always been the U.S.'s forte, and whether it's in a starting or reserve capacity, those are things Weah can certainly bring to the table.
A pair of center backs also continued their re-ascension, with Chris Richards delivering an assist and standing out for Hoffenheim, which dealt Wolfsburg its first Bundesliga loss of the season, while Matt Miazga was a part of Alavés's stunning shutout victory over La Liga champion Atlético Madrid. With John Brooks struggling in the first three matches, Berhalter and the U.S. would benefit from having more reliable figures in the back.
Joe Scally is another defender who could enter the fray, even though he's never featured for the USMNT in as much as a friendly let alone a World Cup qualifier. The 18-year-old fullback helped Borussia Monchengladbach tame and defeat Borussia Dortmund, albeit a Black-and-Yellow side that was down a man for 50 minutes and was missing key figures like Erling Haaland, Marco Reus and Reyna. He previously started and held his own vs. Bayern Munich to open the season, and with the versatility to play on both sides, he's emerged as an attractive candidate to be called in.
Sergiño Dest, another versatile fullback, had his best game of the young season for Barcelona, operating on the left and assisting on the second goal in a 3–0 win over Levante. He has yet to find consistency in his performances on the left for the U.S. and had some troubling play in the opening qualifiers, but a showing like his on Sunday could perhaps serve as a necessary building block.
Another goal came from U.S. striker Jordan Pefok, the in-form Young Boys forward who has scored in three straight games, beginning with his dramatic Champions League match-winner vs. Manchester United. He'll take to the UCL stage again at Atalanta on Wednesday looking to extend that to four for the surprising early group leader. While FC Dallas's Ricardo Pepi surely stated his case to be the U.S.'s starting striker with his performance vs. Honduras, Pefok keeps offering reminders of his capabilities for the Swiss champion.
There remain midweek European matches and another weekend slate before camp convenes in Austin, by which time Berhalter and his staff will know full well what they're up against and who is available for selection as the road to Qatar 2022 continues.
More Soccer Coverage: