Christian Pulisic’s absence from Japan’s loss underscores his importance to USMNT, and what health means in the 2022 World Cup

Of all the massive upheaval the US men’s national team has experienced over the years, from looting Portugal at the 2002 World Cup to losing to Panama in the latest CONCACAF qualifier, there could be nothing more exciting than the pre-developed 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Today, USMNT fans are forced to admit that Thomas Tuchel was a secret agent and valuable ally.

Tuchel, the coach who angered American fans by hiding Christian Pulisic on the Chelsea bench for most of the first two months of the Premier League season, was eventually fired for his stubborn nature amid Chelsea’s faltering start.

As fans cried out for Pulisic’s reintegration at Chelsea under Graham Potter, we were reminded on Friday why his place on the bench could be considered a great gift ahead of the trip to Qatar in November.

MORE: Full summary, analysis, commentary, and highlights from USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Japan

Fans of every sport joke that they want to outsmart their team’s best players before the big competitions. Well, Tuchel took care of that for the US – before the early September shootout – giving Pulisic just 160 minutes of playing time over six league games. It’s 380 minutes of safety on the bench! How will he get hurt there? Drop a water bottle on his big toe?

The Americans need Pulisic on the field, on the left wing or in midfield. They desperately need it. Without him in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Japan in the penultimate friendly game before the World Cup, the team would have lacked direction, assurance, confidence and the ability to finish the match. He wasn’t the only one missing. They also missed midfielder Younes Moussa, their best midfielder. Tim Weah, their fastest striker, and left-back Jedi Robinson, who was perhaps the team’s most cohesive player in a World Cup qualifier.

Moses and Wayne Robinson are not with the team due to injuries that occurred before the US rally in Germany. Reserves Cameron Carter Vickers and Chris Richards were also absent through injury, along with goalkeeper Zach Stephen. All of this provided a reminder of how important health is at this World Cup, perhaps more than anything else in history.

The typical World Cup takes place in June and is due to start about a month after the traditional fall-to-spring leagues finished their seasons. Players who have had minor injuries with their clubs have plenty of time to recover.
But this season, with the World Cup opening on November 20, the Premier League will play a round of matches ending on November 13. This is a week when the national teams prepare and the players recover. The injured player on that day may be in danger of losing his World Cup position.

MORE: Player scores from USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Japan, including Matt Turner’s excellent performance

Pulisic is the most experienced and accomplished on the team and, at this point, indispensable. He can play anywhere on the front line or as an attacking midfielder if the team needs help creating an attack. He has shown the ability to handle the big moments for his club (in the 2021 Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid) and for his country (in the 2021 Nations League final and in last November’s home qualifier against Mexico).

Initially, the USMNT struggled against the constant pressure of Japan and created far more opportunities for the opponent (by turning the ball) than for themselves. The Americans’ two-goal margin did not reflect how dangerous Japan was in the 90 minutes.

Although Pulisic’s injury was not determined by American football, it was not serious enough – according to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle – to put him out of action if this was a real World Cup match. But there is only one chance for the entire team to play a competitive match before this international break ends. USMNT will take the field Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Spain.

Turning 24 this week, Pulisic has played 51 caps for his country and scored 21 goals. It was part of the squad – one of the few bright parts of the team, frankly – that spoiled the chance to feature in the 2018 World Cup by dropping him 2-1 in Trinidad and Tobago when a goalless draw was going to happen. them to Russia.

MORE: USMNT has a lot of work ahead of the 2022 World Cup after friendly defeat to Japan

These 51 matches are more than double the average of 11 players in the starting lineup against Japan. No one initially scored more than nine international goals for midfielder Weston McKinney. It’s a talented young team, but sometimes the youth becomes more obvious than the talent. This is why Pulisic is so important.

“We have work to do,” Berhalter said afterwards. “Obviously we need to improve.”

However, more than anything else, they need to enjoy and maintain good health.

Leaving striker Jordan Pivok out of these matches – a controversial decision when it happened, and even more so after such a bad game – is perhaps the best way to prepare him for the World Cup. Well, the bubble wrap idea is better, but asking him to play less wouldn’t hurt.

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