DOHA, Qatar (AP) – A World Cup in the middle of the European season is not ideal, especially for the United States.
Injuries and inactivity run through the squad ahead of Monday’s game against Wales.
Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest and Luca de la Torre missed time and Christian Pulisic and Matt Turner are among those fighting for game time at their clubs. Defensemen Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long step into the Americans’ first World Cup game in eight years after being sidelined more than a month after their season in Major League Soccer ended.
On Thursday there was a friendly against Al-Gharafa, the Qatari club that hosts the American training base at Thani bin Jassim Stadium, but the level of intensity is likely to be exponentially higher against Wales.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” McKennie said on Saturday. “When everyone’s running at full steam and fighting for each other and there’s little fights to be seen on the field and everyone’s just fired up and ready to go, those are the times when I think we’ve done our best.”
The Americans, who have not been on football’s biggest stage since the overtime loss to Belgium in the round of 16 in Brazil, bring a new squad into play – only right-back DeAndre Yedlin remains from 2014. FIFA put the average age of the Americans at 25.2 years is the second lowest among the 32 teams, higher than only Ghana’s 24.7.
With youth comes impermanence.
“Every athlete in every single sport has a day off,” McKennie said. “And football is such a team sport that even if a player has a day off, everything can be thrown around and we’ve all had a day off at some point. Of course we know when we get into the national team everyone wants us to be 100%, everyone wants us to be focused and everything we are. But at the same time, we’re human and we can make mistakes too, so I think these are the times when we haven’t gotten the results we might want and haven’t reached our full potential.”
McKennie last played for Juventus on October 29 due to a hamstring injury.
“I got in, spent a couple of days just maintaining it and keeping it under control,” McKennie said. “We played the friendly the other day and I felt good, ready to go.”
Dest, who is struggling with an adductor problem, has not played 90 minutes since October 5. He returned from injury to play 35 minutes for AC Milan on 13 November.
“I was a bit tired after the last game,” he said. “It’s going well at the moment. I’m ready to play.”
The US Football Association did not let the media follow the friendly match against Al-Gharafa.
“We took a lot from it defensively and offensively,” Long said. “Stopping the attacks was great. Obviously we’ve got a couple of goals in there, make the lads feel confident in front of the net.
Players expect Wales to play five behind. When asked about his ability to join the attack, Dest began to respond, then paused and said, “One second.” He paused to confer with McKennie, who was sitting next to him, and McKennie chuckled when his teammate whispered, obviously wanting to make sure he wasn’t giving too much away.
“We know Wales like to go forward, so they leave space,” Dest said. “I think we can exploit that, especially from the flanks, and whoever plays that position, right or left back, there’s a lot of space. “
MAN WITH THE PIPE
Abdulrahman Al-Jassim of host Qatar will officiate the match and Abdullah Al-Marri will be the video assistant referee. Al-Jassim was the video assistant referee at the 2018 World Cup and worked on USA’s 1-0 win over Panama at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
VAN DER VAART REVIEW
Dest did not respond to criticism from former Netherlands international Rafael van der Vaart, who told Dutch TV channel Ziggo Sport: “He can be very good, but he always takes on too much. He thinks he’s a lot better than he is.”
“I know my skills. Of course I’ll improve and learn a few more things,” Dest replied. “I don’t know what he said.”
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