DAVENPORT, Fla. — When the United States men’s national team enters a revenge rematch with Canada on Friday, it will face its rival without the team’s top player.
Forward Christian Pulisic was ruled out for the international break on Monday after suffering a hip injury with his club team Chelsea in the Premier League.
The Americans will cope with other injury-related absences during the key match on Friday — midfielder Michael Bradley was hurt during the MLS Cup on Sunday, while starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen will remain with his club in Germany while recovering from a bout of tendonitis.
But the loss of Pulisic is different. He’s the fount of offensive creativity for the Americans, both decisive and artful in his ability to build an attack. In a game during which the Americans hope to claim revenge, coach Gregg Berhalter will face the serious challenge of attempting to replace his most dynamic player.
“We’re gonna have to be creative,” Berhalter said. “It’s about putting the right personnel on the field to be able to capitalize on some of the weaknesses that we see in Canada. We’ll use this week to determine that, but we want to be aggressive in this game.”
Friday’s match against Canada is important enough that the loss of Pulisic hurts deeply. The Nations League tournament is on the line, with World Cup qualifying stakes attached. It’s also a pride match both team are eager to win.
But it’s not important enough to reasonably ask the team’s top attacker — who at age 21 is barely kicking off his career — to muscle through an injury.
“This was a collaborative decision with the club looking after the best interest of the player,” Berhalter said. “These situations are always difficult because this group and the coaching staff wants nothing more than to have Christian here, but it was a risk that we just weren’t willing to take at this time.”
The addition of two players — midfielder Alfredo Morales and defender Sergiño Dest — who weren’t available in the last match will help to bolster the Americans. As an outside back, Dest can be explosive up the wing to build plays, while Morales adds both speed and fluid passing to the midfield.
With experience playing in Europe — Morales plays in the German Bundesliga, while Dest plays for the top-tier club Ajax in the Netherlands — both players bring an extra spark to the American side.
“They play free,” U.S. defender Reggie Cannon said. “You’re so focused on tactics sometimes, you need someone to be that breakthrough with that individual bit of talent. They both have that.”
But neither brings the finishing Pulisic can offer. Since the Americans’ loss to Canada, the forward has scored six goals and added an assist for Chelsea. His success stirred up excitement back in the United States. And his absence naturally is a blow for Orlando fans planning to attend the match at Exploria Stadium.
Ultimately, Berhalter said the decision came down to a simple principle — supporting the player first with the hope he can return at full strength.
“These are the stories that you can’t write,” Berhalter said of Pulisic. “[There’s] so much work behind the scenes, so much determination to hang in there, to keep working, to keep determined, to keep battling through disappointments. … All you can do is keep supporting a player like that.”
U.S. vs. Canada roster
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Matt Turner
Defenders: John Brooks, Reggie Cannon, Sergiño Dest, Nick Lima, Aaron Long, Daniel Lovitz, Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman
Midfielders: Sebastian Lletget, Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales, Cristian Roldan, Wil Trapp, Jackson Yueill
Forward: Paul Arriola, Tyler Boyd, Jordan Morris, Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes