United States men’s national team midfielder Christian Pulisic has missed Chelsea’s last five games.
Pulisic injured his thigh during a training session following a run of games over the holiday period.
Even though the injury absence concerned USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter, he is confident Pulisic — one of his top players on the international stage — will soon be back training with the English Premier League side.
“We’re always concerned when a player gets injured, no matter who it is,” Berhalter said during a conference call with reporters Monday. “We’re constantly getting the medical reports and looking through the information. One thing about Christian is he’s adapting to the Premier League.
“He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas. The injury didn’t appear to be that significant. He’s working through that rehab and he should be back training soon. He’s a young player, playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body, and him coming to terms with that is something that is normal for the process of adapting.”
Pulisic last appeared in a match for Chelsea New Year’s Day, when he played 66 minutes against Brighton and Hove Albion.
Since then, the 21-year-old has missed a pair of FA Cup clashes and three Premier League games.
“We’re comfortable where he’s at,” Berhalter said. “We’re communicating with their medical staff and working with our medical staff so he can be strong and fit.”
When healthy, Pulisic made 16 appearances for the London-based side, scoring five times and providing two assists.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen is another one of the USMNT’s key figures sitting on the European sideline with an injury. The Fortuna Dusseldort player missed out on the German club’s first Bundesliga game after the winter break due to a knee issue.
“He’s having knee issues and it’s something we’re working together with the medical staff to figure out how we can help in any way,” Berhalter said of Steffen. “It’s a priority of ours to have him back on the field and I know that the club wants him back on the field so we’re working through those things now.”
Steffen, 24, is on loan from Manchester City and last played for Fortuna Dusseldort Dec. 22. He’s made 17 appearances to start his second stint in Europe.
With Steffen ailing, U.S. goalkeepers Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson and Matt Turner have a chance to impress during Saturday’s friendly with Costa Rica. A positive performance could translate to additional opportunities if the current No. 1 goalkeeper’s injury lingers into the first FIFA window of 2020 in March.
Red Bull Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams is back on the field after an injury layoff, and with the return came a discussion about his best position.
Adams started at right back for his club during Saturday’s loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, but when asked about the 20-year-old’s best position at the international level, Berhalter firmly declared: “As you know, we’ve played him at right back before. I think he’s a good fit there because of his speed, his dynamic, his ability to process the ball and move forward with the ball and attack with speed. …We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder, but we know that when we need to be flexible, he can play that position as well. We think right now, the right back position is filled with depth and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”
Berhalter also said he’s had conversations with Josh Sargent about Werder Bremen’s struggles near the bottom of the Bundesliga table.
Werder Bremen currently sits in 16th place out of 18 squads in the German first division, and Sargent has not scored in league play since Oct. 19.
“The pool is a big pool of players, but they are all on top of our minds. I’ve spoken with him yesterday,” Berhalter said of Sargent. “We reviewed his game on the weekend, and the team is going through a dip in form. They are in the relegation zone right now, but this is what happens in pro sports and what happens at a high level. Things are difficult. It’s a daily job where you need to make the most of each day. That’s been some of the focus with all of the players we’ve had discussions with is it’s a grind and just take it day by day.
“With Josh in particular, I see it as some of the team function and how they are creating chances and how they are looking to make the most of their players has been difficult at times. They haven’t been creating a lot of chances, and that’s difficult for a striker at times. For him, it’s hanging in there and continuing to do the things that got him to that level, continue to think about his movement off the ball and how he’s moving in the penalty box and when he gets the opportunities making the most of them.”
Sargent, Pulisic and Adams are all eligible to play in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, but no advanced discussions have been held between U.S. Soccer and the clubs about the top Americans 23 and under playing in the event.
The more pressing need in front the program is qualifying for the Olympics from the Concacaf tournament that takes place March 20-April 1 in Mexico. Some of the players who feature in Saturday’s match could play major roles in that competition, which starts with a game against Costa Rica.
“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Berhalter said. “I think the first thing is qualifying, and that’s important. It’s going to be a difficult qualifying process. The roster is 17 players plus three goalkeepers. There’s a lot of games in a short amount of time. A couple of the games are outside the FIFA window. We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a concerted effort to field a strong team for qualifying and to qualify for the Olympics. If, and when, we do that, it will be a different set of conversations. We’re just trying to balance what makes sense for the clubs, players and both parties. It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics, but we’re just not sure that’s going to happen. We just haven’t crossed that bridge yet. It’s on the club’s radars, but nothing is confirmed because we haven’t qualified yet.”