The biggest hammer never dropped during transfer deadline day for the United States men’s national team fans. Christian Pulisic still wears Chelsea blue, which will prove to be a blessing in disguise or what plummets the USA’s chances at a deep run at this year’s World Cup. The Yanks’ captain and best player hasn’t been starting and likely won’t have a ton of playing time between now and November.
Multiple online reports have stated Pulisic’s desire to leave the Premier League giants, either on loan or permanently due to a lack of playing time. He hasn’t started one of Chelsea’s games this season to date. Oddly enough, among USMNT locks to start in Qatar, Pulisic’s club situation wasn’t the worst. That belonged to Sergino Dest’s former environment at Barcelona. Yes, the Spanish giants are prestigious, but would smash any momentum Dest had going into his first World Cup. His new deal with AC Milan is fantastic, still playing for a UEFA Champions League side.
Thursday itself was more important than either of the USMNT’s end-of-September friendlies, the last two times we’ll see the Americans in uniform before lining up against Wales in Qatar. There’s no doubt the matchups against also-Qatar-bound Japan and Saudi Arabia on European soil are dress rehearsals for the World Cup. Just like the night before a wedding, it’s lighthearted and an introduction for everyone coming to town. It’s not meant to come close to the pageantry of a big event.
Plenty of USMNTers in contention for playing time in Qatar did benefit from this window. There might not be a better example of that than at goalkeeper. Matt Turner is a back-up at Arsenal, while Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen both went on loan to sides in the English Championship, the tier below the Premier League. Turner being the No. 2 at a high-level EPL club was the predicament Steffen would’ve been in at Manchester City. The temporary switch to Middlesbrough means playing time, not ideal training and competition. I bet US head coach Gregg Berhalter prefers the former. The fourth goalkeeper in the mix, Sean Johnson, didn’t move from New York City FC.
There has been no greater omission from Berhalter’s recent USMNT personnel decisions than John Brooks watching the games from home. He and DeAndre Yedlin are the only two Americans with previous World Cup experience. Brooks joins Pulisic, Dest, and others playing in the UCL group stage after moving from Wolfsburg to Benfica. It’s a phenomenal move for him, even though Portuguese domestic soccer isn’t rated as high as several others in Europe.
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While Pulisic is the Yanks’ best player, tactically Tyler Adams is the team’s most important. He moved in the summer window too, alongside Brendan Aaronson to England to play for Leeds United. It’ll be hard to leave either of those two off the field at all in Qatar. Another solid choice to make the plane to the World Cup is Luca de la Torre, who now plays for Celta Vigo. The biggest question mark for the USMNT has been at striker for the last decade and it’s no different less than three months from the World Cup. Does Jordan Pefok’s transfer to Union Berlin or Ricardo Pepi’s loan to Dutch side Groningen make a difference? Nope. No option for Berhalter has been able to score consistently at the international level.
Did the USMNT’s prospects at the World Cup get better with all these summer transactions? No. Plenty of Berhalter’s top choices play in Major League Soccer and their transfer window is different from the European one. That should serve as an advantage for the Americans with longer tenures at clubs. The moves made over the last two months don’t change that. A Pulisic move with loads of playing time would’ve tipped the scales.