USMNT vs. Mexico: Christian Pulisic’s health, Ricardo Pepi’s form among three things to watch for qualifiers


There are so many questions surrounding this United States men’s national team as it enters Friday’s crunch World Cup qualifier with Mexico, but it isn’t due to the inconsistency this young and inexperienced team has shown during qualifiers. They are in a decent spot, second in the table and with a three-point cushion. But if they want to build on it, manager Gregg Berhalter will have some difficult decisions to make when it comes to his starting lineup against Mexico on Friday and then at Jamaica on Tuesday (on Paramount+).

Here are three things to watch for Friday’s massive clash in Cincinnati. 

1. What level of caution will there be with Pulisic?

Chelsea — specifically manager Thomas Tuchel — are hoping Christian Pulisic doesn’t play much with the U.S. and returns to England healthy after the international break. After all, injuries have slowed down his 2021-22 season in massive way. He just came back from that ankle injury that he picked up with the U.S. in September against Honduras. From Sept. 10 to Nov. 1, he did not play in a single match for club or country. In fact, since Aug. 15, nearly three months ago, he’s played only 173 minutes. 

It’s safe to say he isn’t in form because he hasn’t been at full fitness. So what will his role be here? He is undeniably the most talented player in the squad, but does that warrant a start? One would think, if he’s 100 percent fit, he will be in the starting XI, but if he isn’t, it will be quite telling. They need him in a match like this, especially after getting the extra-time winner in the Concacaf Nations League final against Mexico in Denver. But if he does play, he’ll have to be much better than he was in that game, where he had two shots and struggled with his passing. 

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2. Can Pepi deliver despite recent struggles?

While Ricardo Pepi has the fans excited and feeling like their struggles at the striker position are over, he’s also isn’t in tip-top form. He hasn’t scored in his last six games in all competitions and ended his MLS season with one goal in his final nine games. There would be no better place to end his little drought than here against Mexico, the team he didn’t choose to represent. With very little competition at the position, the expectation is that El Paso native will indeed start. Let’s see how comfortable and confident under these pressure-cooker circumstances.

3. Who will be the guy at right back?

There were questions at right back even with Sergino Dest in the squad last month, but with him now looking like somebody who may play more as a winger than a defender, that could open up significant minutes at the position here. There isn’t a shortage of options, such as DeAndre Yedlin and Reggie Cannon, but the name to watch is Joe Scally, especially with Dest out injured. The Borussia Monchengladbach defender has been one of the surprises of the Bundesliga season, even holding his own against clubs like Bayern Munich. He can get forward, he plays with intelligence and he is improving his ability with the ball at this feet, especially in passing out of the back. A start against Mexico seems like a bit of a stretch (talking about throwing a guy into the fire), but don’t be shocked if he gets an appearance off the bench late on.

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