Berhalter reveals four starters for USMNT vs. Japan pre-World Cup friendly
Gregg Berhalter has revealed four of his 11 lineup decisions for the US men’s national team’s Friday friendly vs. Japan (8:26 am ET), giving the nod to Aaron Long to start alongside Walker Zimmerman at center back. He’s also named Arsenal’s Matt Turner as the starting goalkeeper and Royal Antwerp’s Sam Vines as the starting left back.
Aside from the Vines update, Berhalter made that news in a roundtable discussion with on-site reporters in Düsseldorf, Germany on Thursday ahead of his official matchday-1 press conference, giving a distinctly MLS flavor to much of his defense.
“Aaron and Walker are going to play, going to start, and we’ll probably make a sub at halftime, or maybe after that and get another center back in. And then next game [vs. Saudi Arabia on Tuesday], take a look at another one,” Berhalter said in remarks first reported by ESPNFC.
While Zimmerman climbed from the roster bubble to starting-XI mainstay during the Yanks’ Concacaf Octagonal qualifying campaign, the identity of the Nashville SC star’s central partner has been in flux since Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson was lost to a long-term Achilles injury in early May.
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic) and Chris Richards (Crystal Palace) were projected as leading contenders for the job, though minor injuries ruled both out of this month’s USMNT camp last week. That’s opened up a chance for Long, whose open-field defending and experience with high pressing and a high line at the New York Red Bulls is valued by Berhalter, to stake his claim two months out from the World Cup.
Sporting Kansas City product Erik Palmer-Brown, now playing regularly at Ligue 1 side Troyes, and Philadelphia Union alum Mark McKenzie (RKC Genk, Belgium) joined the squad in place of Carter-Vickers and Richards and are also in the mix.
“Mark’s played in some big games, Aaron and Walker played together for three and a half years now, so I think there is familiarity with this group,” Berhalter noted. “And then for Erik, it’s a good opportunity. He’s playing in Ligue 1. He’s playing against [Kylian] Mbappe and [Lionel] Messi and the quality strikers there.”
Goalkeeper, left back
Turner, who joined the early English Premier League leaders in June from the New England Revolution, is hoping to earn the USMNT’s No. 1 goalkeeping spot with Zack Steffen not in camp. The former Columbus Crew netminder is on loan at Championship side Middlesbrough from Manchester City.
Vines, a Colorado Rapids homegrown product, is thriving for the Belgian first division’s top team. With Fulham’s Antonee Robinson ruled out due to an ankle injury, the 23-year-old can make his case for a bigger role.
Berhalter also dropped hints about his plans for tactical tweaks in this month’s games, which are the group’s last gathering before FIFA’s deadline for submitting final World Cup rosters on Nov. 14. The Yanks face Wales in their Group B opener on Nov. 21 before subsequent duels with England (Nov. 25) and Iran (Nov. 29) in Qatar.