NASHVILLE, TN, USA (AP) – Winning matches at home will be the key to qualifying for the World Cup. However, the Americans go into Sunday’s game, hosting Canada, and are unsure whether their star striker Christian Pulisic will be available and whether starting goalkeeper Zach Stephen will remain off the field.
Pulisic is recovering from his physical condition after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing the first game of the World Cup qualifiers, postponed due to the pandemic, in which the United States drew 0-0 in their visit to El Salvador.
“We’ve tried to get him in good shape. We’re looking at what he can handle, what kind of work he can take, and I think that’s the first step,” USA coach Greg Berhalter explained on Saturday.
Pulisic, the 22-year-old striker who last season became the first American to compete and win the Champions League final, missed Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Arsenal on August 22 and the 1-1 draw with Liverpool on the 28th. He returned to training with the United States on Monday and stayed on in Tennessee when the team traveled to Central America.
He was reevaluated on Saturday to determine if he will be able to rejoin the team on match day.
“It’s really about seeing how he can come back safely,” Berhalter said. “We had conversations with him and asked him about his tolerance for workloads and all that. We’ll see if he’s ready.”
Stephen missed the game against El Salvador due to back spasms and was replaced by Matt Turner, 27, the New England goalkeeper. Berhalter indicated that Stephen, Manchester City’s replacement, is still out of the tournament.
Canada started the eight matches with a 1-1 draw with Honduras in Toronto, Mexico beat Jamaica 2-1 and Panama drew 0-0 at home with Costa Rica. The top three countries in the CONCACAF region will qualify for next year’s World Cup, and fourth place will play a playoff to find another place.
Both teams arrive in North America confident of the match. The United States won fourteen consecutive home games and ranked 10th in the world, their best ranking since 2006. Canada is led by Bayern Munich’s Alfonso Davies, Lille’s Jonathan David and Besiktas’ Kyle Larrain. Canadians are ranked 59th in the world, their best position since 2010.
“We’ll have to switch players,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “It will be difficult to maintain the high level in the three matches in seven days, but at the same time there are players who have the ability to play consecutive matches.”