U.S. men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter reaffirmed his support for Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, confirming he will be starting against Jamaica on Thursday for the first of the October World Cup qualifiers.
Berhalter’s comments come after McKennie violated team protocols during September’s international break, leading to an initial one-game suspension before he was cut from the roster entirely and sent back to Turin.
The gesture served to smooth over any persisting concerns about the status of the midfielder within the USMNT as he is considered one of the program’s brightest and most influential talents.
“Weston's going to start the game tomorrow,” he said.
“He's been focused coming into this week, and we’re not holding anything against him. Is he going to have to rebuild trust by a time period of showing that he's the leader that we expect him to be? Of course. But there's nothing held against him.
“We need to understand that these are young players that we're dealing with, and this is part of it. And I think to me it's just about tolerance, right? Having a certain level of tolerance with players, and with the guys’ situation.”
Beyond a peace offering, Berhalter will be utilizing McKennie to create the balance he craves on the pitch. The USMNT boss has been pushing for a vertical style of play that emphasizes an aggressive attack while maintaining a secure line at the back.
“To talk about breaking lines and playing vertical doesn't mean you're throwing unnecessary numbers forward. I think they're two different things,” said Berhalter when asked about his latest watchword, the concept of ‘verticality’ that has been such a focus this window.
“We can accomplish the two with having a balanced attack. When I look at our game, we're at our best when we're playing fast, when we're playing behind the opponent – as most teams do. I'm not inventing something here. I think anytime you can turn the defense around, it causes problems, and it's just about the timing and the precision to be able to do that. But I certainly think you can play that way without unbalancing yourselves. The key to the game is going to be balanced, for sure.”
The American side must win this round of qualifiers to keep their World Cup dream alive after an underwhelming start in September. The team is currently in third place with five points in three games, tied with Panama.
At the moment, the USMNT would qualify directly to the international tournament as the top three teams move forward, however, the standings are extremely tight and one game could be the determining factor.