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PANAMA CITY, Panama — United States men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter said that Weston McKennie‘s quad injury is “not severe,” but still thought it better to leave him out of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama.
McKennie didn’t make the trip to Panama after playing all 90 minutes in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Jamaica that put the U.S. atop the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings, ahead of rivals Mexico on goal difference.
The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Friday that goalkeeper Zack Steffen and left-back Antonee Robinson wouldn’t travel to Panama either due to quarantine restrictions in the U.K. — where both players play their club soccer — and that McKennie would be joining them in Columbus, where the U.S. will play Costa Rica on Wednesday.
“[The injury is] not severe, but we had to weigh, would [McKennie] be able to play this game? And we thought no,” Berhalter told reporters ahead of Sunday’s match. “Then the second thing is traveling. Will that do him good or is it better to go to Columbus and start getting rehab to try to prepare him for Wednesday? That was what we were balancing. To fly four hours and then go back the next day, we just felt, ‘You know what? For your muscle, for recovery, it’s better for him to go to Columbus.'”
Berhalter also elaborated on the decision to send Steffen and Robinson to Columbus. U.K. COVID-19 protocols designate Panama as a “red-list” country, which would require both players to quarantine for 10 days upon their return. While Steffen was the backup to Matt Turner, Robinson went the full 90 minutes against Jamaica, and after consulting with the players’ clubs — Manchester City for Steffen and Fulham for Robinson — the decision was made to send them ahead to Ohio.
“It’s a three game window. It wasn’t likely that we’re going to play those players 90 minutes or three times 90 minutes,” Berhalter said. “So we felt like this made the most sense. It’s not an exact science, but we made the best possible decision taking the human element into it, taking the club side into it, and taking our needs to win games, balancing all those all three things.”
As for Panama, Berhalter is expecting a difficult match against a team he said has been “very consistent.” The Canaleros have so far taken five points from four games, though they are coming off a disappointing 1-0 defeat away to El Salvador.
“They don’t let up a lot of chances,” Berhalter said about Panama. “They’re the lowest expected goals [against] of the first four games. We’re second lowest. [They’re a] strong defensive team, heavy crossing team. The one outlier game was the last game ,and I don’t know if you saw the field conditions and what they were dealing with, it was a very difficult game to play. It was monsoon type rains, field was flooded. It was an abnormal game. It’s a good team. It’s a very physically strong team. They’ll be very aggressive in duels, they’re very good attacking in the penalty box.”