Pulisic won’t start in US World Cup qualifier against Mexico

CINCINNATI (AP) — Christian Pulisic will not start in the United States’ World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Friday.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said Thursday that he envisions the 23-year-old Chelsea winger entering the game off the bench.

Pulisic sprained his left ankle during the Americans’ World Cup qualifier at Honduras on Sept. 8 and didn’t play again until Nov. 2, when came on for the final 17 minutes of Chelsea’s Champions League match at Malmö. He saw action for the final six minutes of Chelsea’s Premier League game at Burnley on Saturday.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said after last weekend’s match: “I hope that they don’t overuse him, that they are responsible enough.”

“It was kind of strange to hear that text come out from Tuchel, because we use common sense,” Berhalter said. “Christian was back training for three days before these games — before the game that he played for the first time in Malmö. And then — that was a midweek game on Wednesday, I think — and then I think he got another maybe day of training before the next game against Burnley, so he’s been training for four days.

“And common sense is going to tell us that you can’t start a guy in a game like this when he’s only been training for four days and he’s been out for two months. So I understand Tuchel’s concern. Our idea wasn’t to play him 180 minutes in this trip anyway. He’s not going to start tomorrow. Hopefully, he’ll get some playing time, we’ll put him on the field and he can make an impact, help us get the result that we want.”

Pulisic played just twice for Chelsea this season, in the European Super Cup against Villarreal on Aug. 11 and the Premier League opener against Crystal Palace three days later, then tested positive for COVID-19 and was sidelined until the Sept. 5 World Cup qualifier against Canada.

Berhalter said he wouldn’t detail Pulisic’s injury beyond a sprain.

“That’s something that I’d be more comfortable with Chelsea talking about,” he said.

Berhalter said Zack Steffen will be in goal for Friday’s game over Matt Turner, just Steffen’s sixth match since the start of the 2021-22 club season and his second for the U.S.

Steffen played for Manchester City in the Community Shield on Aug. 7, then in the League Cup against Wycombe on Sept. 21 and West Ham on Oct. 27. His only Premier League game was against Burnley on Oct. 16.

Turner started the first five qualifiers for the U.S. and Steffen took over for the Oct. 13 match against Costa Rica, a 2-1 win.

“They’re both great goalkeepers,” Berhalter said. “There’s very little separating them at this stage, and we could have easily just as easily went with Matt.”

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