Christian Pulisic’s Chelsea team has 24 games between now and the end of the year. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Starting Thursday night, a new generation of U.S. men’s national team players – some say a golden generation – will try to restore the American soccer community’s faith in the team as it strives to return to the World Cup.
Over the past year or so, this young bunch of standouts and budding stars have proved to impactful with their club teams and while winning the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup this summer.
This new generation also brings new challenges and potential problems, especially for the ones competing in Europe.
Players on the more successful teams will get an opportunity to compete in the UEFA Champions League. Add league schedules and eight World Cup games, and they will find themselves with one busy schedule.
In fact, no USMNT has experienced such a daunting schedule for club and country during WCQ.
Of the players on the USMNT’s 25-player roster for the first month of WCQ, 10 have clubs competing in the UCL.
The full list: Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Zack Steffen (Manchester City) and Tim Weah (Lille).
Two other national team pool players, Chris Richards (Bayern Munich) and Owen Otasowie (Club Brugge), increase the total to a record-setting 12 U.S. internationals in the competition, surpassing the record (10) set a year ago.
So, what do the next four months have in store for the players?
Let’s use four players as an example.
* Pulisic’s Chelsea squad has 25 games for the rest of the year, including Champions League matches. Broken down, it seven in September, five in October, six in November and seven in December. (So, Pulisic fans, don’t go bonkers when he doesn’t start; you don’t want to burn out the USA’s No. 1 weapon).
* McKennie’s Juventus team has 23 matches. That includes six in September, six in October, five in November and six in December.
* Reyna’s Borussia Dortmund side has 21 contests. That’s five games in September, six in October, five in November and five in December.
* Adams’ Leipzig squad, like has the same exact schedule as Dortmund.
Add eight qualifiers and that’s a lot of games.
Now, we don’t expect every player to play 90 minutes in every game. Their club coach/manager will manage minutes, especially with the huge Champions League matches.
While the players will travel first class to and from Europe when possible, the wear and tear of travel, especially those distances, changing planes, etc. is never a positive.
The wildcard to everything is COVID-19, which can strike anyone, even if a player is vaccinated. That can throw the best of plans out of the window.
Exhibit A: Pulisic, who was forced to enter quarantine and refrain from any activities with Chelsea just before the Octagonal kickoff. The 22-year-old star midfielder is not in match fitness and was left behind in Nashville, Tenn. for the WCQ opener in El Salvador Thursday at 10 p.m.
We’ll have to see whether the multitude of games, travel and injuries takes its toll, this fall or during the WCQ stretch run next year.