USMNT to start GK Turner, defenders Long, Zimmerman in friendly vs. Japan
COLOGNE, Germany — United States manager Gregg Berhalter has said Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner will start in Friday’s friendly against Japan, and he will be joined by center backs Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman.
“Aaron and Walker are going to play, going to start, and we’ll probably make a sub at half-time, or maybe after that and get another center back in. And then next game, take a look at another one,” Berhalter said during a roundtable with reporters.
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The center back position has been hit by injuries in recent months. Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson suffered a ruptured achilles tendon back in May, while Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers were ruled out of this international break due to minor injuries. That left Berhalter to call in RKC Genk’s Mark McKenzie and Troyes’ Erik Palmer-Brown.
The absences have led to concerns that some chemistry will be lost, but Berhalter said Long, McKenzie and Zimmerman were all part of his first national team camp back in 2019.
“Mark’s played in some big games, Aaron and Walker played together for three and a half years now, so I think there is familiarity with this group,” Berhalter said. “And then for Eric, it’s a good opportunity. He’s playing in Ligue 1. He’s playing against [Kylian] Mbappe and [Lionel] Messi and the quality strikers there.”
Berhalter said that he is making some tactical modifications, even at this late stage before the start of the World Cup in November, where the U.S. will square off against Wales, England and Iran. In addition to Japan on Friday, the U.S. will play their final preparation match against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain on Sept. 27.
“I think it’s beneficial for us to put tweaks into what we’re doing because opponents come in all shapes and sizes and forms and formations in the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “So I think this will help prepare us. There’s probably a little bit in it over the course of two games, for sure.”
Midfielder Weston McKennie said the U.S. will try to handle playing in transition better, which was something the team struggled with in friendlies last June against Morocco and Uruguay.
“When the ball gets switched to the other side or our press gets broken down, just to track back and get behind the ball again,” he said.
“That’s one of the things that we’re concentrating on in training, and just building out, playing and having a confidence to find those balls that maybe aren’t the easiest to find, but most effective. And in general, just I guess making sure our chemistry is intact, which I don’t think that’s ever been a real problem, but always good to have the guys in.”