Three-plus weeks before the U.S. men's national team opens a long-awaited 2022 World Cup campaign, six likely members of its squad missed games due to injury. And a seventh, Weston McKennie, is reportedly out for at least 15 days after leaving a Juventus game early.
Tyler Adams, Matt Turner, Sergiño Dest and Josh Sargent were held out by their clubs as precautions over the past week; and Adams returned on Saturday. But Luca de la Torre and Chris Richards are sidelined, and the World Cup, for both, appears to be in doubt.
McKennie then joined the injured list on Saturday. He left Juventus' win over Lecce at halftime with what was later reported to be a quadriceps problem. The 15-day timeline would rule him out until the World Cup break.
Richards, a potential starter at center back, is the other primary subject of worry. He was initially named in the USMNT's September squad, then withdrawn due to what U.S. Soccer called a "minor" injury. But a month and a half later, he is still not training with Crystal Palace. "He is still doing some individual work," Palace coach Patrick Vieira said Friday.
In early October, Richards told the "Scuffed" podcast the he was "a week and a half or so away from being fully fit." But on Friday, Vieira said he was still 7-10 days away from a return to team training.
He has just started one first-team game since April, and hasn't played at all since August. He has long been considered the solution at the USMNT's position of gravest need, but seems borderline unplayable against Wales on Nov. 21 if he has not gotten back into a game for Palace before the World Cup break.
Luca de la Torre sidelined for three weeks
The freshest worry, meanwhile, surrounds de la Torre and depth. The 24-year-old midfielder has played sparingly at Celta de Vigo, and is now out for "around three weeks" after tearing a thigh muscle, the Spanish club said Friday.
De la Torre is not a USMNT starter, but would likely be the first central midfielder off the bench. If he cannot recover in time for Qatar, the U.S. midfield would suddenly look rather thin — especially with McKennie also ailing.
Updates on Tyler Adams, Matt Turner, Sergiño and Josh Sargent
Adams is the most integral name on this injury report, and his return to Leeds United's starting lineup on Saturday against Liverpool eased concerns.
Adams had missed last Sunday's loss to Fulham with a minor muscle injury. Leeds coach Jesse Marsch had said that Adams was questionable entering Saturday. But he was healthy enough to reclaim his customary place at the base of Leeds' midfield.
Dest has also "recovered," and is "available" for AC Milan's Sunday match at Torino, Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. The U.S. fullback had exited last Saturday's win over Monza at halftime, and did not play midweek in the Champions League.
Turner is another likely USMNT starter. The 28-year-old goalkeeper had, prior to Thursday, played every minute of Arsenal's 2022-23 Europa League campaign, and hadn't conceded a single goal from open play. But on Wednesday, as he prepared for the fifth of six group games, "he had some discomfort in his groin," Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta said. Turner "tried" on Thursday, the morning of the match, "but he was not well," Arteta said.
"It did not look like a serious injury," Arteta concluded. But the club is assessing it. And at the very least, it cost Turner 90 valuable minutes with the World Cup a few weeks away.
And finally there is Sargent, one of two or three candidates to start for the USMNT up front. He's been excellent for Norwich City in the English Championship this season. He'd recovered from a minor knock to go 90 minutes last Saturday and again on Tuesday. But in Tuesday's game, "he just felt his calf," Norwich manager Dean Smith said. It was "too tight to risk it" on Saturday, so Sargent was held out of Norwich's squad entirely.
"He was close," Smith said. "It's a calf strain. And he's got the opportunity to maybe get called up for the World Cup as well. We can't risk him. And he didn't feel it was right to go today."
The inevitability of costly injuries
It is likely that Sargent, Adams, Dest and Turner will all be fit in plenty of time for the World Cup. The U.S. roster will be unveiled on Nov. 9, but isn't technically due until Nov. 14. The opener is a week later.
But their injuries are harbingers of what is to come. There is no extended runway toward this World Cup. There are European club games the weekend before it begins. There will be further injuries, and little time to recover from them, and more players than ever before who enter soccer's quadrennial showpiece at something less than 100%.
The USMNT has only definitively lost one player (Miles Robinson) thus far. But fans, and head coach Gregg Berhalter, are bracing themselves.
"Do I think we have the best players in each position identified? Yes," Berhalter said last month. "Do I think they're all gonna be available for the start of the World Cup? I don't know. That's just what every international manager will be dealing with right now. We'll be holding our breaths."