Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi will join the U.S. starting lineup for the Americans' last World Cup warmup against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night after coach Gregg Berhalter admitted “we got our butts kicked” by Japan last week.
The 14th-ranked U.S. failed to get a single shot on target in Friday's 2-0 defeat to No 24 Japan, a match Pulisic missed because of an unspecified injury.
“I think it was a poor performance from us. We got our butts kicked and we’re not proud of it," Berhalter said Monday in Murcia, Spain, ahead of the last exhibition. "We think we should have played much better, we could have played much better, and we didn’t. So we want to play better in this game. But I think it starts with the collective, us playing together more cohesive. And if we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Berhalter plans to announce his 26-man World Cup roster on Nov. 9, 12 days before the Americans open in Qatar against No. 19 Wales. The U.S. plays fifth-ranked England on Black Friday and closes the first round against 22nd-ranked Iran on Nov. 29.
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For players, a trip to the World Cup is a highlight of their careers, leading to intense pressure to make the roster.
“I think naturally guys are going to be nervous,” said 29-year-old right back DeAndre Yedlin, who is likely to be the only holdover from the 2014 U.S. World Cup squad. “It's just down to crunch time now. So like I said, obviously guys can have anxiety or whatever about making the squad, but we just need to do what's best for the team.”
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, left back Antonee Robinson, central defender Chris Richards, midfielder Yunus Musah and winger Tim Weah are not in camp because of injuries, and backup right back Reggie Cannon emerged from Friday’s match with an injured groin.
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“Do I think that we have the best players in each position identified? Yes. Do I think they’re all going to be available for start of the World Cup? I don’t know,” Berhalter said. “And that’s just what every international manager will be dealing with right now. We’ll be holding our breaths, hoping that that’s the case. But even in this camp, we’re missing five starters. So it just is what it is. And you got to roll with it. And you can’t use it as an excuse. And what you need to do is give the players that are here confidence instead of worrying about the players that aren’t here.”
Jesús Ferreira played at forward in the first half against Japan, putting an open header wide, and Josh Sargent replaced him for the second half in his first national team appearance in a year.
Pepi ended a 30-match, 345-day scoreless streak for club and country when he scored his first goal for Groningen on Sept. 17.
And Berhalter has been criticized by some for not selecting Jordan Pefok, who scored three goals in his first six Bundesliga matches this season with Union Berlin.
No. 53 Saudi Arabia played a 0-0 draw against World Cup-bound Ecuador on Friday in Murcia. The Saudis play No. 3 Argentina, 26th-ranked Poland and No. 12 Mexico at the tournament.
“I don’t really see them similar to the opponents in our group,” Berhalter said, “but it’s a cohesive team. Most of the players in the starting lineup will be from two clubs, so we know that that gives them cohesion.”