Christian Pulisic to return to USMNT roster for World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico

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The United States' Christian Pulisic (10) dribbles the ball surrounded by Honduras players
The United States' Christian Pulisic (10) dribbles the ball surrounded by Honduras players during a World Cup qualifying match in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Sept. 8. (Moises Castillo / Associated Press)

Christian Pulisic is returning to the U.S. national team for next week’s World Cup qualifier with Mexico after missing last month’s three qualifiers with an ankle injury.

Pulisic proved his fitness in Tuesday’s Champions League match, going 16 minutes in Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Malmö.

“It’s about progressing him in a safe way,” coach Gregg Berhalter said of his captain, who has played in just two of the Americans’ first six qualifiers. “We know he’s valuable to the team. We know we want him on the field. But we’re also not willing to risk anything. It’s about how he feels and depending on that will dictate what role he plays in these two games.”

Among those missing from the 25-man roster are defenders John Brooks and Sergiño Dest and attackers Gio Reyna and Gyasi Zardes. Brooks, who is healthy, did not play well in the September qualifiers, then withdrew from the October games with a back problem. Dest, who was a late scratch from Barcelona’s Champions League game this week, is out indefinitely with a back issue, the club said.

Berhalter said the decision to leave Dest off the qualifying roster was made Thursday morning, hours before the team was announced.

“That’s how fluid it is,” he said. “I even expect the roster to change from now until guys are in camp. We have to be able to adapt. This is about next-man-up mentality.”

Reyna hasn’t played since hurting a hamstring in the second qualifier in September and Zardes has a knee injury.

The U.S. (3-1-2) is second in the eight-country CONCACAF qualifying tournament, trailing only Mexico (4-0-2). But the Americans could grab a share of first place on points with a win Nov. 12 in Cincinnati.

The U.S. beat Mexico twice this summer, in the finals of both the Nations League and CONCACAF Gold Cup. But Berhalter said he doesn’t expect that momentum to carry over to qualifying.

“We’re not thinking at all of what happened in the summer,” he said. “Our focus is thinking about what’s going to happen Nov. 12.

“This is a completely different animal. This is a group format. Home game. They’re going to be approaching the game with intensity. It’s going to be a massive game.”

After the Mexico match the U.S. will travel to Jamaica (1-3-2) for its final qualifier of 2021 on Nov. 16.

Among those joining Pulisic on the 25-man U.S. roster are Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi, Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie and Boavista defender Reggie Cannon.

Pepi leads the U.S. in scoring with three goals in qualifying while McKennie is coming off back-to-back goal-scoring matches in Italy’s Serie A. Cannon, meanwhile, returns to the national team for the first time since January while teenager Joe Scally, who has bulled his way into the starting lineup for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga, will be looking for his first national team cap in place of Dest.

Six players on the team, including Pepi, McKennie and Cannon, are products of the FC Dallas academy system.

The roster called up Thursday includes players from nine countries, including 10 from MLS. Twenty players called up Thursday were also on the qualifying roster in October.

The team will begin reporting to Cincinnati on Sunday with training starting on Monday.

USMNT roster

Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson (New York City), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)

Defenders: Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Chris Richards (Hoffenheim), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Gianluca Busio (Venezia), Sebastian Lletget (Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

Forwards: Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG), Tim Weah (Lille)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.