Weston McKennie returns to USMNT for World Cup qualifying; Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna out injured

While Weston McKennie deserved to be punished for breaking team COVID-19 protocols, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter saw no reason to banish the talented midfielder forever. Or even for an extended period of time.

After being suspended for the last two World Cup qualifiers, McKennie was back on the 27-man roster for the next round of games.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is something that’s done,” Berhalter said. “He’s still going to be held accountable for his behavior -- everybody’s going to be held accountable. But this isn’t something we hold on guys. That’s not the type of culture we have in the group and it won’t be moving forward.”

McKennie is seen as one of the leaders of this young U.S. squad, both for his presence and playing time. But the 23-year-old’s behavior off the field has raised questions about his maturity.

In April, he was benched by Juventus for the Turin derby after having a party at his house, which violated both rules against parties and the national curfew. McKennie’s suspension earlier this month stemmed from him spending the night outside the U.S. hotel, reported, while TUDN’s “Hablemos Soccer” podcast said he also had an unauthorized visitor in his hotel room on another night.

Berhalter said at the time that he wasn’t cutting ties with McKennie, and he seemed troubled Wednesday by the idea that one mistake could derail a young player’s career.

“There’s a certain amount of trust Weston needs to rebuild with the group and he’s willing to do that. And I think that’s the important thing,” Berhalter said. “The one thing I didn’t love how this whole thing got spun is the lack of tolerance, the lack of understanding for a player’s situation. For the fact we have a young group and this group needs to learn.

“We’re way too quick to condemn people and not really understand a player’s perspective,” Berhalter added. “Listen, his behavior was unacceptable. He took responsibility for it, and we move on. We really do move on.”

While McKennie is back with the USMNT, two of the team’s other young stars are not. Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna will miss the next three qualifiers because they are still recovering from injuries they picked up in the last round.

Pulisic has not played for Chelsea since leaving the Sept. 9 qualifier in Honduras with an ankle injury, including not being available for Wednesday’s Champions League match at Juventus. Dortmund had already said Reyna’s hamstring injury will keep him out until at least the middle of next month.

Asked if Pulisic or Reyna could still be added to the roster for this window, Berhalter said it was “unlikely.”

“They’re not even involved in team training yet,” he said.

The U.S. men host Jamaica on Oct. 7 in Austin, travel to Panama on Oct. 10 and close out the window with an Oct. 13 game against Costa Rica in Columbus. The top three teams in Concacaf qualifying advance to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and the USMNT is currently tied for second.

The three England-based players – goalkeeper Zack Steffen and defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson – won’t be able to play in the Panama game because of the United Kingdom’s COVID restrictions. Berhalter said when the team goes to Panama, the three will go to Columbus, accompanied by a trainer and likely a technical coach.

Other European players will be available for all three games. That includes Sergino Dest, who missed the Honduras game with a sprained ankle. Dest has played in Barcelona’s last three games and had an assist in Sunday’s game.

The USMNT also gets Tim Weah back. The Lille striker was on the initial roster for the last round of qualifiers, but had to withdraw after he was injured in training before leaving for the United States.

Yunus Musah and Paul Arriola, who missed the last round of qualifiers recovering from injuries, also were included on the roster. This will be the first World Cup qualifying action for Musah, who chose the United States last year over England, Ghana and Italy.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USMNT roster: Weston McKennie back for World Cup qualifiers