Christian Pulisic to miss USMNT World Cup qualifier at El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- The United States be without midfielder Christian Pulisic for Thursday's World Cup qualifier against El Salvador and goalkeeper Zack Steffen, manager Gregg Berhalter said at Wednesday's press conference.

Berhalter added that New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner will start in Steffen's place.

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Pulisic's status was announced earlier in the day. He'll remain in Nashville and work on his fitness given a recent positive test for COVID-19 forced him to quarantine for 10 days. Berhalter was non-committal, however, as to Pulisic's availability for Sunday's qualifier against Canada. The U.S. hasn't had much time to train this week given the staggered arrival times of players. Berhalter added that Pulisic remains listed as "day-to-day."

"We really didn't get to assess [Pulisic] in a proper way and see his fitness levels," Berhalter said. "The next couple days, we'll be working with him to see exactly where he is, and we'll get a report when we get back."

As for Steffen, Berhalter revealed that the Manchester City goalkeeper has been suffering from back spasms, and the decision was made Wednesday morning to leave him in Nashville.

"It's something that just crept up on him over the last couple of days," said Berhalter about Steffen. "He woke up today and his back was extremely tight, and it was going to be really touch and go to see if he could play any part in the game. We thought it was best to have him get rehab and try to make a run for Sunday, potentially."

Berhalter added that the decision to select Turner over Nottingham Forest keeper Ethan Horvath was "difficult" but he felt that the Rev's keeper was in "better form." Horvath has played just two competitive matches since completing his move to Forest in July, while Turner is well into his season with New England and had a run of six games with the U.S. at the 2021 Gold Cup, which the U.S. won.

"I have complete confidence in him and what he can do and his ability," said Berhalter about Turner. "The next step is going to be for him to translate it into these ultra-competitive matches and see how he can manage that. So far, he's passed all his tests, and now it's about dealing with it and qualifying."

The decision to start Turner is the latest step in his rapid rise. Turner has been New England's starting keeper for three seasons, and only received his first cap back in January. He followed that up with stellar play during the Gold Cup.

Turner said that he was told by Berhalter earlier on Wednesday that he would be the starter, but added that the news will do little to alter his pregame routine.

"I think something that I've learned over the years is that as a professional, you always have to be prepared to play," said Turner at Wednesday's press conference. "So you have to go through the week preparing yourself the same way you would if you're playing, or if you're not playing. That's the way to keep consistency going. So I haven't really taken a much different approach this week, compared to other weeks.

"Trainings are a little different. I don't have my goalkeeper coach that I have in New England. But I'm comfortable with [U.S. keeper coach Aaron Hyde] and we've worked together for the entire month of July during Gold Cup. So it's just sort of having that next man up mentality, always being ready and you never know when your number is going to be called and you want to be prepared for when that comes."

Pulisic is the first American to play in and win a European Champions League final, having helped Chelsea win the title last season.

Berhalter also criticized CONCACAF for not implementing Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for the qualifying matches.

CONCACAF said in April that it was using VAR for the remainder of its 2021 Champions League, for the Nations League final four and for the Gold Cup. But it did not include it for World Cup qualifiers.

"I think it's an error by CONCACAF,'' Berhalter said. "I'm going to speak freely and say that because that's part of the game. VAR, I think it was great that they implemented it in Nations League and Gold Cup, and it's disappointing that it's not part of qualifying. That's where the modern game is going. We want to be right up there with the rest of the world, our region, in terms of the quality and the technology. And we need to find a way to get that done.''