Omicron hangs over USA as World Cup 2022 qualifiers approach

Covid-19 has already impacted the U.S. national team during its World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign.

In September, star Christian Pulisic missed the opening match at El Salvador in order to work on regaining his fitness after being forced to enter a 10-day quarantine following his positive Covid test in August at Chelsea. Projected No. 1 keeper Zack Steffen, who was battling back problems that kept him out of the opener, missed the second and third matches after testing positive.

But the Covid-19 situation has changed drastically in recent weeks due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant around the world. Dozens of league matches in Europe have been postponed due to new virus, and teams have been forced to limit capacity to 5,000 fans in France and Italy or close their doors to fans in Germany, bringing back memories of soccer for much of the 2020-21 season.

With the USA scheduled to play three World Cup 2022 qualifiers, beginning with a home game Jan. 27 against El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio, Omicron is very much a real threat to the USA's World Cup hopes. If players are going to contract the virus, better they do it now -- and recover quickly and safely -- and not at the end of the month?

Several European-based U.S. internationals -- Sergino Dest at Barcelona and Konrad de la Fuente at Marseille -- have tested positive, according to club or media reports. but resumed regular activity. Joe Scally, who turned 19 on Dec. 31, missed Borussia Moenchengladbach's 2-1 win at hard-hit Bayern Munich but has already been cleared to return to training.

Covid positives in Phoenix. At the U.S. national team camp in Phoenix, where 20 MLS players entered training on Friday, there were positive coronavirus tests among players arriving at camp.

"Fortunately, most are asymptomatic and now it's just about a little bit of a waiting game,'' U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter said on Monday's national media call. "But that's our reality, and that's what all sports teams are dealing with.''

The possibility of Covid cases among the players arriving for the three games against El Salvador, at Canada -- where the CDC on Monday issued an advisory against travel -- and against Honduras on Feb. 2 in St. Paul, Minnesota might force Berhalter to expand his roster even if it means some players might not play or even dress.

"We'll be ready to adapt, we'll have a contingency plan in place," Berhalter said in response to a question from Soccer America. "We're not exactly sure how many extra players we'll take. But we're going to be thorough and make sure we have a roster that can compete."

Little time off. While in Phoenix, the USA will play three scrimmages. Berhalter believes they will keep MLS players he had in camp in December ready to go at the end of January.

"I think the important thing here is just to understand why we did the December camp and why we had these guys playing," he said in response to a question about whether European-based veterans like John Brooks, Tim Ream or Matt Miazga might be recalled as cover for Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson, the starting center backs in the 2-0 win over Mexico. "Brenden Aaronson, for example, hasn't played [with Austrian leader Red Bull Salzburg] in a month -- he was off Dec. 12 -- but Walker Zimmerman's last game was Dec. 18 and now he was back in camp in Jan. 7, so there wasn't that much time off for these guys."

Berhalter said it was too early to know whether Gio Reyna, who has returned to training at Borussia Dortmund but hasn't played in more than four months due to a hamstring injury, or Tim Weah, who starred for the USA during the November window but hasn't played since Dec. 1 due to a quadriceps injury suffered at French champion Lille, will be available.

“We just don’t know yet," he said. "We have 14 days until we come into camp and those 14 days will be important.”

Dest's resiliency.
Those 14 days will probably determine Dest's future at Barcelona, where he has played one LaLiga game since October and is rumored to be on the way out.

“He’s in a situation where it’s probably at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and there’s a lot of pressure,” said Berhalter. “There’s a lot of pressure every single week. I think he does a good job of dealing with that not letting it affect him too much. He’s a competitor. He’s a guy waiting for an opportunity and then when he gets his opportunity, he performs well. He’s resilient and he has the right mindset to do it. He’s been working hard. He had a little injury setback at the end of the year with his back. He’s committed to making it work and he has a great attitude towards that.”

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

5 comments about "Omicron hangs over USA as World Cup 2022 qualifiers approach".
  1. Charles Davenport, January 11, 2022 at 10:15 a.m.

    It was bad enough watching the last World Cup in Pootin's Russia...I won't be watching games played in stadiums built by slaves in Qatar...but I was hoping to enjoy USMNT qualifying games....

  2. Peter Bechtold replied, January 11, 2022 at 1:48 p.m.

    Charles D.: You are entitled to decide what you want to watch,or not. But you seem to be influenced by misinformation,and perhaps also disinformation, which sadly is flooding our news-systems from both the far right and the far left. Let me assure you as one who has worked at a quite high level for the US Gov't for years, with responsibility on the Middle East & Persian Gulf, that there are no slaves in Qatar. How can you check ?
    All Western embassies in Doha have Human Rights Officers(and many have Labor Attaches) who are required to report yearly on working conditions. These reports can be accessed online. Moreover, Qatar has been hosting the Middle East Command of our military--USCENTCOM--for over two decades. If there was slave labor, it would have been published by now. The Kafala system is a labor contract used in all Gulf states:Kuwait,Bahrain,UAE,Oman,Qatar and Saudi Ar.
      Are you aware that every winter the professional golf tour stops in Qatar(and also Abu Dhabi and Dubay), including many of the world's top golfers? There are also Grand Prix races and tournaments by different sports groups:tomorrow Real Madrid plays Barcelona in the semi-finals of a Spanish cup in Saudi Arabia. Barca and Bayern Munich wear ads for Qatar on their kits. Etc.
    PS: I have been there, and worked closely with our ambassadors and CENTCOM generals. You can check it out.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, January 11, 2022 at 6:44 p.m.

    Peter, I think the difference of opinion is due to different definitions of slavery. One meaning of slavery in Merriam-Websters is: "a situation or practice in which people are entrapped (as by debt) and exploited."

    A legal debt is in essence a contractual obligation.

  4. Charles Davenport replied, January 11, 2022 at 9:48 p.m.

    Peter, thanks for your input. I included one of many reports of the conditions of the laborers in may not fit your definition of slavery but it fits mine...

    Since money and politics rule, I am not impressed by the PGA or Grand Prix or Tom Cruise doing business in Qatar or even in journalist murdering Saudi Arabia.

    If I needed an excuse not to watch the Olympics in Peking the repressive Chinese government has given me plenty.

    Yes and our military was based in Franco's Spain for years, and the US government sponsored dictators in The Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, and more for years, so the American governments approval of any country's human rights policies does not carry weight with me. 

    I'm sure you're a good guy, but I've spoken with a good guy (a minister) who thought that Trujillo's successor Joaquín Balaguer was a good guy (he wasn't)

  5. Santiago 1314, January 11, 2022 at 9:47 p.m.

    Better Bring 40 players for this Round.!!!... Bound to have half YOUR Team "FAUCIED" Out for 5 days.!?!?!?...or is it 10.???...
    And you have to wear a Mask while Playing.!?!?!? (Even if Fauci Lied about that)
    But if your a Health Care Worker, NO Quarantine Needed.!?!?!
    (duh.???...What The FdUCK.!?!?!)... Essential Workers can Work, EVEN IF THEY HAVE OmiWuFlu.!!!!
    But, if your in the Military; NO EXEMPTION TO ESSENTIAL "WORKER"... Your Discharged if you don't VACs...
    I guess Fauci and Biden don't think Defending the Country is "ESSENTIAL".!!!
    Just look at the Border and Afghanistan for Confirmation on that.!!!
    UTube; John Ondraski got blood on my hands 2021

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