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Japan vs United States

Pulisic, Reyna, Pepi: Players to watch for USMNT against Japan

5:27 am AEST 23/9/22
Pulisic Reyna USMNT
GOAL looks at some of the major storylines heading into Friday's match

There's a lot at stake heading into the U.S. men's national team's friendly match against Japan on Thursday.

The World Cup is just around the corner and so too is the naming of a final squad. Just 26 players will represent the U.S. in Qatar, and Berhalter will have selection headaches that could be influenced by the performances in this camp.

The match against Japan isn't all about the fringes of the roster, but also about those at the top. With several USMNT stars out of form or fitness, others can freshen things up and build confidence heading into the most important months of the World Cup cycle.

Here's a look at five players to watch when the U.S. takes on Japan on Friday:

  • pulisic-usmnt-2022

    Christian Pulisic

    It's been a rough few months for Pulisic, to put it lightly.

    Thomas Tuchel may be gone from Chelsea, but the aftereffects are still there as Pulisic heads into camp needing some minutes and, most likely, a little bit of confidence.

    Pulisic never lacks that when he comes to the USMNT and he has, by and large, done a good job of separating his club and international careers.

    Make no mistake, though, a good game against Japan, the tougher test of this window, would do wonders for Pulisic as he looks to prove himself to a new manager, Graham Potter, at Chelsea.

    "I think Christian is is is an ultimate competitor," Berhalter said. "He's a guy who just turned 24 on Sunday and it seems like he's been in football for the last decade.

    "He's seen it all, done at all...Over these last three and a half years, he's really matured. He's been able to handle adversity. Every player's situation with their club is different and it's how they navigate through that's important and he's navigating through it in a great way."

    "I'm excited to see what the future holds for him."

  • Ricardo Pepi USMNT 2021

    Ricardo Pepi

    Whichever game he does get on the field may be make or break for Ricardo Pepi.

    Berhalter is giving him one last chance to prove himself as he battles to be one of the strikers taken on the plane to Qatar. His Groningen loan has looked good early, with him scoring his first goal in nearly a year over the weekend, but Pepi's hopes really may come down to whether or not he can impress Berhalter over the next week.

    It remains to be seen if Berhalter goes with Pepi, Jesus Ferreira or Josh Sargent against Japan but, if it is Pepi, it represents a great opportunity for the former FC Dallas star to show his stuff against a team that is World Cup-caliber.

    With a defense featuring Arsenal star Takehrio Tomiyasu and national team legend Maya Yoshido, it will be a big test.

    It's a moment that Pepi needs to seize to help erase the perception of him that has been built up over the last year.

  • Matt Turner USMNT

    Matt Turner

    Mr. Reliable looks set to be called on yet again.

    The race to be the starter in goal has taken another turn, with Zack Steffen out of action. Matt Turner steps in once again to make his claim.

    Berhalter confirmed that Turner will start against Japan, with the goalkeeper set to earn his 19th cap for the national team.

    He made his big move to Arsenal this summer, and while he is currently Aaron Ramsdale's backup, Turner has talked up the experience he's received playing and training at such a high level.

    With Steffen out, he'll get a chance to prove it as the race remains neck and neck. Steffen hasn't exactly impressed since making the move to Middlesbrough this summer, giving Turner a chance to leapfrog his competitor late in the race.

    All along, Berhalter has seemingly preferred Steffen. Can Turner remove any on his doubts with one final push?

  • Gio Reyna USMNT 2022

    Gio Reyna

    The road to rebuilding Gio Reyna goes on.

    After Reyna missed much of last season, Dortmund have put him on the slow road back. He's been eased into the lineup, making appearances off the bench as he looks to return to full fitness.

    Because of that, it remains to be seen just how much Reyna will play, but the expectation is that he'll play at least some part alongside the first-choice lineup.

    Reyna missed most of World Cup qualifying and, as a result, hasn't had much of a chance to develop chemistry with teammates.

    Consider this camp a crash course, starting with this first game.

    One fun wrinkle to look out for: a spot in the midfield, as Berhalter name dropped Reyna as an option to fill the hole left by Yunus Musah.

    "Perhaps Gio Reyna can play that midfield position," Berhalter said. "So just depending on what type of look we want, how aggressive we want to be both offensively and defensively, we'll make that decision."

  • Aaron-LONG

    The center backs

    Walker Zimmerman is basically a lock for Qatar. As for everyone else, we'll see.

    Miles Robinson would be the guy if not for Achilles injury, but these things happen. One door shuts for him, but opens for someone else.

    Aaron Long may be in pole position as he looks to step up as the No. 2 centerback. Berhalter has already named Long the starter against Japan, but expect rotation as the game and camp goes on.

    "Aaron and Walker are going to play, going to start," Berhalter told reporters on Thursday, "and we'll probably make a sub at half-time, or maybe after that and get another center back in. And then next game, take a look at another one."

    Berhalter will also look to give a run to Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie, two players that, just a week ago, weren't even on this squad. Injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards have handed them a lifeline as they look to make a late push for Qatar.

    "Mark's played in some big games, Aaron and Walker played together for three and a half years now, so I think there is familiarity with this group," Berhalter said. "And then for Erik, it's a good opportunity. He's playing in Ligue 1. He's playing against [Kylian] Mbappe and [Lionel] Messi and the quality strikers there."