USMNT’s Berhalter, Pulisic address McKennie punishment

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Details have emerged on the United States men’s national team rule violation that caused coach Gregg Berhalter to suspend star midfielder Weston McKennie from Sunday’s World Cup qualifying draw with Canada and send him back to Juventus ahead of Wednesday’s massive match in Honduras.

Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle that McKennie spent a night outside the team’s hotel bubble and brought an unauthorized visitor into his hotel room overnight, putting the team’s COVID status in jeopardy with Zack Steffen already missing with a positive test and Christian Pulisic returning from a test-induced layoff with Chelsea.

[ MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule ]

“When you talk about team policies and rules and what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, the team comes first,” Gregg Berhalter said, refusing to confirm Carlisle’s details on McKennie’s infraction. “It’s not an easy decision, trust me, but we did it for what we think is the good of the group and the good of the team. We’re going to be missing Weston on Wednesday but that doesn’t rule him out of the future.”

Berhalter later said, “Of course” when asked if he had a future with the team, saying, “It’s an open door policy and there will very rarely be a situation” where players wouldn’t be allowed back into the fold.

“He’s a guy that I care for deeply and a big part of the team,” Berhalter said. “When he’s performing well, he’ll be back in the team.”

USMNT captain Christian Pulisic said that the team did not speak with McKennie before the Juventus player was sent back to his club, and did not address part of the question asking if the team was on board with the punishment.

“We didn’t speak to him,” Pulisic said Tuesday. “We were just obviously told what happened by the coach. Yeah, we were pretty much forced to look past it, which we have, and we’ll look to what’s important and that’s getting a result.”

[ USMNT: McKennie sent back to Italy ]

Pulisic also said McKennie’s absence won’t be a distraction to the mental part of preparation for Wednesday.

“That’s what we do for a living. It’s a normal thing. Things happen, things go on outside of the game but it’s our job that when we get to the field that we are ready to give 100 percent,” Pulisic said.

Berhalter also said that he’s not worried about the McKennie issue affecting the team.

“The morale is great,” Berhalter said. “Weston apologized to the group. He apologized to me. The most important message we’re getting through is we’re in camp for seven days and we need everyone single-minded focused on what we’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes when people aren’t, you need to enforce standards. It’s upsetting to me, to Weston, to players and staff, but we’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”