Timothy Weah to miss USMNT at Canada due to vaccine issue

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TORONTO — United States forward Tim Weah was unable to travel to Canada for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier because he did not meet the vaccination requirements to cross the Canadian border, coach Gregg Berhalter said Saturday.

Weah, who was involved in the play that led to the winning goal in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over El Salvador, has received one vaccine dose and was infected with COVID-19 before he could receive his second shot, Berhalter said.

Weah meets the vaccination standards in France, where he plays professionally with Lille, but is unable to enter Canada, Berhalter said.

“This is something we can’t control, the nuances of the COVID protocol, and we just have to deal with it,” Berhalter said. “It will be about the next man stepping up and doing their job.”

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Berhalter said the team became aware of Weah’s situation “a couple of days ago” and had hoped it could be resolved before Sunday’s 3 p.m. game in Hamilton, Ontario.

“This was a nuanced technicality that we were hoping was going to get pushed through and, unfortunately, it didn’t,” Berhalter said.

Berhalter also said that full back Brooks Lennon has returned to his MLS club, Atlanta United, to be “evaluated for a slight ankle injury” with an update expected “in the next couple of days.”

Weah’s absence means he will miss the opportunity to face off against Canadian forward Jonathan David, his teammate with defending French league champions Lille. David scored Canada’s second goal in Thursday’s 2-0 win in Honduras.

“That’s my guy,” Weah said of David after Thursday’s game in Columbus, Ohio. “We always go at it. Most importantly, I love watching him succeed. Great guy, one of my best friends on the team. I wish nothing but success for him. Seeing what he’s been doing has really been great, and it’s pushed me to work even harder. Having that brotherhood, we really like to compete a lot. We’ve been waiting for this game the whole year, we’ve been talking about it, we’ve been joking about who’s going to win, who’s going to score.”

Weah did not play for Lille between Dec. 1 and Jan. 19 because of a quadriceps injury. He missed a 1-1 draw against Canada last September because of a thigh injury that sidelined him between Aug. 21 and Sept. 18.

Canada is undefeated through nine games and leads the group, one point ahead of the U.S. in second and two points ahead of Mexico in third. Panama is in fourth place, five points behind Canada.

“They’ve certainly improved a lot over the past couple of years,” U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman said of Canada Saturday. “I think there’s been a shift in their mentality and they play with a chip on their shoulder, they play with something to prove, and they play with an intensity that is very high.”

Canadian coach John Herdman likened Sunday’s encounter to a “derby match” between local rivals.

“It’s a fight for the top of the table,” he said. “That’s all I need to say in terms of what this means to us now. It’s World Cup qualifying, massive game. It’s not a friendly game. I mean, you’re playing your biggest rival, USA.”

Canada and Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies is unavailable for this three-match window due to evidence of heart muscle inflammation discovered after Davies was infected with coronavirus. Even without the speedy Davies, Berhalter said Canada’s roster offers plenty of attacking talent.

“They still have some great players,” Berhalter said. “When you think about the speed of Tajon Buchanan, he can do that. When you think about Jonathan David, he’s got the quality. He’s one of Europe’s top strikers right now. Cyle Larin has always been a very good striker. They have weapons.”

This is the first trip north of the border for the U.S. men’s team since a 2-0 loss in Toronto in the CONCACAF Nations League in October, 2019.

“That first Canada away game in the Nations League is where we really fell flat from a competitive standpoint,” Berhalter said. “That’s the emphasis in this game. We know that they’re going to be fired up. We know they’re playing in front of their home fans and we know they’re going to be confident. It’s going to be a competitive game. If we can embrace that, we’ll be OK. It’s a good opportunity for us to move up in the standings.”

The 29-degree temperature in Columbus on Thursday tied the record low for a home American qualifier. Defenders Walker Zimmerman and Chris Richards were the only starters for either team to wear short sleeves.

“I just didn’t think it was quite cold enough,” Zimmerman said. “It felt pretty good. I’d rather be a little bit cold than getting too hot.”

The forecast temperature at kickoff Sunday is 23 degrees with a mix of sun and cloud. With the wind chill, it will feel like 14 degrees on the artificial turf surface.

“It’s going to be a tricky field,” Canadian coach John Herdman said after his team trained late Saturday afternoon. “It’s one of those fields where at four o’clock, the ice sort of set in and it ended up rock hard.”

Zimmerman said he’d decide on his attire after Saturday’s training and Sunday’s pre-match warm-up.

“I know these next games will be colder,” he said.

The U.S. concludes the current qualifying window on Wednesday when it hosts Honduras at St. Paul, Minnesota.

Canada began the window playing on grass in the warmth of Honduras, and will see more of the same in El Salvador next Wednesday. Herdman’s team played two games in frigid conditions in Edmonton last November, wins over Costa Rica and Mexico.

“I definitely didn’t have enough layers on,” Herdman said. “I was freezing.”