Weston McKennie dislocated his shoulder in action for Schalke this weekend. An anticipated extended absence can be a positive, though, but USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter must make it into one.
Injuries are never nice. I have dealt with them myself. Ask any professional or amateur, they will all tell you the same thing: being injured is the worst feeling in the world.
This is especially true for those who are just working into the peak of their careers. Extended absences can be far more damaging than just the missed development and sharpness that comes a result of them. It can lead to you losing your place in the team, it can lead to stagnation of individual progress, in some instances, it can lead to being forgotten.
That is the extreme end of the problems, of course, but every manager, international and domestic, must deal with the inevitability that some of his players will suffer injuries at times and miss significant portions of the year.
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter has already had to deal with his fair share of injuries — I am sure he would like to welcome Tyler Adams back into the fold as soon as possible. And now he is set to face another period without one of his cornerstone pieces.
This weekend, midfielder Weston McKennie was stretchered off for Schalke after dislocating his shoulder. Such an injury usually sees players miss two or three months and can lead to surgery. Those details have not yet been reported, but it is not completely out of the question that McKennie goes under the knife.
The injury is a massive blow to McKennie, who was starting regularly for a top-four Bundesliga team and just beginning to establish himself as a genuine star in one of the best leagues in world football, something that few USMNT players have ever done. It is also a problem for Berhalter and the U.S. McKennie was a crucial piece of the puzzle. Taking him out the team is far from ideal, to say the least.
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Nevertheless, as injuries to key players have in the past, Berhalter can use this present problem as an opportunity. By definition, missing one player opens up an opportunity for another. Sometimes, you really are one injury away from uncovering a superstar. Whether that is the case here remains to be seen, but if Berhalter is willing to embrace the uncertain and swing for the fences, the USMNT could benefit from McKennie’s absence.
Take Paxton Pomykal as an ideal example. The 19-year-old FC Dallas midfielder might finally receive a USMNT start that he would not otherwise be given. Whether he is ready for the step up to international football or not, why not throw him into the line-up to see if he could one day be a long-term starting player for the U.S.? This is the perfect opportunity to find out.
But if Berhalter plays it safe and turns to a trusted comrade who will never develop into a long-term option, the McKennie absence only stents the development of the team further. Simply reinstating Wil Trapp or Cristian Roldan, perfectly capable players but limited commodities who have nothing left to prove, wastes the opportunity.
McKennie’s injury is sad. It is never nice to see a player injured. And for the USMNT, given his importance to the team, it is a problem. But it can be turned into a positive, it just required Berhalter to make the brave, bold decision.