The injury list for the United States men's national team continues to get longer during what will be the decisive period of World Cup qualifying. With Weston McKennie and Matt Turner already out, the U.S. is now set to be without winger Brenden Aaronson for the remaining three qualifiers this month, including Thursday's massive showdown at Estadio Azteca against Mexico (10 p.m. ET on Paramount+).
According to ESPN's Taylor Twellman, the MCL injury that Aaronson picked up recently for RB Salzburg will see him miss 2-4 weeks.
US Soccer reviewed Aaronson's status and determined that he won't be available for the upcoming qualifiers. Earlier Monday, there was hope that Aaronson could travel and possibly feature but that optimism faded. As of Monday evening, a replacement for Aaronson on the roster had not been named and it wouldn't be surprising if there isn't another call-up due to the wing depth already on the roster.
The news comes as the U.S. lost fullback Sergino Dest to injury last week, and it's a blow to Berhalter, forcing him to once again face matches without a key piece in the team. Aaronson has played in all 11 of the team's qualifying matches so far, registering two goals and one assist.
Creativity will be an issue as Aaronson ranks third on the USMNT and seventh overall in Concacaf for passes completed in the final third during World Cup Qualifying with 94. Replacing Aaronson's drive and guile on the ball will be easier said than done for Berhalter, but he does have talent through the squad if a new name isn't added to the roster.
Given that the team would be expected to keep its 4-3-3 shape, the expectation would be for Gio Reyna to get the minutes if deemed fit enough. He did play 90 minutes for Borussia Dortmund over the weekend and figures to be the natural starter at right wing, next to Ricardo Pepi or Jesus Ferreira, and with Christian Pulisic on the other side. Timothy Weah will also be expected to see an increased role as he's been either starting to spell Pulisic or Aaronson during recent qualifiers.
Weah brings the unpredictable nature that the team will lack without Aaronson, having completed 87 passes in the final third but only having one assist to show for it due to subpar finishing from the forwards he has been paired with. Weah has also scored a goal for the side during qualifying.
Defensively may be where Aaronson is irreplaceable to the side. His engine has seen him win 14 tackles which is as many as Pulisic, Weah, Cristian Roldan and Paul Arriola combined. Add that with his vision and ability to spring the attack in transition and the United States could see themselves playing a more conservative game against Mexico.
Other players on the roster who could be expected to contribute are Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola. While they've logged minutes as change-of-pace players, neither is expected in a starting lineup during this window.
No one can cover the ground that Aaronson does, but one luxury that Berhalter has without McKennie is that playing a defensive-minded midfield of Kellyn Acosta, Yunus Musah, and Tyler Adams will allow the front three to stay forward and focus on their attacking duties. It could even be a blessing in disguise as the USMNT have struggled with having a Plan B at times, so learning to win without Aaronson could give them another wrinkle moving forward. This is assuming that they qualify for the World Cup of course, but with only four points needed, they control their fate.