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Gregg Berhalter explains USMNT loss in Panama; McKennie injury update

As the U.S. Men's National Team prepares for another slate of World Cup qualifying matches, Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendiola and Andy Edwards lay out their list of questions the squad needs to answer.

United States men’s national team Gregg Berhalter was asked about the physical and mental status of midfielder Weston McKennie.

The Juventus man picked up an injury against Jamaica and Berhalter would not commit to his availability for Wednesday’s important World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio.

McKennie was good against the Reggae Boyz, his first USMNT appearance since being sent back to Italy by Berhalter for breaking team rules in October camp.

[ MORE: USMNT vs Costa Rica preview | Projected lineup ]

The team still had not really addressed any details about what McKennie did specifically, and the player has refused to address the media on this international break.

Berhalter says he backs the player’s decision not to speak, though he did not ask the player to stay quiet on the issue.

“That’s a tough one,” Berhalter said.

“We have a track record of being open and honest with the media. When this whole thing happened we were really up front with the circumstances without getting into the details. I don’t think it’s our job to have to disclose everything to the media. As far as we’re concerned, it’s something that we move forward from. It’s a personal choice and I support Weston in that. He’s shown that he’s focused on helping the team win and doing his job. I can’t ask anything more than that.”

McKennie did not play against Panama, and most of his teammates struggled to pick up any slack in a clumsy, disjointed loss that leaves the Americans second on the Octagonal table.

Berhalter made seven changes to the starting lineup, some forced and some optional, and said his postgame comments that a number of players “performed below expectations” should not be misconstrued as second-guessing his selection of the players.

“When I took responsibility it was not aimed at the choice of players,” Berhalter said. “We believe in the strength of this squad and we don’t regret the choice of any player.”

“We missed an opportunity to get minimum a point in that game and that’s a regret for us. Part of the idea was to get seven fresh guys on the field and make Panama pay and we didn’t.”

Berhalter may not have the option of McKennie versus Costa Rica and he’ll also be waiting on the status of Antonee Robinson, who spoke to the media earlier Tuesday and acknowledged a minor injury.

The Fulham defender is anxious to play, however, as he thinks the opportunity in front of the USMNT is terrific.

“A win against Costa Rica would put us in a brilliant spot at the end of this window,” Robinson said. “This game definitely has pressure but it’s the sort of pressure we enjoy.”

Berhalter said he expects better movement off the ball if Costa Rica plays a low block as expected, and says that while Costa Rica’s long-term familiarity and veteran savvy has its benefits, he hopes the USMNT’s young and energetic legs will rise to the occasion and cause their own problems.

He says the Panama game is in the rearview mirror and that while they expect to win every game, he’s not anticipating too many decisive wins.

“Regarding the Panama performance, we looked at it and discussed it as a group and we were off, make no mistake about it,” Berhalter said. “We were a little bit slow getting to positions, late to press, and that causes problems. Our expected goal value was very low, which is an issue. ... All of these games are tight, either tournament games or World Cup qualifiers. Look at the scores, they are one-goal games they aren’t going to be blowouts. It’s about the key moments, staying focused.”

Follow @NicholasMendola