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Gregg Berhalter praises USMNT backs, Michail Antonio; Updates Pulisic, Musah health

Gregg Berhalter wasn’t about to play the blame game when it came to the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with Jamaica in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday in Kingston.

In fact, he was all about the positives.

The USMNT coach celebrated his back line and really his entire team after the Americans took four of six points from Mexico and Jamaica to stay in a World Cup qualifying position more than halfway through the Octagonal.

“I think we’re on the right track, having to get the guys experience on the fly,” Berhalter said. “We’re playing an Olympic-aged team and it’s really learning as we go. We’ve had really strong home performances and got five points on the road. When I look at 2021 in general, we lifted two trophies and we’re in the position we want to be in World Cup qualification.”

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Timothy Weah’s acute finish put the Yanks ahead 1-0 only for Michail Antonio’s vicious goal from 34 yards to leave the match level at halftime.

The Yanks are now off until a December friendly and a pair of January qualifiers, and will certainly hope to be a bit healthier when they come back to CONCACAF matches.

There’s a question of whether all players will be released for the January games, but Berhalter could only use Christian Pulisic off the bench, lost Weston McKennie and Miles Robinson to yellow card accumulation, didn’t have Giovanni Reyna at all, and had to play an ailing Yunus Musah versus Jamaica.

“Yunus was a little bit under the weather,” said Berhalter, who lifted Musah with 24 minutes to play in Kingston. “He came down with strep throat and we could tell that was taking a toll on him. We were thinking about halftime. But I don’t want this to be about the field.”

Berhalter explained that his pregame comments about Pulisic perhaps starting were about gamesmanship, as the American came into the match when Musah exited the fray.

[ JPW: Lucky point for USMNT in Jamaica? ]

“He wasn’t ready to start the game,” Berhalter said. “He’s working his way back, man. We wanted to keep the big picture in this window. He’s doing well.”

Berhalter heaped praise on center backs Walker Zimmerman and Chris Richards for Tuesday’s performance as well as Miles Robinson’s work alongside Zimmerman against Mexico.

After all, Jamaica’s forwards are their strength.

“It was one big moment, his goal, but we all watch Michail Antonio every week in the Premier League and he’s dominating,” Berhalter said. “He can turn really well, if you get in a physical battle you’re probably not going to win. Don’t forget Leon Bailey, Tecatito, Raul Jimenez, Lozano. We faced some good competition this window and our back line held up well.”

As for the pitch, Berhalter didn’t like it but knows that Jamaica had to fight the same battle.

“It gets really choppy and you have to get the ball out of tight areas,” he said. “It’s tough. Both teams had to deal with it and we chose slightly different ways to go about it. We wanted to go side to side to get behind them and Jamaica wanted to go direct. Chris Richards and Walker Zimmerman did a really good job with Antonio and what came their way.”

Follow @NicholasMendola