USMNT G.K. Turner, defenders Long, Zimmerman against Japan in friendly

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COLOGNE, Germany — United States manager Greg Berhalter said Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner will start Friday’s friendly against Japan, and he will be joined by center backs Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls and Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC.

“Aaron and Walker are going to play, start, and we’re going to make a sub at halftime, or we’re going to get another center back after that. Next game, look for another one.” Berhalter said during a roundtable with reporters.

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The centre-back position has been plagued by injuries in recent months. Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in May, while Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers have been ruled out of this international break with minor injuries. That left Berhalder to call on RKC Genk’s Mark McKenzie and Troyes’ Erik Palmer-Brown.

The absence led to concerns that some chemistry might be lost, but Berhalter said Long, McKenzie and Zimmerman were all part of his first national team camp in 2019.

“Mark has played in some big games and Aaron and Walker have played together for three and a half years now, so I think there’s a familiarity with this group,” Berhalter said. “Then for Eric, it’s a good opportunity. He’s playing in Ligue 1. He’s playing against [Kylian] Mbappe and [Lionel] Messi and the quality strikers there.”

Even at this late stage, with the World Cup starting in November when the U.S. takes on Wales, England and Iran, Berhalter said he is making some tactical adjustments. Besides Japan on Friday, the U.S. plays its final preparation game against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain on Sept. 27.

“At the World Cup opponents come in all shapes, sizes, shapes and forms, so I think it’s beneficial for us to make changes in what we do,” Berhalter said. “So I think that will help prepare us. There might be a little bit of that over the course of a couple of games, for sure.”

Midfielder Weston McKenney said the team struggled in friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay last June.

“When the ball goes to the other side or our press breaks, we have to track the ball again and go back,” he said.

“That’s one of the things we focus on in training, and finding, playing and being confident in finding those balls, not easy to find, but very useful. In general, I think. Making sure our chemistry is there, I don’t think it’s a real problem, but having guys Always good.”

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