United States midfielder Weston McKennie was sent home by national team manager Gregg Berhalter for spending a night outside of the team’s COVID-19 bubble in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as bringing an unauthorized individual back inside the bubble to his hotel room on a different evening, both of which violated the team’s coronavirus protocols, sources told ESPN.
The news of an unauthorized person in McKennie’s hotel room was first reported on TUDN’s “Hablamos Soccer” podcast.
McKennie was suspended for Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Canada in a World Cup qualifier for what Berhalter described as a “violation of team policy”; this after the player was seen taking part in the team’s final training session at Nissan Stadium on Saturday. McKennie later posted on his Instagram account that he was suspended for violating the team’s COVID-19 policy, and he was dismissed by the national team on Monday.
A source also confirmed a detail from MLSSoccer.com that following the El Salvador game, McKennie told teammates that there needed to be more accountability within the U.S. team, only to later engage in the aforementioned protocol violations.
Berhalter was asked multiple times during Tuesday’s Zoom call about his decision to suspend McKennie and the reasoning behind it. The U.S. manager declined to answer most of those queries, saying he did it for the good of the team.
“I think when you talk about team policies and team roles and what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, the team absolutely comes first,” said Berhalter. “And we made this decision not only for the short term, but for the long-term health from the program. It’s not an easy decision, trust me.
“Countless coaches are faced with decisions where they have to take talented players out of the lineup for some reason or other, but we did it for what we think is the good of the group and good of the team. And it is what it is when obviously, we’re going to be missing Weston for Wednesday. But it doesn’t rule him out for the future, but we know that we’ll be without him for Wednesday.”
Sources confirmed that McKennie’s multiple violations factored into Berhalter’s decision to suspend the midfielder and send him back to club side Juventus ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier at Honduras.
The issue of possible COVID-19 infection has been a concern for U.S. Soccer since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Attacker Christian Pulisic tested positive on Aug. 18 while still with club side Chelsea. Two members of the U.S. delegation — including Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen — have tested positive for COVID-19 since the team began to convene on Aug. 29. At the time Steffen’s positive test was announced, U.S. Soccer stated that every player and staff member had since tested negative multiple times.
“I think the morale is great. I think people make mistakes,” Berhalther said. “Weston apologized to the group, he apologized to me and things happen. I guess the most important message that we’re trying to get through is that, you know, we’re here in camp for seven days and that the intensity is incredible. It’s three finals in seven days and we need everyone single-minded focus on what we’re trying to accomplish.
“And that’s the most important thing. What I’d say is that, by and large, the group is there, the group is focused on that. And sometimes when when people aren’t, then you have to have a talk with them and you have to sometimes enforce enforce standards. That’s all part of it.”
McKennie’s off-field behavior has become a source of concern for club and country. The Juventus midfielder, who tested positive for COVID-19 last October, was suspended by then-manager Andrea Pirlo this past April for hosting a party that included teammates Paulo Dybala and Arthur.
The news surrounding McKennie has overshadowed the team’s preparations for Wednesday’s match. The absence of McKennie was felt in Sunday’s match against Canada, the U.S. team’s second consecutive draw to start World Cup qualifying.