By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie was left out of the United States squad unveiled on Wednesday because of a slight injury that will prevent the U.S. player of the year from featuring in a pair of friendlies in Europe this month.
The injury to McKennie, who Juventus signed on a permanent deal two weeks ago having acquired him on loan last August from German club Schalke 04, means the U.S. squad will be without the versatile 22-year-old for their second camp of 2021.
"He was omitted from the roster because of a slight injury that he's been dealing with," U.S. men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter said on a conference call.
"If you could imagine guys at his level playing Champions League, playing league games, three times a week having games it takes a toll," Berhalter added.
"He's getting used to that, his body is adapting to that level of competition and unfortunately had to rule him out for this camp."
The U.S. squad will begin reporting to Austria this weekend ahead of a March 25 friendly against Jamaica in Wiener Neustadt and a March 28 meeting with Northern Ireland in Belfast.
The two friendlies are part of the team's preparations for a busy year that includes the CONCACAF Nations League Final Four, the Gold Cup and the start of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
Berhalter said nobody should read too much into the 26-player squad and called the process a "juggling act" given the combination of COVID-19 restrictions and injuries.
Seven of the players will return to their clubs following the Jamaica friendly due to mandatory quarantine restrictions in the countries where they play: Tyler Adams, John Brooks, Reggie Cannon, Chris Richards, Gio Reyna, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah.
"The challenge is we all know what times we are living in and some of the challenges we're dealing with with the roster is closures to European countries and restrictions based on COVID protocols and local governments," said Berhalter.
"This is just part and parcel for what you have to deal with in international soccer and COVID times, so we'll deal with it and we will put a team on the field that will be successful and continue to develop."
The squad has an average of 11 appearances for the national team, including 14 players with eight or fewer caps.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)