USMNT to face Japan and Saudi Arabia in September friendlies

More World Cup-caliber opponents for the USMNT

The U.S. men’s national team Tuesday announced its September friendlies, which will see the USMNT face Japan and Saudi Arabia in roughly three months.

Both games will take place on neutral ground in Europe. The USMNT will play Japan on September 23, with the venue as yet unannounced. ESPN and Univision will carry the game live in English and Spanish, respectively.

On September 27, the USMNT will face Saudi Arabia in Spain, with Estadio Nueva Condomina in Murcia hosting the match. That game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 and Univision in English and Spanish, with the kickoff times for both games yet to be announced.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to measure ourselves against fellow World Cup participants,” said USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter in a press release. “Together with the two games in June against Morocco and Uruguay, we will have experienced a great diversity of styles and quality opponents to help us prepare for what lies ahead at the World Cup in November.”

USMNT vs. Japan

The USMNT has only played Japan twice, winning 3-2 in San Francisco in 2006 on goals from Clint Dempsey, Eddie Pope, and Taylor Twellman. Before that, they lost 3-1 in a 1993 friendly tournament in Japan, with legendary Japanese forward Kazuyoshi “King Kazu” Miura—who is still, 29 years later, playing professional soccer—scoring twice.

They rolled through AFC qualifying for Qatar 2022, conceding just six times in 18 games. Their squad will likely include Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Daichi Kamada, fresh off of winning the Europa League with Eintracht Frankfurt.

USMNT vs. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and the USMNT have played more often, with the U.S. holding a 3W-1D-2L record in the series. Those games include Gregg Berhalter’s first cap, which came in 1994 just after he signed his first pro deal with PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands.

Saudi Arabia shared a group with Japan in the final round of AFC qualifying, winning Group B by a single point. Their squad is entirely based in the Saudi Arabian league, and is packed with players in their prime years. While their squad for June only included one player under the age of 22, it also has just one player over 30.

Four things we learned in the June USMNT window

We got some clarity up top, some World Cup system hints, and Aaronson is making a push for starts

The U.S. men’s national team had to make good use of this June international window, given that they have just one September camp left before Gregg Berhalter assembles his team for the World Cup in November.

On the surface, the results were, if not spectacular, then at least satisfactory. A rout against Grenada met expectations, and while the road draw at El Salvador was a bit of a letdown, the game was played in awful conditions, and no one got hurt. In the friendlies that lead off the window, a confident 3-0 win over Morocco was the highlight, while showing the steel and savvy to secure an even draw with veteran-heavy Uruguay bodes well for a young USMNT’s prospect.

However, the big thing in this window was picking up knowledge for the trip to Qatar. Here are four things we learned during the June window:

Ferreira has the edge

Berhalter called Jesús Ferreira and Haji Wright in as his strikers during this camp, and has looked at just shy of a dozen center forwards over the last year. There’s also been more than a little talk of moving Tim Weah inside once Gio Reyna is healthy, but to be fair, the USMNT probably has to correct that to “if Gio Reyna is healthy” at this point. It’s an understandable impulse, though, as camp kicked off without any one player seizing the position.

Coming out of this camp, though, it looks like Ferreira has opened up a bit of a lead on the pack. Yes, his four-goal outburst came against FIFA’s 170th-ranked team, but the starting No. 9 should be scoring four on Grenada, right? That’s doing the job.

Really though, the tell was that in El Salvador, down 1-0 and having had little success going forward, Berhalter brought Ferreira in for Wright in what was supposed to be a big test for the latter. One feels for Wright, whose big chance in this camp came in conditions that were such a mess that Berhalter shifted away from the normal formation and tactical approach, but when a coach makes a move like that, it’s a big indicator.

It doesn’t feel like we learned that much about Wright in this camp, if we’re being honest, but what we did learn is that a) Berhalter has a ton of faith in Ferreira, who remains the only viable false No. 9 in the pool, and b) the USMNT seems to play better with a center forward dropping off the front line rather than staying up as a more conventional target. Of the nine goals they scored in this window, eight came with Ferreira on the field.

It doesn’t feel like Ferreira is so locked-in that his form with FC Dallas no longer really matters. If he goes cold in July and August, the competition will be as unclear as it was coming into this camp. However, right now, he has to be the odds-on favorite to start against Wales at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in 157 days.

Unclear situation in goal

Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson, and Matt Turner all got caps in this camp, but no one truly had the kind of game that really underlined their candidacy as one to watch.

Horvath certainly had the worst time of the trio. As with Wright, Berhalter marked out the El Salvador game as a big test for Horvath, who hasn’t been playing much at Nottingham Forest. Unfortunately for Horvath, the home team’s lone shot on goal flew past him as he telegraphed that he was expecting a cross and was caught out of position. It’s only one moment in many, but realistically it’s probably going to stick in the coaching staff’s thoughts when they’re selecting the World Cup roster.

This situation feels like one will only be resolved at the club level. Johnson has the clearest grasp of a starting role, but MLS is not the Premier League. Horvath may have an angle on a Premier League starting role, with Brice Samba saying he wants to leave Nottingham Forest, but it seems safe to expect Horvath to have new competition arrive in the summer transfer window.

That leaves Turner and Zack Steffen, both of whom are likely to enter the season at big-time clubs, but not as starters. Steffen’s place in the Manchester City hierarchy is clear, but Turner at least has the chance, as the new guy at Arsenal, to make a real first impression in preseason. If he creates a battle for the No. 1 spot with Aaron Ramsdale, he’s probably starting in Qatar. If not though, this question is going to carry into November.

Expect to see 3-2-2-3 in Qatar

Berhalter has long wanted to have his team be able to play different shapes in and out of possession, and he’s often come back to some kind of 3-2-2-3 look, generally asking a nominal fullback on paper to push higher up the field in possession.

In this camp, we saw a 4-3-3 on paper become 3-2-2-3 against Morocco, with Antonee Robinson going from left back to left winger, with Christian Pulisic shifting inside and dropping off the front line and Reggie Cannon tucking in from right back. Berhalter has to be happy with the result in that game, as the USMNT not only won 3-0, but created plenty of clear chances.

We saw 3-2-2-3 come back against El Salvador at halftime, and even when Paul Arriola was sent off, the alteration from Berhalter saw the U.S. play out of a 3-1-2-3 in possession, and with Robinson’s comfort in particular, it seems to be a serious option for the USMNT any time they need a goal, or when it’s 0-0 and they want to pursue a positive game state early.

The one question that remains unresolved? This version of 3-2-2-3 doesn’t seem compatible with Sergiño Dest at right back. Maybe Berhalter has a different alteration planned for Dest’s return, or maybe he’s got worries about the Barcelona man’s durability and playing time situation.

Either way, at this point, Berhalter’s tactical choices are about planning for the World Cup, rather than tinkering. The USMNT is setting plans into motion at this point, and some version of the 3-2-2-3 in possession is sticking around.

Aaronson makes his case

Aaronson has largely been a wide forward for the USMNT, even while playing centrally on a more or less full-time basis with Red Bull Salzburg this past season.

However, Aaronson played most of his minutes as a midfielder in this window, and looked at home in his natural position. With Pulisic and Tim Weah seeming like the best options as the wide forwards and Berhalter’s desire to be able to shift from 4-3-3 into 3-2-2-3, it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on, especially as Aaronson moves over to Leeds this summer.

It’s not that the USMNT needs a new central midfielder. Yunus Musah was excellent in this window, and both Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are very well-established. It’s more than Aaronson’s continued progress is starting to make the case for leaving him out of the best 11 more difficult, and that he brings more of a goal threat running from midfield than anyone else in the pool. Aaronson’s eventual role in Qatar may be tied to Ferreira’s, as a goal-dangerous central midfielder making runs through the middle pairs pretty ideally with a false No. 9.

It’s a tricky situation to sort out at the moment, but you’re never going to hear a coach complain about having too many good midfielders.

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Christian Pulisic shouts out Miami as a 2026 World Cup host city

Bienvenido a Miami, Christian Pulisic

When it comes to the World Cup 2026 host city Christian Pulisic is most excited about, there’s only one word you need to know: Dalé!

Speaking to Fox Sports 1 after FIFA unveiled all of the host cities for the tournament on Thursday, the USMNT captain  shouted out Miami as a host city he was particularly looking forward to seeing.

“I think Miami is a really exciting one for me,” said Pulisic. “You know, my family is living down there now, and that’s going to be an amazing atmosphere for sure.”

Pulisic is a Pennsylvania native, so there were natural assumptions he would highlight Philadelphia. Unsurprisingly, though, Pulisic said he’s looking forward to “really, all of them. Just to be in this continent, it’s going to be special.”

Hard Rock Stadium, a 64,767-seat stadium that is normally home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the Miami Hurricanes NCAA football team, is technically a few miles north of Miami proper, though that likely won’t make a difference to fans based locally or coming in from abroad to one of the U.S.’s most tourist-friendly cities.

The tournament coming to Miami will be a first. South Florida did not host any games during the 1994 men’s World Cup, with Florida’s games instead taking place in Orlando. The United States has hosted two women’s World Cups, but Miami was not part of either the 1999 or 2003 editions.

It has, however, hosted six Super Bowls, dozens of summer club and national team friendlies, and was for 14 years the home of Monster Jam, arguably the pinnacle of monster truck events.

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USWNT stalwart Tobin Heath has landed with OL Reign

The 34-year-old has returned to the NWSL after spending two seasons in England

OL Reign have announced the acquisition of U.S. women’s national team stalwart Tobin Heath in a trade with Racing Louisville FC.

Heath’s playing rights were acquired by Louisville in the 2021 expansion draft, though the 34-year-old did not actually play for the club as she spent the past two seasons in England with Manchester United and Arsenal.

OL Reign sent a second-round and fourth-round draft pick to Louisville, along with $50,000 in allocation money, to complete the deal, and signed Heath to a contract through the 2022 season with an option for a further season.

“Couldn’t be more thrilled to play alongside the world class players here, for Laura Harvey as my coach, and in front of the amazing community of supporters,” Heath said in a club release. “We’re all eager to win a title, and I’m hopeful I can help OL Reign achieve that goal.”

Heath made her name in the NWSL with OL Reign’s rivals, the Portland Thorns, where she spent seven seasons between 2013 and 2019, winning two NWSL titles and being named to the league’s Best XI on three occasions.

On the national team level, Heath is one of the most successful USWNT players in the recent iteration of the team. She’s appeared in four Olympics and three World Cups, winning two titles in each competition.

Heath has scored 36 goals and added 42 assists in her 181 USWNT caps. She will not, however, add to those numbers this summer after she was omitted from the CONCACAF W Championship roster as she continues to work her way back to fitness after an injury cut her season at Arsenal short.

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Four USMNT players make shortlist for Golden Boy award

Tuttosport awards the annual prize to the top under-21 player in European men’s soccer.

Four U.S. men’s national team players have been named to the shortlist for the Golden Boy award, Tuttosport‘s prize for the top under-21 player in European men’s soccer.

The Italian publication named a 100-player list on Wednesday, which included Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna, Malik Tillman and Joe Scally.

Three of the four players participated in the USMNT’s recent four-match window in June, with Reyna missing out due to injury.

Musah, who plays with La Liga side Valencia, is the only player of the four to ply their trade outside of Germany. The 19-year-old was hugely impressive for the USMNT over its recent four games, causing coach Gregg Berhalter to say “he just blows me away” after the game against Uruguay and declare him the man of the match after Tuesday’s draw in El Salvador.

The 2021 Golden Boy award was won by Spain and Barcelona star Pedri, with the 2020 award going to Erling Haaland.

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Berhalter says Wright didn’t capitalize on his USMNT chance at El Salvador

“It doesn’t rule him out for anything in the future”

The U.S. men’s national team is very much searching for its go-to goalscorer, but for Haji Wright, Tuesday’s muddy 1-1 draw with El Salvador didn’t do much to advance his cause.

Wright—on fire with Antalyaspor in Turkey and having scored in his USMNT debut against Morocco earlier this month— started up top at Estadio Cuscátlan, a move Gregg Berhalter said in the build-up was due to it being the more valuable CONCACAF Nations League game in this window from an analysis perspective.

However, trailing 1-0 and having had few real looks as a team in the first half, Berhalter substituted Wright at halftime, bringing in Jesús Ferreira in his place.

“It’s always difficult when players get an opportunity and don’t fully capitalize on it. It’s not nice for a coach, it’s not nice for the player, it’s not nice for the group,” Berhalter told reporters following the match. “We’re all rooting for Haji to be a force. We purposely played more direct in the first half, because we thought he could be the force that would unsettle them. And it just wasn’t his night tonight.”

Berhalter’s choice to be more direct went as far as a formation change, with the 4-3-3 commonly used being ditched for an old-school 4-4-2, with Wright operating as a target man ahead of Christian Pulisic. The conditions apparently dictated that change, with Fox Sports 1 saying on their broadcast that the team had planned to make that shift if the field was too sloppy to approach the game in a normal fashion.

That proved to be the case, as the water-logged pitch was a mud pit at kickoff and got worse from there. With both teams going long on a regular basis, the USMNT never really got their attack in gear, and Wright departed the game having had just one look at goal (a contested 31st-minute opportunity that he skewed wide of the frame).

Berhalter indicated that those circumstances were on his mind, and made clear that he doesn’t think this was the one and only audition for Wright or anyone else.

“It doesn’t rule him out for anything in the future. We don’t work like that,” explained Berhalter. “Now it’s about him going back to his club and continue to score goals and do his thing. But you know, it was an unlucky night for him tonight for sure.”

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USMNT ’embraced the challenge’ in Nations League draw with El Salvador

Berhalter: “This is what builds teams”

It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but the U.S. men’s national team saw positives amid the acrimony and the muck at Estadio Cuscátlan after Tuesday night’s 1-1 CONCACAF Nations League draw with El Salvador.

“As we watch the weather come in yesterday, and the rain start pouring down, we knew it was gonna be a challenging game,” said USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter in the post-game press conference. “Really proud of the guys, the way they embraced that. They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t complain. They didn’t complain yesterday in training, they didn’t complain today in the game. They just went about their business.”

Berhalter’s side fell behind on a goal that was equal parts stunning (Alexander Larín’s shot came from seemingly nowhere) and potentially morale-sapping, given that it involved a clear misread from goalkeeper Ethan Horvath.

The situation grew worse when Paul Arriola was sent off just minutes after entering the game, a play that drew protests from USMNT players and nearly sparked a scuffle between the teams.

However, they fought back with a stoppage-time equalizer from Jordan Morris, ending the June camp without a loss. For Berhalter, getting something out of the circumstances was a big deal.

“The group grows with moments like this,” explained Berhalter. “After the game, Jordan Morris walks into the locker room, and everyone starts to cheer, and everyone’s uniform is a dark brown color. You know, the shoes are a mess, the staff is all dirty. This is what builds teams.”

Morris, who hadn’t scored for the USMNT since a brace against Cuba in November 2019, agreed. “It was a tough game, obviously. Tough conditions, tough environment, playing against a good team. I thought the fight in the team was really, really good.”

Berhalter, while noting a halftime formation change to a more familiar 4-3-3 after starting the match in a 4-4-2 that the Fox Sports 1 broadcast said the USMNT planned in case the conditions deteriorated, credited the team with upping the intensity of their play as the main reason they came back.

“It’s not a normal game where you come from behind,” said Berhalter. “We had some some referee decisions that were questionable, I think. You had the weather conditions whether it be pouring rain, or the field conditions, the mud that we’re dealing with, some gamesmanship by the opponent.”

We talked before the game about embracing the battle, embracing what this game was going to be like, and the guys did an excellent job of doing that.”

Morris went one step past simply embracing the conditions, going so far as to call the downpour and the mud “fun.”

“These are kind of some of the fields I used to play on as a kid, being from Seattle. Obviously not the mud, but the rain, I love playing in the rain,” said Morris. “I was just embracing that moment. I think the team as a group just embraced the challenge.”

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USMNT draws El Salvador in beautiful, muddy mess of a CONCACAF night

The USMNT’s four-game window ended with a game that was pure, undistilled CONCACAF

The U.S. men’s national team ended its four-match June window with a pure, undistilled taste of CONCACAF.

Tuesday night’s game in El Salvador had brutal challenges, fisticuffs between players, a pair of red cards, a goalkeeper howler, a blown penalty call, torrential rain, and mud. Lots and lots of mud.

In the end the USMNT drew El Salvador 1-1 in the CONCACAF Nations League, a result that was only secured by a late Jordan Morris equalizer after both teams had been reduced to 10 men.

The first goal on the night came from a bizarre bit of goalkeeping from Ethan Horvath. The Nottingham Forest keeper was caught out of position when Alexander Larín shot from an impossible angle far out on the flank, and then simply froze as he watched the ball sail into the back of the net.

That goal looked like it would stand up for the home side at the Estadio Cuscatlán, but Morris came off the bench to score a stoppage-time header and give the U.S. a deserved share of the points.

After a stop-start opening period the USMNT came out improved in the second half, with halftime subs Jesús Ferreria and Weston McKennie making a notable impact on proceedings right away.

It appeared a result may be slipping away in the 70th minute though, when Paul Arriola, having only come off the bench nine minutes prior, was shown a straight red card for a studs-up challenge.

But Yunus Musah, who again was perhaps the most impressive USMNT player on the evening, drew a straight red card on Ronald Rodríguez just minutes later after a surging run through the midfield forced the defender to take him down when he was set to be in alone on goal.

That set up a grandstand finish with Morris connecting off a cross from fellow substitute Luca de la Torre, scoring his first USMNT goal since coming back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2021.

Watch the goals from USMNT at El Salvador

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Pulisic should transfer away from Chelsea, says ex-USMNT star Dooley

Thomas Dooley thinks it might be time for Christian Pulislic to move on from Chelsea

Christian Pulisic’s future with Chelsea is cloudy if not downright murky, with irregular playing time casting a shadow on the American’s chances to stay with the London club.

While injuries factored into his availability this season, Pulisic wasn’t a consistent starter for Chelsea even when healthy.

He started 34 percent of Chelsea’s total games and played 38 percent of all available minutes. When he was healthy, Pulisic started just about half of the games for which he made the squad.

And while new American ownership certainly could factor into the construction of the roster and Pulisic’s visibility, it is possible that Chelsea may not be the best fit for the young American.

Former United States international Thomas Dooley, who played almost a decade in the German Bundesliga before joining MLS in 1997, thinks that Pulisic should be pursuing a pathway out of Chelsea and to a situation where playing time will be regular.

“Of course he should [leave Chelsea]. Either it is about money or prestige. Is it that much better to sit for a big club on the bench or at another club and play all the time? I don’t like to sit on the bench, no matter what. When the coach [Erich] Ribbeck came to Leverkusen with 14 national team players … and when that coach put me on the bench, I went to the management and asked them to let me go – even though the manager begged me to stay,” Dooley told Pro Soccer Wire.

“I went to Schalke, a team who just came up from the second Bundesliga because I wanted to play and not sit on the bench.”

Dooley would go on to help Schalke win the 1997 UEFA Cup over Inter. He played 81 times for the USMNT including at the 1994 and 1998 World Cup.

Currently, Dooley is the head coach of the Philippines national team, having spoken to Pro Soccer Wire recently about the challenges facing him in what is now his second tenure with the federation. The selection is off to a solid start in Asian Cup qualifiers with a draw and a win.

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USMNT vs. Grenada in three moments

Ferreira’s breakthrough, de la Torre breaking schemes, and no injuries? That’s a good night.

The U.S. men’s national team did the job Friday night, beating Grenada 5-0 in their CONCACAF Nations League opener thanks to four goals from Jesús Ferreira.

No one’s going to write any grand tributes to this match, in which it took the USMNT 43 minutes to break through before then turning the game into the expected rout after halftime. It was hot, Grenada dropped deep and defended gamely until fatigue derailed their efforts, and if you’re well-versed in CONCACAF games, you’ve seen this one a few times by now.

Nonetheless, there are three moments that sum the experience up for the USMNT as they head into a more challenging match at El Salvador on Tuesday:

Ferreira finally scores…and then keeps scoring

It could have gone so differently for Ferreira, who before he scored had missed one very good chance, running onto Kellyn Acosta’s through ball only to take himself away from goal, reducing his angle and briefly adding to the perception that he might not be the goalscorer the USMNT is looking for.

But then, given a chance to react rashly in front of goal late in the half, Ferreira showed big-time composure to break through. Following up on Paul Arriola’s bull rush into the Grenada box, Ferreira pounced on a loose ball amid a crowd of green-and-yellow shirts.

Ferreira could have just rolled the dice on shooting right away and hoping the ball found its way through the pack. That’s the natural choice in a scramble, where a tackle you don’t know is coming could arrive and take the chance away.

Instead, Ferreira took the one extra touch, changing his angle and finding a larger window to power a low shot home. It was an important goal for Ferreira, who entered the game under pressure after scoring just once in his last nine caps, and it was a low-key important goal for the USMNT, who were on the verge of entering halftime scoreless at home against the 170th-ranked team in the world.

From there? Ferreira produced three more goals after the break, and all showed the kind of confidence that has him leading the MLS Golden Boot race. He timed his run onto Arriola’s through ball perfectly for his second, fizzed home a first-time shot on a dead ball routine, and did a classic poacher impression with some mop-up duty to finish the night.

Grenada’s not an impressive foe, but if you’re a potential USMNT starting striker, you’re scoring a bunch of goals against them. Ferreira just scored a bunch of goals on them, which is just about all you can ask.

Luca de la Torre wants your attention

Luca de la Torre isn’t talked about as much as a potential starter in the USMNT midfield right now, with the “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Tyler Adams being the strong favorite, and Brenden Aaronson probably the most likely option to break that trio up.

However, De la Torre has routinely added Musah-esque fluency to the USMNT’s possession while quietly getting the job done defensively. On Friday, the key moment for him was his assist on Arriola’s goal, the fourth of the night for the USMNT.

It was a heads-up play from a central midfielder: Grenada dropped off as the USMNT brought the ball upfield through Kellyn Acosta, but the tempo was comfortable for the visitors. Acosta passed forward to De la Torre, who immediately turned on the jets to break the scheme, evading a Grenada player and getting to space between the lines before the rest of the Spice Boyz could seal it off.

From there, he had the touch and technique to slip Arriola in behind at the back post, where he arrived just ahead of his marker and goalkeeper Jason Belfon to poke the ball home.

This is what the USMNT needs against lower-block opponents, and De la Torre’s recognition of both the wobbly spacing from Grenada and the fatigue that they had in the moment will stick in Gregg Berhalter’s mind, especially as Aaronson remains in the mix as a forward and both McKennie (linked with Tottenham of late) and Adams (who only started four of RB Leipzig’s final 14 league games this season) may face battles for club playing time this fall.

No one got hurt

All of the following things happened in about 45 seconds or so midway through the first half:

  • De la Torre was clattered by Ashley Charles, who got booked
  • Ferreira got cleaned out by an even worse tackle before the De la Torre foul was even whistled
  • Aaron Long took a knee to the solar plexus as Belfon charged out to guide the ball away from danger

Long got checked out at length but played on until halftime without any apparent difficulty. Ferreira, we know was just fine, and De la Torre managed to get his feet off the ground in time to make sure the collision didn’t result in anything worse than a brief flash of pain.

In a game like this, where it’s hard to truly evaluate the USMNT beyond just sticking to the game plan, staying focused, and working hard, avoiding injury will always go down as a plus. Furthermore, we have to remember that we’re just barely five months away from kickoff between the USMNT and Wales in Qatar. There are certain injuries that no one’s coming back from in that timeframe, and getting through this window and the next without any real damage is a big deal.

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