When the U.S. Men’s National Team faces Panama in the last round of group play Wednesday, there will be a lot of evaluating and judgments taking place. Fans will be looking for the team to get a good result, continue progressing in the new system and generally show improvement over the lackluster squad that failed to qualify for the last FIFA World Cup.
For U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter, the man in charge of taking the team in a new direction, he will be evaluating the same progress the fans want so desperately. Each camp, each game is part of the process in bringing in new players and indoctrinating them in the system that Berhalter is attempting to implement.
The U.S. dropped both of their warm-up games in preparation for the Gold Cup. Jamaica won 1-0 and Venezuela hung three goals on the U.S. and in neither game was there a lot to build optimism on for the United States fan base.
Once the Gold Cup started, the U.S. started to find some success, downing Guyana 4-0 and getting a 6-0 retribution on Trinidad and Tobago. The wins are good, but it is still part of a process for the team.
“Part of us analyzing the game against Guyana is saying ‘Okay, we need to take another step as a group, we need to keep progressing as a group.’ It made more sense to play the same lineup, so we looked at who performed well at their position, who was able to keep their spot and we found that everyone was able to keep their spot in this case. As we go into the Panama game, the guys are feeling good right now. So for us, it’s assessing where everyone is and then making the appropriate decisions,” Berhalter told media after practice.
In the Trinidad match, he again saw progress. “It was a good performance, there are still things to work on. I really liked our defensive transition, it was really strong, it forced some turnovers that put us in some good goal scoring opportunities. It obviously gives the guys some confidence,” Berhalter explained.
As important as wins are for this team, it is also critical to continue to build for the future, for the next qualifying cycle. To accomplish both, the roster leans towards the young side but is a mix of youth and veteran players new to the team and players very familiar with CONCACAF qualifying. “I think it’s balancing the roster,” Berhalter stated. “I think you naturally do that by the players you select. The thing about this group, we have some veterans on this team, but we also have some young players. We thought it was very important to give young guys tournament experience as we develop towards 2022. We chose to go younger, with guys that we can develop for the future.”
It will still be a delicate balancing job for the new national team coach. Developing a winning mentality and a style of play from scratch is never easy but Berhalter can’t focus on just one right now.
“It’s both, we want to keep developing this group, we see it as a good step for this group to keep progressing, to play in a tournament format and to have to go through the rigors of a tournament format. But we still want to progress our style of play. I think in both games so far we were able to emphasize the way we want to play and able to execute it as well,” Berhalter continued. “We want to be able to put ourselves in a position to win, that is why you are in a tournament but the way we play is also important to us. We were able to use the warm-up games to work on some things, work on different formations with different personnel and that is a valuable time to try things like that.”
“I don’t think there is a magic wand where you play two games and then when you play your third you are there, you have arrived. Part of soccer is the game is very complex and you want to keep developing your principles in the team,” Berhalter added.
The Berhalter led U.S. Men’s National Team finish off their group stage match against Panama in Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday, June 26th at 8:00 PM CT. The game is the second half of a double header featuring Trinidad & Tobago taking on Guyana at 5:30 PM CT. Both games will be broadcast live on FS1 and Univision Deportes.