by Bart Keeler
The Concacaf Nations League is a bit of a weird tournament. Despite a large break in the action after the group stages due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve arrived at the finals. Now, the United States, Honduras, Mexico, and Costa Rica meet in Denver for a single-elimination tournament.
For U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter, this tournament starts a pressure-packed summer that leads into the all-important World Cup qualifiers. He will be under intense scrutiny to prove that his new way for the USMNT to play can elevate the team to the top spot in the region and once again be a respected team on the international stage.
Since the last competitive match way back in November 2019, the USMNT has played eight friendlies. Some of those were against decent competition but most were against minnows not even playing full-strength rosters. In those eight friendlies, his teams produced successful results, going 5-1-1. But it never felt like we saw the USMNT reach its full potential, usually because of some weird condition or variable Berhalter wanted to see.
It’s time for Berhalter to stop experimenting and start winning.
Ever since he’s taken over the USMNT job, he’s tinkered and trialed. He’s tested players at different positions, tested circumstances of a match, and focused on implementing a system, patterns of play, and philosophies into the players he has brought in. The 2019 Gold Cup and Nations League matches were mere laboratories for him to continue to teach the way he wants the U.S. to play soccer.
But this summer, Berhalter needs to win. It’s time to show proof of concept, not just concepts. The USMNT fanbase is hungry to see this team compete to be the best in the region. We want a trophy.
Berhalter has two chances to bring one home this summer, with the Nations League Finals and 2021 Gold Cup on the horizon. He has the strongest player pool in the history of the program. He has a squad for the Nations League with 10 players who won 13 trophies in Europe. There is no room for excuses to lose with this roster.
It starts against Honduras on Thursday, June 3. The nation that knocked the U.S. out of the Olympics two cycles in a row. Beating Los Catratchos in the semifinal would go a long way in restoring confidence in the program but might not be the statement win the team is looking for.
The hope is for a showdown in the final against Mexico on Sunday. The heavyweights have a history of exciting bouts but Mexico is 2-0-0 against the U.S. with their current coaches. Personally, Berhalter has struggled against Gerardo “Tata” Martino back to their days in MLS and most fans remember the embarrassing 3-0 loss in September 2019.
No matter what, the USMNT will be judged against Mexico and these two Concacaf competitions will go a long way in showing how they compare.
Once the whistle blows on Thursday, it’s all business for the USMNT. Aside from a friendly against Costa Rica on Wednesday, June 9, the Yanks will play competitive matches through March 30, 2022. That is an incredibly strenuous block that provides little room for failure, adjustments, or experiments. Berhalter and whichever players he brings into the squad must understand the pressure.
From now until the end of the World Cup qualifiers, Berhalter and the USMNT must play to win each competition.
(photo credit: @USMNT)