The young USMNT is ready to put the specter of World Cup qualifiers to rest against Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Inside a luxury hotel about 9 miles from the venue of the final match of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter felt at ease as he entered the world. on Tuesday. Six days earlier, he called the upcoming week the most important week of his coaching career. Although the team has yet to officially qualify for the 2022 World Cup, no rational observer seriously allows the possibility that the US will not go to Qatar.

The United States could lose by five goals or less to Costa Rica on Wednesday and still qualify on goal difference. It hasn’t lost a competitive game with six or more goals since 1957, a period that includes six World Cups, 16 qualifiers and several decades in which the sport existed in the country. beyond the reach of the public. At Costa Rica’s National Stadium – against a team that has scored just 11 goals in 13 qualifying games and is likely to rest its best players (due to nine players getting yellow cards before the playoffs) potential) – America is a very favorite candidate. develop.

So yes, Berhalter deserves to show confidence that his team will soon official be to celebrate. It was earned. At the same time, he was careful not to treat membership as a foregone conclusion.

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“We don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re here to be aggressive in the game and win the football game. That’s our intention. We’re not going to be cautious. We’re not going to sit back. We are. won’t play to draw. We know we have 90 minutes to go before a potential World Cup landing. Now is not the time to let go.”

It’s an approach his players seem to have bought into – or at least that’s how they have represented themselves publicly.

“People who’ve been here and down this road before have told us, ‘We think we’ve made it through the World Cup too. The fans think we do too. But we didn’t realize that our match was over and we lost [2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago]”,” said quarterback Tyler Adams. “So we go into this game with a must-win mentality.”

Since Berhalter was appointed USMNT head coach on December 2, 2018, everything he has done has built up to this point. After the team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, confidence in the country’s sports public was lost. This means that despite the rise of the most exciting generation of talent the U.S. men’s team has ever seen – with players who have broken through at some of the biggest clubs in the world – the team is still marginalized. appropriately mocked about reaching the biggest stage in football. .

In an odd way, this group handles both rising and falling expectations, depending on one’s perspective. It’s a strange place to be. “Weight [of not qualifying] Timothy Weah said. “I’m not in that group, but the media has classified us as the golden generation.”

While that term, the “golden generation,” is not yet widely accepted, it’s hard not to adopt a positive view of what this group of players could ultimately become.

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Reaching the standard is not perfect. If the team picks up one less point along the way, they will need a result in San Jose – which is 0-9-2 all the time in World Cup qualifying – to secure automatic right to Qatar.

After winning the CONCACAF Nations League and the Summer Gold Cup, the team started qualifying in September with great confidence. Maybe overconfident. It quickly realized that winning those games at home couldn’t compare to the rigors of playing on the road in qualifying. The draw against El Salvador in the opening match caused a negative resonance.

“That’s one of those things where I look back at it, and you say, ‘Maybe we were naive in a way,'” Adams said. “You have some people on our team who have been through that qualifying process, but I don’t think they can really express or emphasize how different the World Cup qualifying process is.

“It’s good to be in the position where we are now and say to ourselves, ‘Yes, this is very, very difficult.’ One more game to go, we have to take care of the business, but I think we are satisfied with the development of the team and the direction we are going.”

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Herculez Gomez and Sebastian Salazar discuss Christian Pulisic’s performance in the USMNT’s 5-1 win over Panama.

Hiccups should have been expected. Twice during qualifying, Berhalter has included the team’s youngest 11 starting XI for a World Cup qualifying match, and has 13 players aged 24 and under on the current roster.

Berhalter said: “It’s been amazing to watch them develop, to see them improve and to see them here grow as a team and gain experience and things to do with the club. “It’s a really good team to work with. I can’t stress that much. Hopefully after 90 minutes. [Wednesday], we qualified for the World Cup and the boys can enjoy it and look back on their achievements and be proud of what they have accomplished. There’s no team in the world that plays our same age team and they’re doing really well. “

That youth is why the team’s performance since September is likely to show less of what to expect in Qatar than we’ve seen from older teams around the world. Most of the key players are at the stage of their careers where growth – in some cases significant growth – over the next 10 months is to be expected.

“I think there are some players who can even take a step forward that we don’t even really know about or are just on the fringes of,” Berhalter said.

Berhalter’s complex system wasn’t easy for many players, but DeAndre Yedlin and Weah both admit that’s no longer an issue.

“I’m in a place where I’m very comfortable,” Weah said. “I’m in, I know the system. I’m playing with people I’ve been playing with since – a lot of people I’ve played with since I was 13. The confidence level is much higher when I’m in camp. and we said it’s fun to each other. I think it shows on the pitch and this team has crazy swagger.”

Weah and Adams first played together in the U.S. national youth team system at the U13 level. Weah said that from the start, the coaches on the show were so ingrained – with current El Salvador coach Hugo Perez being one of the first – that they were being developed to help the team. country can completely participate in the World Cup.

“We always talk about the day when we can qualify and be there in the top dogs,” Weah says. “We’re here right now, and it’s a great experience to do with my brothers.”

https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usa/story/4627782/young-usmnt-ready-to-lay-world-cup-qualifying-ghosts-to-rest-vs-costa-rica The young USMNT is ready to put the specter of World Cup qualifiers to rest against Costa Rica

Luke Plunkett

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