With the calendar continuing through April, this originally would’ve been the period where the U.S. Men’s National Team had two more matches under its belt in 2020. However, the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic has continued to shock the world, forcing Gregg Berhalter and his team to wait for its next time to take the pitch together.
Berhalter is heading into his second year as head coach of the USMNT after leading them to an 11-5-2 record in all competitions in 2019. Despite a Concacaf Gold Cup Finals loss to Mexico in July, the Americans showed positive signs last year, ultimately winning Group A in the inaugural Concacaf Nations League. The halt to what was intended to be a busy 2020 is something that Berhalter admits needed to be done during a time of crisis.
“First and foremost, it’s essential,” Berhalter said in an interview with U.S. Soccer. “It’s essential to stopping the spread is for everyone to be at home. It’s a very important step to take. You see that some of the precautions that have been taken are having an effect. Sport is part of our everyday life; sport gives us a sense of community. But in this time, we all need to be following instructions and helping as much as we can to stop the spread of this virus.”
“As coaches, we have to put in practice what we teach to the players every single day, and that’s focusing on what we can control. This is something we can’t control. What we can control is that we’re in our houses, that we’re staying safe, that we’re stopping the spread of this disease, and that we’re continuing to work and trying to get better. It’s a good lesson for all of us. It gives us an opportunity to be grateful for what we have and look forward to the day when we can be back on the field again, but remaining productive during this time.”
After a 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica back in January, the USMNT was slated to travel to Wales and the Netherlands at the end of March for its first road European friendlies since November 2018. However, the postponement of those friendlies along with this summer’s Tokyo Olympics has forced the Americans to wait for the next available time to get together.
Topping Group A in the Nations League over Canada and Cuba set Berhalter’s side up with a semifinal date against Honduras this June in Texas, but those matches have also been postponed. It would’ve been the next step for the USMNT to claim a trophy in the Berhalter era after missing out on the Gold Cup in a 1-0 loss to El Tri nine months ago.
“It’s a shame that we’re not going to be able to play and compete for a trophy in the June window, but the most important thing right now is that people are staying home and staying safe,” Berhalter said.
“We’re trying to still be productive and using the time to our advantage,” he said. “I think there’s a couple of ways to look at this: you can look at this as a major disadvantage or you can look at it as an opportunity to get better, an opportunity to improve, whether that’s players picking something they want to improve and working on it, or whether it’s coaches being able to analyze things in more depth than you’d normally get when you’re in your weekly schedule.”
What is known is that whenever the USMNT do regroup for possible World Cup Qualifying later this year, mostly all of its players should be fit and ready to go. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Zack Steffen have all dealt with injuries this domestic season, forcing them to miss time, but the extended break has provided them chances to refuel and recover for their next opportunities.
Even with the group unlikely to get together for a few months, the preparation has continued by Berhalter and his staff. With no matches currently being played, scouting previous matches and taking an in-depth look at every player in the USMNT pool has provided Berhalter the chance to continue evaluate from every angle.
“Scouting from a standpoint of keeping current on how the players are performing is completely done, obviously, with no games being played at the moment,” Berhalter said. “But it’s an opportunity for us to continue to evaluate our own game models; we can watch past footage of players.”
“It’s been a very effective tool that we have, of having these Tuesday morning meetings and recapping all of our players performances and being able to talk about it in-depth, because it has helped us identify players. For us, it’s a great tool to be able to watch all the video and be able to discuss and evaluate the performance of the players.”
There is no timetable for the USMNT’s return to the pitch, but when allowed the process of getting his team ready for success will never be more important. A lengthy lay-off is bound to lead to some issues, but the positive news is that Berhalter isn’t the only head coach around the globe to deal with these concerns.
“Whatever the concern it’s, is going to be the same for all the teams, all the countries – and we think that can be an advantage for us, because mentally we’ll be in a place where we can deal with it,” Berhalter said. “The players are resilient. The players understand what’s at stake. The players are motivated to qualify and to make our country proud. So whatever comes, we’ll be able to deal with it.”