It’s been four months since the U.S. men’s national team played a competitive match and after back-to-back windows of international friendlies, Gregg Berhalter’s squad are focused on getting back to winning meaningful matches.
The USMNT hosts Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday night at Q2 Stadium in the first leg of a two-legged CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal matchup. Despite not having star attackers Christian Pulisic and Timothy Weah, as well as midfielder Johnny Cardoso, the USMNT still has plenty of top talent including Folarin Balogun, Gio Reyna, and Weston McKennie.
Every player is ready to contribute knowing the importance of stepping up in a competitive tournament.
“I think anyone who steps into the roles of Christian and Tim will be up for the task and be ready for it,” midfielder Weston McKennie said. “We can put anyone at any given time and they will do it to the best of their abilities and make it easier for the team.”
“It creates opportunities for other players to show themselves,” midfielder Malik Tillman, who could start in either Pulisic of Weah’s spot, said. “Obviously they [Pulisic and Weah] are big players and we will miss them, but it creates chances for others to show themselves and try to impress the coach for future call-ups.”
Advancing past the Soca Warriors will not only propel the Americans into next year’s Final Four of the Nations League, but also guarantee them a spot into the 2024 Copa America on home soil. With no World Cup Qualifying cycle to look forward to, the USMNT will fight to be part of every competition knowing it’s all added preparation for what’s to come in 2026.
Berhalter has led the USMNT to a 3-1 record since his re-hiring as head coach, defeating Ghana, Uzbekistan, and Oman in a trio of home friendlies. A return to competitive action though provides an extra boost of motivation for the 50-year-old and his players, knowing they are the target after back-to-back Nations League triumphs.
“November turns the page and now it’s about competing,” Berhalter said. “We want to win the Nations League again. This will set us up to do this. We want to play in the Copa America. This will set us up to do that. So the guys are focused.”
“Anytime we come into camp, the competition is always going to be there,” McKennie said. “Anytime we come into camp we want to win games, we want to prove a point and make a statement so I think we will take our normal vibes into these types of games.”
The USMNT has enjoyed recent success against Trinidad & Tobago, winning their last three head-to-head matches by a combined score of 19-0. However, Monday’s return trip to Port of Spain will be the first for the group since a 2-1 World Cup Qualifying loss in 2017, a result which resulted in the Americans failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
With Pulisic out of the squad due to injury, Tim Ream is the only member of the current group that was part of the 2017 roster that lost at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Berhalter wasn’t part of the USMNT coaching staff during that failure in 2017, but knows the importance of having his team learn from it.
“Just like we can embrace the good stuff, we also have to embrace the bad stuff and it was a great learning moment for us collectively,” Berhalter said of the 2017 defeat. “The coaches involved, the players involved and, in my opinion, it’s not about ignoring that, it’s about embracing it and leaning into it.
“And we talk about preparation in this camp, some of it stems from lessons learned in that camp as well.”