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Gregg Berhalter’s caps justified with USA on edge of World Cup

ORLANDO – It’s a manager’s lot in life to be challenged. Decisions are analyzed down to the smallest detail. Errors are highlighted. This is especially true for international managers, the chair coaches of a country never holding back.

The credit then goes to the manager of the United States men’s national team, Gregg Berhalter. Over the past week he has had to make some tough choices, especially ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama. The United States were coming off a grueling 0-0 draw with Mexico in the 7,200ft high Estadio Azteca. To what extent could the American coach count on the players who played most of the minutes in Mexico? There was also the injury bug that forced the United States to do without Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson and Sergino Dest The yellow card suspensions of DeAndre Yedlin and Tim Weah, as well as the positive COVID-19 test for Reggie Cannon , further limited Berhalter’s options.

Even given those challenges, Berhalter’s personnel decisions on Sunday invited scrutiny. Was Paul Arriola really the best choice ahead of Gio Reyna? What about Shaq Moore being an emergency call at right-back on Joe Scally’s Bundesliga pedigree? Then there was the decision to launch Jesus Ferreira in the lead against Panama’s imposing back line.

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All have succeeded in massive fashion, not only respecting Berhalter’s “next man” mentality, but speaking of the depth of the team. Arriola scored a stunning goal with a dazzling header. Ferreira confused Panama with his move and scored the kind of trash goal thought to be the domain of Jordan Pefok or Ricardo Pepi. And Moore was barely a foot off the mark in maintaining the right side of the American defense. And with Christian Pulisic scoring a hat trick – his first with the national team – – the United States battled their way to a critical 5-1 victory over Canalerosputting the USMNT on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

“We wanted to be aggressive,” Berhalter said after the match. “We wanted to put them on their heels. We wanted to play with intensity and we also want to score goals. It’s great to see this result.”

Certainly, some of Berhalter’s decisions were made for him. The USA manager said as many as 20 players and staff were downed by a stomach bug after the game against Mexico. Sources told ESPN that Reyna was among those affected. But there were internal problems. logic in decisions as well. Arriola’s work rate provided additional cover for Moore who last played for the United States in October. It also allowed Moore to step into the attack where he was effective, helping set up Ferreira’s goal. Arriola’s pressing helped With Panama in desperation mode after their home draw against Honduras last Thursday, there was bound to be more space for Ferreira and his greater mobility to exploit.

“We really had to use our depth in that window, and it was the last window and a hard-hitting window where qualifying happens, it was something the guys needed to step up,” Berhalter said. In the next man mentality, we have complete confidence in all who are called. We don’t call players up unless we trust them and believe they can play at a good level.”

Berhalter also pressed the right buttons in terms of playing time. A clearly tired Yunus Musah was taken off at half-time. Tyler Adams and Pulisic were substituted with the game well in hand, a move that prevented Adams from taking a warning that would have seen him suspended. The same was true for the emotions of the team. And the depth pieces of the team met the moment to make great contributions.

Keeping players engaged, especially when playing time is decreasing, is not easy. It requires constant attention, following the pulse of the team and allocating playing time at the right time. The performances of the whole team are proof that Berhalter is managing this aspect well.

“The culture that Gregg and the staff have built for this group in this environment…we’re brothers,” Arriola said. off the pitch. I think we all click very, very well. And so we all understand that over time, the first is that to be on this team, you have to put the team first. And when I say everybody does that, everybody really, really does it.”

Of course, some decisions are obvious, namely putting Pulisic in the starting line-up. Granted, the Chelsea striker endured a top-to-bottom qualifying campaign, taking on Mexico at home but at times seeming reluctant to step up the pace. But with Costa Rica’s 2-1 victory in El Salvador preventing the United States from securing qualification on the night, Pulisic delivered, scoring a pair of cold-blooded penalties in the first half – both from fouls by the Panamanian Anibal Godoy – and eliminating his hat-trick with a deft turn and a centering feed finish from Antonee Robinson in the second.

“We needed the three points to put ourselves in a really good position to qualify and we’re really happy with the performance,” Pulisic said through a team spokesperson after not having made available to journalists. stuff, of course, my first with the national team, but mostly to help the team win and put us in a good position with a game to play.”

The United States have yet to fully complete their qualification, despite the ‘Qualified’ banner the players displayed after the final whistle and were then kicked out. It would take an unprecedented result in Costa Rica on Wednesday to escape the one of three automatic qualifying places. Ticos should win by six goals to close the United States advantage in goal differential.

Even with all the tough results the United States has endured in Costa Rica over the years, the USMNT lead would seem secure. But the players, especially those who were on the court more than four years when the United States failed to qualify, take nothing for granted.

“I’m not celebrating anything,” Arriola said. “I was in this exact position, or a very similar position four years ago, and we know how that qualification ended. So for me I think it’s just about staying focused, understand that we still have work to do and everything is possible. So for us the mentality of this group is, and must be to go for it to get a good result against Costa Rica.”

Berhalter is of the same mindset. There were enough sloppy moments on Sunday to tick his radar, and while the United States missed a chance for a historic qualifying win at the Azteca, a win over the Ticos Wednesday would make its own story.

The last step is often the most difficult. The United States has come far enough to be this close to qualifying. Wednesday is the time to break through and achieve their goal.

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