With the goal of qualifying for the World Cup achieved, and the opponents for the final tournament to be revealed in less than a day, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter says the team is ready to deal with any and all comers.
Last night, the young American squad washed away the foul stench of 2017’s failure to qualify for the following year’s tournament in Russia, claiming the third automatic spot for a trip to Qatar despite a 2-0 loss in Costa Rica.
Immediately following the game, Gregg Berhalter was whisked away eastwards towards Doha, where the draw is set to take place at 7pm local time (noon Eastern time) on Friday afternoon, with all participating head coaches expected to be present.
The United States is situated amongst the eight teams in Pot 2, meaning they will more than likely face a world powerhouse such as France, Argentina or Spain, as well as a pair of still formidable opponents from Pots 3 and 4.
While waiting for a connecting flight in New York’s JFK airport, Berhalter spoke to the press to address the draw, as well as what lies ahead for the team in eight months when they return to the World Cup.
“In terms of who we’d like to see in our group, I’m not even going to go down that path,” he initially laughed, resolutely and confidently following up, “we’re going to take whoever we get.”
“It’s a random draw, so we deal with whoever we are drawn with.”
After an eight-year hiatus since the USMNT’s last appearance in the big show in 2014, which has seen several coaches come and go, an entire generation of older players ride off into the sunset, and a new generation of young guns take over the reigns, the coach is clear in his goals for the team come November, which is to take the steps that can set them up for a deep run to the later stages of the tournament.
“The starting point is definitely getting out of the group, even without having seen the group,” he stated. “We may get a very difficult group, but that’s part of it.”
Emphasizing the first step, he reiterated, “The staring poing is getting out of the group, and once you do that it’s tournament time. It’s knockout, it’s single-elimination, so anything can happen.”
The 44-times capped American international knows this last aspect better than anybody else in the team, as he was in the 2002 USMNT squad that came a blown Thorsten Frings handball call away from having the chance to reach the semifinal, after scraping their way out of a difficult group stage. In that tournament, Berhalter started in both the Round of 16 victory against Mexico, and the quarterfinal loss to Germany.
“Your focus becomes much more narrow,” he assessed about the experience of playing in the final tournament. “It becomes about every single point, every single game, every single goal you give up or score. That is what the World Cup is about.”
“The goal starts out for every team just to get out of the group. I didn’t want to paint it as though we have low expectations because that’s not the case at all. You see time and time again, top teams not getting out of their group.”
Indeed, winning the tournament has become a bit of a poison chalice as of late; the 2006, 2010 and 2014 champions have all failed to pass the group stage in the next tournament four years later.
“It has to be a priority for any team, to get out of your group,” Berhalter continued, ” [to] see who you are playing next and get prepared to beat that team. That’s where it becomes fun.”
“I think the group will be ready for it. I know the group will be ready for that challenge.”
The opponents for the USMNT will be revealed on Friday afternoon, which will precede an agonizing eight-month wait until the team takes the field in November in Qatar.