Gregg Berhalter’s mission is so simple as will probably be tough: take one of many youngest, least-experienced rosters in U.S. Soccer historical past into probably the most condensed ultimate spherical of regional World Cup qualifying ever and are available away with one among three invites to subsequent yr’s match in Qatar.
Something in need of that, Berhalter stated, is unacceptable.
“It will be a failure if we didn’t qualify for the World Cup,” he stated. “So that is our subsequent problem.”
Berhalter’s workforce, which opened a short two-day coaching camp in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, will begin the eight-team, 14-game qualifying match Thursday in El Salvador. The U.S. will then return to Nashville to play Canada on Sunday earlier than assembly Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Sept. 8.
In a standard qualifying marketing campaign, two video games can be performed in every 10-day match window. However as a result of COVID-19 delayed the competitors, groups will play three video games in every week 4 occasions through the match, which ends March 30 with the highest three nations profitable berths in Qatar. The fourth-place finisher will advance to an inter-confederation playoff the place one other World Cup spot will likely be up for grabs.
The U.S. did not qualify for the final World Cup for the primary time since 1986. Nevertheless it heads to El Salvador on Wednesday ranked 10th on this planet, in line with FIFA, following victories over Mexico in each June’s Nations League and within the Gold Cup ultimate earlier this month.
“It is good to win a trophy in Nations League. It is good to win a Gold Cup trophy. It is good to be ranked tenth on this planet in FIFA rankings,” stated Berhalter, whose workforce is 17-1-1 over the past 22 months and hasn’t misplaced to a CONCACAF rival since October 2019. “Nevertheless it doesn’t suggest something if you happen to do not qualify for the World Cup. Our mission just isn’t even near being full.
“All the things we have performed till now could be solely a basis. Now it’s about going out and competing within the hope to finally qualify for the World Cup after which make an affect.”
The 26 gamers Berhalter referred to as to Nashville had a median age of 24 years, 43 days, making it maybe the youngest qualifying roster in historical past. The workforce, which incorporates three youngsters, is youthful than the one the U.S. utilized in each the Nations League and Gold Cup finals and, with a median of fewer than seven caps in aggressive video games, is among the many greenest in nationwide workforce historical past as effectively.
Extra necessary, nonetheless, is the actual fact simply six gamers have taken the sector in a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier, a contest in contrast to some other with poor fields, humid climate, questionable officiating and all method of gamesmanship making highway wins tough to return by.
The U.S. hasn’t received a qualifier exterior the U.S. since 2013.
“The one method you may get snug in that surroundings is with expertise at it,” stated Landon Donovan, who performed in 40 CONCACAF qualifiers. “There is not any simulation for … taking part in on a horrible subject, 95-degree climate with 90% humidity, aside from doing it and realizing and feeling the stress concerned.”
Chelsea ahead Christian Pulisic has probably the most qualifying caps with 13. Pulisic was just lately sidelined after testing constructive for the coronavirus however after ending his quarantine, he was cleared to hitch the workforce in Tennessee, He was one among 16 gamers who skilled Monday at Lipscomb College.
Colorado Rapids’ midfielder Kellyn Acosta, one among 9 MLS gamers on the roster, is third on the workforce with six qualifying caps. He stated it’s as much as the veterans to assist the youthful gamers navigate each the stress and the privilege of taking part in in World Cup qualifiers.
“Sporting the crest, it means rather a lot. And I do know the blokes put on it with pleasure,” he stated. “However qualifying is a special beast and also you’ve bought to be up for the problem from the primary minute.”
Berhalter believes they’re.
“All the things we’ve been doing within the final two years have been making ready for this,” he stated. “We discuss in regards to the high quality of the fields, we discuss in regards to the opponents, we discuss in regards to the climate, we discuss in regards to the journey. It’s how we understand that problem that finally will result in success or failure.
“For us, the narrative about CONCACAF away video games is there. However we see it as a constructive. We see it as a chance.”
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Instances.