Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT must achieve tournament success in 2024

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During a year without a major tournament (hands down, Concacaf Gold Cup), 2023 was surprisingly significant for the US men’s national team.

Consider the blurred image of 12 months ago: The team had no permanent head coach while Gregg Berhalter was under investigation by US Soccer over an assault allegation, his relationship with surly star Gio Reyna was broken and sporting director Earnie Stewart was on the loose. about to leave .

With those issues resolved, 2024 promises to be quieter off the field and much louder on it. The USMNT can look forward to a high-profile competition, the Copa América, which will be an important criterion two years before the next World Cup and a referendum on Berhalter’s leadership after he was surprisingly rehired last summer.

So what’s (apart from, quite possibly, an order form for more pairs of recherché sneakers) in Berhalter’s inbox in 2024, five years since he took charge of his first game?

Youth development and the Olympic Games

A 25-player MLS squad trains in Orlando ahead of a friendly against Slovenia in San Antonio on Jan. 20. Because it’s outside a FIFA window, the January camp is traditionally a chance for U.S.-based rookies to make their case. According to the federation, since 1999, 30 players who earned their first or second cap at the USMNT’s first camp of the year have progressed to a World Cup team, including nine who went to Qatar in 2022.

Fifteen of this team are at a senior camp for the first time and 13 are young enough to meet eligibility requirements for France this summer, when the American men will participate in their first Olympic Games since 2008. The most experienced name in the list, Miles Robinson, the 26-year-old center back who just joined Cincinnati, is a candidate to fill one of the three positions for those over 23 years old.

With the Olympics in mind, Marko Mitrović, the United States U23 head coach, is on Berhalter’s staff for this camp. It is logical to expect that those who stand out in France will be rewarded with an expanded view of Berhalter with a view to 2026.

Two exciting 20-year-old Californians, Chivas-linked Cade Cowell and Real Salt Lake non-international Diego Luna, are named in this team, although they will have to be brilliant to break into a first-choice team that already has plenty of wingers. . -Types of offensive midfielder. Los Angeles FC midfielder Timmy Tillman, older brother of US international Malik Tillman, hopes to make his debut against Slovenia at Toyota Field, the jewel of the USL’s San Antonio FC.

Busy 22-year-old midfielder Aidan Morris, who has earned four caps, was an integral part of Columbus’ team that triumphed in last year’s MLS Cup, as was goalkeeper Patrick Schulte. With Inter Miami’s Drake Callender and Cincinnati’s Roman Celentano also on the roster, a goalkeeper is sure to make his debut against Slovenia. (Gaga Slonina, the 19-year-old on loan from Chelsea to Belgian club Eupen, is not in this team.)

Win the Concacaf Nations League

It may be a fast-paced friendly assembly, but the two-time defending champions will want to complete the hat trick in Arlington, Texas, in March. The United States will face Jamaica in the semifinals and Panama will face Mexico. In addition to a possible confrontation with Mexico to quicken the pulse, the matches (semifinals or play-off for third place) will be a practical warm-up for the most important matters of the Cup.

The United States reached this stage with a 4-2 aggregate victory over Trinidad and Tobago last November. A 3-0 first-leg victory in Austin was followed by a 2-1 away defeat with a rare red card-worthy detonation from Sergiño Dest. It was an uneven way to end 2023, so the defender and his teammates will have extra incentive to impress against a Jamaican team with more talent than Trinidad and Tobago.

Reach at least the semifinals in the Copa América

As co-host, the United States is not required to qualify for the 2026 World Cup, making this 16-team tournament in June and July a valuable source of highly competitive matches in some of the stadiums that will host matches. two years later. With this in mind, these could be the most important and instructive games for Americans between now and 2026.

In the group stage, the United States will face Bolivia (again in Arlington), Panama (Atlanta) and Uruguay (Kansas City). Given the home advantage, Berhalter’s team should win their first two matches and the clash against Uruguay will decide the group winners. A quarterfinal would likely pit the United States against a dangerous team from Colombia or Brazil (who have been lukewarm lately). The United States cannot face the favorite, Argentina, before the final.

It would be acceptable to repeat the Americans’ achievement in 2016, the previous time they entered and hosted the tournament: reaching the quarterfinals. But a better performance against a major country would be important for a team and coach who have yet to prove they can take on the best in the world.

Jürgen Klinsmann’s team was humiliated 4-0 by Argentina in Houston eight years ago and failed to get a shot off. Not even a stray attempt. That mediocre team included 17-year-old Christian Pulisic, but was largely made up of players from MLS and non-elite European clubs. Berhalter has much more talent at his disposal, so a result that gives his critics an excuse to criticize “worse than Klinsmann!” It wouldn’t exactly improve reputation.

Prepare for the unexpected

Most of the players and positions in Berhalter’s ideal XI are settled, but this year he will look to establish a consistent centre-back partnership (surprisingly, one leading candidate, Chris Richards, has played in midfield for Crystal Palace of late). He will also want to cement his preferred reserve full-back identities, with Dest enduring a 2023 “learning experiences” and left-back Antonee Robinson is now so important that any absence would be a blow given the drop in quality between the Fulham man and his substitutes.

Remember the rumors before the 2022 World Cup about goalkeeper Matt Turner’s lack of playing time at Arsenal and how rust could toughen his game? Turner was magnificent in Qatar. He then moved to Nottingham Forest, was rewarded with regular starts in the Premier League and… well. Gary Neville is not impressed. Turner’s place in the national team is more secure, but if he struggles in the Cup, then grooming potential heirs of the next generation becomes more urgent.

Meanwhile, Reyna underscored her value with some joyful performances last fall. With Tyler Adams likely returning from injury next month, one of the most portentous tactical decisions Berhalter will face in the Cup (fitness permitting) will be whether to deploy Reyna as a roaming playmaker against high-caliber opponents or play safer with a more defensive midfield. setting. The axis or the fireworks?

Reyna’s future at Borussia Dortmund, however, is in doubt, especially with Jadon Sancho returning to the club on loan. Could Reyna land in a new location that allows him to thrive like Pulisic and Weston McKennie have done in Italy? Or stay and stagnate on the sidelines? Berhalter is a diligent planner, but sometimes all a coach can do is cross their fingers and hope for the best.

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