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USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter talks World Cup prep, says group ‘can beat anybody’ in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — Eight years in the past, Jurgen Klinsmann famously mentioned it was inconceivable for his U.S. males’s nationwide group to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He mentioned it to me in an prolonged interview for The New York Times Magazine just a few months earlier than the event, then doubled down on it in a information convention in Sao Paulo simply earlier than the USMNT’s opener. Klinsmann felt it was essential to be blunt, however many American followers — and a few of Klinsmann’s personal gamers — had been troubled by what felt like a defeatist angle.

On Saturday, in an unique interview with ESPN two days earlier than his U.S. group open the World Cup, head coach Gregg Berhalter thought of the identical query. He paused, only a for a second, then smiled.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)

“What I do believe,” he mentioned, “is that on our best day we can beat anyone in the world. Anyone.”

That’s the mentality Berhalter has ingrained in his younger group, pushing them to embrace the concept the one approach they’re going to make historical past is that if they imagine they will. To assist advance that mind-set, Berhalter just lately organized a group assembly through which Eric Thomas, a well-liked motivational speaker with a exceptional private story of rising up from homelessness, talked with the gamers in regards to the unbelievable energy of perception.

And whereas Berhalter, a well known sneakerhead, mentioned he hasn’t but picked which sneakers he’ll put on to the USMNT’s first match in opposition to Wales, he did not hesitate when requested what number of pairs he’d introduced with him to Qatar: seven, one for every potential sport by to the ultimate.

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“Look, it is a great honor to play in the World Cup, but we don’t want to just be participants,” Berhalter mentioned. “We want to perform.”

To be clear: Berhalter is not predicting the U.S. will probably be champions. He’s merely specializing in the notion that success not often comes with out conviction. That was one thing Berhalter realized first as a world participant and now works to instill as a supervisor.

After all, that is — by a long way — the largest stage Berhalter has been on as a coach. He took over 4 years in the past, charged with restoring the U.S. to respectability after the disastrous failure of the 2018 qualifying cycle. At a minimal, he has performed that, overseeing a generational overhaul of the U.S. group that included the recruitment of star-level twin nationals like Yunus Musah and Timothy Weah, and the elevation of proficient prodigies like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson.

Berhalter, although, desires extra. His preparation for these subsequent three video games has ramped up in depth over the previous week, as he and his teaching employees have pushed one another to attempt to take into account each potential state of affairs they could encounter throughout one of many group stage matches.

If that sounds exhaustive, that is as a result of it’s; Berhalter is understood for his bent towards knowledge and analytics, and he’s decided to organize for any course a sport would possibly go.

What will the U.S. do in the event that they’re up a aim? Down a aim? Down two? Up a person? Down a person? How will they deal with it if one among their gamers will get injured? What if the opposing star goes down early? Berhalter desires to have a plan for all of them. The state of affairs that the majority considerations him? The one he hasn’t considered forward of time.

“We have the time now, we’ve had the time for the last couple months,” he mentioned. “When you’re on the field and the sideline and the crowd is loud and there’s pressure moments — if you’re not prepared, I think it hurts decision-making.”

Berhalter is aware of there will probably be challenges. There are lacking first-choice gamers out due to harm. There are excessive temperatures and really late kickoff instances and three Group B opponents (England, Wales, Iran) with important pedigree and expertise. There aren’t any pushovers, no matches through which the U.S. are important favorites.

But there’s additionally dedication. There will probably be 1000’s of U.S. followers supporting the group in Qatar. There will probably be hundreds of thousands extra watching and hoping again within the United States. There will probably be that youthful mixture of precociousness and pluck which may, sure, generally result in naive performances however may rework into magic.

Berhalter’s job is to steer. To encourage. To put his gamers ready the place they could discover their greatest selves when it issues most. The journey begins Monday. And not like his predecessor, Berhalter would not but know the place it would finish.

“We think the first step is getting out of the group,” he mentioned. “And the second step is, in the knockout games, playing our best possible game and seeing how far we can go.”

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