There were three Concacaf qualifiers in three countries over seven days, a couple of red-eye flights, a long coaching meeting in Qatar, FIFA’s pomp and water and then several media interviews. It is a lot to endure and absorb. But US coach Gregg Berhalter still had enough energy to revel in Friday’s World Cup draw in Doha, not to mention the opportunities and challenges that await his young team in November. That was what the last three years – all that effort, planning and overhaul – were all about. After missing out on 2018, the American men are back in the World Cup.
“I do not even know what day it is. But I go on fumes and it is a positive type of fumes you go on. I am for the World Cup draw. I am not complaining right now about being tired,” Berhalter said Friday .
There are complications amidst the relief and excitement, highlighted by the fact that the United States will play against an indefinite opponent on November 21, the opening day of the World Cup. Along with the top seed and second place in the European Championships England and the Asian heavyweight Iran, the Americans landed in Group B with the country coming out of the playoffs between Wales and Scotland / Ukraine in June. Competing early in the World Cup erodes potential preparation time, which was already abnormally short. Clubs are not required to release their players until November 14th.
“We had plans to go to Dubai a week before with the whole team. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Berhalter revealed. . “
The United States will use six games played in June (four) and September (two) to build up to the tournament. It will then have to hit the ground in Qatar. After their opening match against UEFA playoff survivors, the Americans will compete for two matches soaked in narrative. First comes England, the big name, high-profile title challenger who occupies a strange role, relative to the United States, as a benchmark, a barometer and a condescending big brother. The group stage then ends with Iran, Asia’s top-ranked side. The geopolitical overtones of that showdown will spark plenty of discussion between now and November.
It’s not the hardest group the United States could have pulled. Reigning champions France, Brazil, Argentina and Spain were among the topseeds for the elite that were avoided. And the USA, who were placed in pool no. 2 as FIFA’s 15th ranked team, escaped having to face pot no. 3 powers Poland, Serbia and Senegal, while the longtime nemesis Ghana and potentially Peru were opportunities out of pot no. 4. But two European enemies make any group tough, the England game will generate constant headlines, and Iran is an intriguing and possibly dangerously unknown.
“It was great to have England in our group. I think it’s a game that always has a lot of attention around it because of England and their fans and their established place in football,” said Berhalter.
“Iran, in general, I think will be a big challenge for us. I’m a little nervous that the public or the media can take Iran lightly. But it is not a team to take lightly. It will be a good opponent, “he added. “So overall it will be a strong group. When you add the European team to it, it will be a well-rounded group and it will be difficult to move on. But that is positive, because I think everyone will fight , and I think it’s going to be the last match. “
Frequent U.S. captain and qualifier Tyler Adams said teams tend to unfold differently on the field than expected on paper.
“I feel like you’re starting to realize that now going through processes like qualifying and just watching the World Cup before, there really is no easy match,” explained RB Leipzig midfielder. “When everyone plays on such a stage, what you think will be the easiest game ends up being the hardest game.
“So I honestly had no expectations for it [the draw]. I’ve had a couple of Champions League draws now and I’ve had that ‘death group’ where we had Man City and PSG and then I’ve had groups that’s a little easier to quote. And they did not turn out to be easier, ”Adams added. “So for me, right on my way into this, it was just exciting to see our country called at the end of the day.”
Shortly after the United States got its name called, Christian Pulisic’s phone rang. It was his Chelsea teammate, England’s Mason Mount.
“We are already talking, excited and looking forward to the match,” Pulisic said. “We are good friends, good teammates, and it will be interesting to play against them in a World Cup.”
Pulisic is one of a handful of American players affiliated with England. Several players in the Premier League or Championship, left back Antonee Robinson is native and midfielder Yunus Musah spent part of his childhood there. And these connections are only the beginning of two countries that share such significant cultural and athletic ties. While one is the birthplace of the game and the other is relatively new to it, the exposure that English football enjoys in the United States is enormous, and its impact on American football is immeasurable. The young Americans will hope that intimacy bridges some of the potential gap in experience and comfort under the World Cup spotlight.
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“I think everyone really knows a lot about England and what they have to offer, and their list and the players they have, the caliber of them,” said American midfielder Weston McKennie. “We all know what we’re up against and we’re all pretty familiar. Some players play against them in England. Some players play against them in England. Some play against another place. So we’re a little bit familiar with how our opponents are going to look. “
England are surprisingly 0-1-1 at the World Cup against the USA, but the British press expected, predictably, victory later on Friday. That Daily Mirror‘s front page banged “Yankee Doddle Dandy” – “doddle” is a Britishism for something that can be easily performed – and called Group B “England’s Qatar Group of Life.” That Daily mail called it a “Dream Qatar World Cup Draw.”
That lack of respect is not shared by England coach Gareth Southgate, who told the BBC: “They have some good players and we know what they can be capable of as a nation. So it’s a particularly exciting game.”
Like Berhalter, Southgate prioritizes team culture and relationships and led a change in national team generations. England, who finished in fourth place at the 2018 World Cup and then lost the European Championship final on penalty kicks, are a more modern, unified and dynamic team than many predecessors. Berhalter was so impressed with Southgate’s work that he called England’s coach while he was considering the American job.
“Gareth was the first person I reached out to outside of former U.S. coaches, and the reason is because I saw a lot of synergies or similarities between the team he took over and the team that we took over,” Berhalter said. “We knew it would be a new generation of players coming through. We knew we would work with a very young group. I thought it was important to establish a strong culture in the team and I chose his brain early in 2018.
“As soon as I was hired, it was my first turn [to Europe] I met with him and we talked for a long time and we kept in touch ever since. I consider him an excellent coach and have great respect for what he has done with the program. “
However, Berhalter is well aware of how the significance and symbolism of this particular game can surpass the others.
“You listen [new Leeds United coach] Jesse Marsch and some of his comments on what he’s going through, and I think at one point that’s almost too much, right? You are an established coach. You do it really well and you get treated like that. Whereas if he were from another place – from Portugal for example – he would be treated completely differently. And [former Swansea City coach] Bob Bradley in the same way, ”Berhalter said of the way American coaches have been viewed by the English press and the public.
“I know there is a lot of respect for American football, but I think it’s an opportunity. It’s definitely an opportunity for us to show what we are made of,” Berhalter continued. good team, but so do we. We have a young team. We have an athletics team. We have a team that does not have much fear and it will be a great match. And I think even for the fans to be so familiar with their players, their famous names, and then to see us match them, I think will provide some context. “
There will be more than seven months to dissect the many stories and threads. Iran will be less of a mystery and that opponent in the opening match will emerge. Last Friday, when Berhalter and his players took it all in, it was more about the excitement of returning to this phase and, as Adams said, simply seeing the United States included in the draw and imagining what could be possible.
“Qualifying for the World Cup was a task that we had to complete, and we checked it out. But now is the time when we will be able to enjoy this moment as players, ”said Adams. “We wanted to change again how everyone sees us as players and as a nation, and ultimately gain the respect of fans around the world – let alone our own fans. So it becomes important that we now have that mindset into this tournament that we have really good performances. ”
Pulisic does not want to wait. In fact, he said he is happy to play on the first day.
“To be honest, the sooner the better for me. I think it will be good to play right when the tournament starts,” he said. “I just count the days down, so the sooner the better. I do not really care. I’m just looking forward to it. ”
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