2022 World Cup: USMNT, Berhalter do the job in qualifying

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Football Writer

the United States Men’s National Team are officially back at sport’s biggest party.

More than four years after the USMNT’s 28-year streak of consecutive World Cup appearances ended at seven with a stunning upset in Trinidad and Tobago, the Americans have secured passage to this tournament. fall in Qatar, despite a disappointing 2-0 defeat in Wednesday’s qualifying final. in Costa Rica.

“Definitely frustrating – I hate losing,” American star Christian Pulisic told CBS afterwards. “But obviously we are so proud to go to the World Cup.”

Here are three quick thoughts after the clincher:

It wasn’t pretty, but this young USMNT got the job done

The 14-game CONCACAF octagon started off on the wrong foot for USA in September. They kicked off the qualifying tournament with draws against El Salvador and Canada, then needed a furious second-half comeback in Honduras to avoid a winless opening window.

After that, highs (like November’s “dos a cero” win over rival Mexico) were offset by other lows (like losses in Panama and Canada). But the United States had two of their best performances this month against Mexico and Panama, even though they lost to the Ticos. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

With the same starting line-up on Wednesday that secured a scoreless tie last week in Mexico City, Gregg Berhalter’s side didn’t play like a team that only needed to avoid a six-goal loss to surrender. in Qatar – at least not for the first half of the game. The visitors dominated from the opening whistle in San Jose, controlling 61% possession in the first 45 minutes and forcing the Ticos‘ world goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, for making several key saves to keep his team in the game.

For the first time in 30 years, the United States did not hang out at intermission in Costa Rica.

The United States also came out strong after the break. But the hosts took the lead against the run of play in the 51st minute from a powerful header from Juan Pablo Vargas and soon took advantage of poorer defending to double their lead through Anthony Contreras.

“We lost focus twice,” Pulisic said afterwards.

At that time, USMNT fans understandably feared the worst. But the Americans – who were missing injured regulars Brenden Aaronson, Sergiño Dest, Weston McKennie and several others this month – calmed down after that and held on to get the result they needed.

Give credit to Gregg Berhalter

It’s strange to write this sentence after a loss. Again, no American coach has ever won in Costa Rica.

It’s no secret that a portion of the USMNT fanbase has long had issues with Berhalter’s pedigree, tactics, and personnel decisions — not to mention the process that led to the Hiring of the coach in 2018.

Most of these reviews are not fair. While it’s true that Berhalter sometimes looked like the inexperienced international manager he was at the start of the Octagon, he grew in the role as qualifying progressed, much like his historically young squad. And finally, he did what he had to do: bring the United States back to the promised land.

That might not have been the case had he rested his starters last week in Mexico, as many observers believed he should have with the must-win home game against Panama three days later.

“He was brave about the lineups he picked,” said USMNT legend Clint Dempsey, who now works as an analyst. “He went there.”

2022 World Cup: Doug McIntyre congratulates the USMNT on its qualification

2022 World Cup: Doug McIntyre congratulates the USMNT on its qualification

Doug McIntyre congratulates the United States Men’s National Team after qualifying for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup with a Wednesday loss to Costa Rica.

US must keep improving to make noise in Qatar

If Wednesday’s loss reminded fans of anything, it was that the United States still have a lot of work to do to reach their potential in Qatar. There are still big questions for the striker; none of the three centre-forwards brought in this month (Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi) have done enough to cement a starting role in November.

There could also be questions in the goal. Zack Steffen has been Berhalter’s first choice whenever healthy, but the Manchester City understudy is likely to reclaim the two goals he conceded on Wednesday. It is possible that Matt Turner will surpass Steffen if he manages to land the starting job at Arsenal when he moves to England this summer.

Above all, the United States must build on the cohesion it has begun to develop over the past six months. It’s gotten better, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be consistent enough to secure progress to the World Cup knockout stage, like the 2010 and 2014 American teams did.

Everything will depend on the outcome of Friday’s draw, of course. Yet, with this part of their journey complete, this is the next challenge that Pulisic and the rest of the USMNT face.

Alexi Lalas congratulates USMNT on qualifying for the World Cup

Alexi Lalas congratulates USMNT on qualifying for the World Cup

Alexi Lalas congratulates the United States Men’s National Team on qualifying for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup. “I’m going to toast this team, but not for what you’ve done, but for what I believe you can do!” he says.

But that’s a conversation for tomorrow. “At the end of the day, we achieved what we wanted to achieve,” said DeAndre Yedlin, the only player in the current roster to have played in a World Cup. “I’m so happy for this whole group, for the federation, for the country.”

One of North America’s most prominent football journalists, Doug McIntyre has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including several FIFA World Cups. Prior to joining FOX Sports, the New York native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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