Within the final World Cup qualifying cycle 5 years in the past, the U.S. went into its penultimate recreation, in Orlando, Fla., needing a win over Panama to all however guarantee a spot within the event.
The Americans won that game, however 4 days later they lost in Trinidad and Tobago, setting off a sequence of weird occasions that ended with the U.S. missing the World Cup for the first time in 32 years.
Gregg Berhalter remembers viewing that final recreation helplessly from his lounge in Columbus, Ohio.
“I used to be on my sofa watching it with a gaggle of individuals,” he mentioned Saturday. “And clearly we had been dissatisfied with it.”
He’ll have a greater view Sunday when, as coach of the nationwide crew, he’ll be on the sidelines because the U.S. once more performs Panama in its penultimate qualifier of this cycle with an opportunity to get again to the World Cup.
However historical past, he mentioned, received’t be on his thoughts or the minds of his gamers.
“I do know there are similarities to final time,” he mentioned “however we’re trying ahead. I don’t suppose this can be a group that appears again. We acknowledge what occurred prior to now; it’s a part of who we’re is U.S. males’s nationwide crew.
“We now have to forge your personal path. And tomorrow’s an excellent time to do it.”
They will try this Sunday as a result of a victory over Panama, mixed with a tie or loss by Costa Rica at El Salvador, would assure the U.S. a top-three spot within the CONCACAF qualifying tournament and a berth on this fall’s World Cup in Qatar.
Even a draw can be sufficient if fourth-place Costa Rica loses. And people are simply the straightforward situations as a result of, given the Individuals’ seven-score benefit over Costa Rica in purpose differential, even a loss to Panama wouldn’t maintain the U.S. from advancing offered it wins its final qualifier Wednesday in Costa Rica.
That’s a scenario Berhalter significantly needs to keep away from, nonetheless, because the U.S. is 0-9-2 in Costa Rica.
Nicely, due to that and the recollections of what occurred 5 years in the past in Trinidad, when coach Bruce Area’s crew let issues go right down to the ultimate match.
“I preach to the crew about only one recreation at a time, sticking to the method, doing the small issues, doing the process-orientated issues,” Berhalter mentioned. “It’s actually vital to not get forward of ourselves. We will solely management what we will management.”
Defender Antonee Robinson mentioned the gamers have embraced their coach’s philosophy. However the nearer they get to a World Cup berth, the more durable it turns into to not look forward.
“The crew’s accomplished a extremely good job realizing the prize that’s on the finish of it if we’re profitable. But in addition protecting our heads and protecting that one-game-at-a-time angle,” he mentioned. “We all know that we will qualify tomorrow. So it’s clearly large.
“Going into it I don’t suppose a lot goes to alter mind-set-wise.”
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen agreed.
“Our deal with is getting three factors tomorrow. It’s necessary at house,” he mentioned.
However, he added “the scenario we’re in, probably might qualify for the World Cup tomorrow night time on our house turf, that’s fairly particular.”
If Berhalter has had some success shaping his gamers’ psyche, he’s had solely partial management over who will get on the sphere. And that’s turning into an issue.
4 starters Berhalter wished to name in for this qualifying window are absent due to damage. Two others — defender DeAndre Yedlin and ahead Tim Weah — are suspended for Sunday after selecting up yellow cards Thursday in Mexico. And outdoors again Reggie Cannon is unavailable after testing optimistic for the coronavirus.
That leaves Shaq Moore, who wasn’t even on the unique roster for these qualifiers, as Berhalter’s most suitable choice at proper again. And among the seven discipline gamers who performed 80 or extra minutes within the altitude of Mexico Metropolis two days in the past could also be restricted Sunday.
“You’re by no means going to have your finest crew. You’re at all times going to be lacking gamers,” Berhalter mentioned. “We’re way more intentional concerning the next-man-up mentality as a result of that’s actually what it’s.”
Lastly, there’s one other quirky little bit of historical past hovering over the U.S. that would come into play towards Panama as properly. Within the 4 earlier qualifying home windows on this World Cup cycle, the U.S. has didn’t win the second recreation every time, dropping twice — as soon as to Panama — and drawing twice.
Sunday’s recreation is the second on this window.
“It is a nice problem for us,” Berhalter mentioned. “Let’s win this recreation. That is the final window, final alternative to do this.”
If the U.S. does that, it is probably not the one historical past that will get revised. By qualifying for the World Cup, the crew might additionally erase the frustration Berhalter felt sitting on his lounge couch 5 years in the past.