USA eye Copa America berth, Nations League defense against Trinidad

AFP , Thursday 16 Nov 2023

United States coach Gregg Berhalter has warned his players not to forget the team's 2017 World Cup loss to Trinidad & Tobago as they face the Caribbean minnows in the CONCACAF Nations League quarter-finals.

Gregg Berhalter
Gregg Berhalter has warned his players against complacency as they face Trinidad and Tobago in the CONCACAF Nations League. AFP

 

The US launch the defense of their Nations League crown in Austin on Thursday with the first leg of a home-and-away quarter-final clash against Trinidad.

It marks the first competitive fixtures for Berhalter since he was re-appointed as US head coach in June, and the stakes could not be higher.

As well as a Nations League semi-final berth, quarter-final victory over Trinidad will guarantee the US a place at next year's expanded Copa America, which is taking place in the United States.

"November turns the page and now it's about competing," Berhalter said on a conference call on Wednesday.

"We want to win the Nations League again. This will set us up to do this. We want to play in the Copa America. This will set us up to do that. So the guys are focused."

This week's quarter-final carries special significance for the Americans, reviving memories of their shattering 2-1 defeat to Trinidad in Couva six years ago which cost the US a place at the 2018 World Cup.

Though the US roster has been drastically overhauled since that debacle -- an injury to Christian Pulisic means defender Tim Ream is the only survivor in the squad from the 2017 loss -- Berhalter said he wants his players to keep that grim night in mind.

"I hope it's always in our minds," Berhalter said of the 2017 result. "Just like we can embrace the good stuff, we also have to embrace the bad stuff and it was a great learning moment for us collectively.

"The coaches involved, the players involved and, in my opinion, it's not about ignoring that -- it's about embracing it and leaning into it. We talk about preparation in this camp, you know, some of it stems from lessons learned in that camp as well."

Recent history suggests the US should have enough firepower to comfortably navigate a way past Trinidad.

In three meetings since the 2017 result, the US have racked up wins of 6-0, 7-0 and 6-0. Another big win in Austin on Thursday could make next Monday's return leg in Port of Spain moot.

Berhalter cautioned his players against complacency, however, believing that an inexperienced Trinidad side with nothing to lose could pose problems.

"They have energy, they’re good on set pieces, they're good at attacking and they have quality," Berhalter said. "So we have to be wary of them. I think the inexperience they have in this case helps them."

Berhalter, who guided the US into the knockout rounds of last year's World Cup in Qatar, challenged his young squad to rise to the occasion -- starting against Trinidad.

"When we talk about our goals and what we want to do as a team, it's easy for us to sit here and say that what we want to do is change soccer in America forever," he said.

"But the real meat of it is that we have to win games like this. We have to position ourselves to win trophies in the Nations League and to compete in the Copa America.

"It's essential for us and that's what we keep telling the team - 'Listen guys, we can talk all day about what we want to do, but this is actually doing it.'"

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