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

DOHA, Qatar — Eight years ago, Jurgen Klinsmann said it was impossible for his US men’s national team to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He told me so in a lengthy interview for The New York Times Magazine a few months before the tournament, then doubled it down in a press conference in Sao Paulo just before the USMNT opened. Klinsmann thought it was important to be blunt, but many American fans – and some of Klinsmann’s own players – were troubled by what appeared to be a defeatist stance.

On Saturday, in an exclusive interview with ESPN, two days before his US team opens the World Cup, head coach Gregg Berhalter explored the same question. He paused, then smiled.

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

It’s the mentality Berhalter has instilled in his young team, urging them to embrace the idea that they can only make history if they believe they can. To further this mindset, Berhalter recently hosted a team meeting where Eric Thomas, a popular motivational speaker with a remarkable personal story of rising from homelessness, spoke to the players about the incredible power of faith.

And while Berhalter, a well-known sneakerhead, said he hasn’t yet decided which shoes he’ll wear to the USMNT’s first game against Wales, he didn’t hesitate when asked how many pairs he’d brought to Qatar: seven , one for each possible game up to the final.

“You see, it’s a great honor to play at the World Cup, but we don’t just want to be a participant,” said Berhalter. “We want to perform.”

To be clear, Berhalter is not predicting that the US will become champions. He simply focuses on the notion that success rarely comes without conviction. Berhalter first learned that as a national player and is now working on teaching him as a manager.

After all, this is by far the biggest stage Berhalter has stood on as a coach. He took on the task four years ago of making America look good again after the disastrous failure of the 2018 qualifying cycle. At least he did, overseeing a generational reorganization of the US team that saw the recruitment of star-level dual nationals like Yunus Musah and Timothy Weah and the promotion of talented prodigies like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson.

But Berhalter wants more. His preparation for those next three games has increased in intensity over the past week as he and his coaching staff have been urging each other to consider every possible scenario they might encounter during one of the group games.

If that sounds exhaustive, that’s because it is; Berhalter is known for his penchant for data and analysis, and he’s determined to prepare for every possible direction of a game.

What will the USA do if they score? scored a goal? two down? bis a man? down a man? How will they deal with it if one of their players gets injured? What if the opposing star goes down early? Berhalter wants to have a plan for everyone. The scenario that worries him the most? The ones he hadn’t thought of before.



ESPN’s Herculez Gomez considers Gregg Berhalter’s options if Sergino Dest is unsuitable for USMNT’s opener against Wales.

“We have the time now, we have had the time for the last few months,” he said. “When you’re on the field and on the sidelines and the crowd is loud and there are moments of pressure – if you’re not prepared I think it hurts decision-making.”

Berhalter knows there will be challenges. Regular players are missing due to injury. There are extreme temperatures and very late kick-off times and three Group B opponents (England, Wales, Iran) of considerable background and experience. There are no weaklings, no games in which the USA are the clear favourites.

But there is also determination. Thousands of US fans will support the team in Qatar. Across the United States, millions more will be watching and hoping. There’ll be that youthful mix of precocity and courage that, while sometimes leading to naïve performances, can also turn into magic.

Berhalter’s job is to lead. To inspire. To put his players in a position where they could find their best selves when it matters most. The trip starts on Monday. And unlike its predecessor, Berhalter doesn’t yet know where it will end.

“We think the first step is to get out of the group,” he said. “And the second step is to play our best game in the knockout games and see how far we can go.” USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter talks World Cup prep, says team ‘can beat anyone’ in Qatar

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