The United States men’s national team is set to close the June international window with a visit to El Salvador’s Cuscatlán Stadium on Tuesday night for Concacaf Nations League action.
The match comes as the last of a four-game run that kicked off with friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay before a 5-0 CNL triumph over Granada. But while the American side easily outperformed the Spice Boyz, head coach Gregg Berhalter knows El Salvador is a whole different challenge.
“We’re pleased with the game on Friday. Any time you beat an opponent 5-0 at any level, I think is good. Any time you limit them to zero shots on goal, that's important. So we were pleased with that performance. You can only play against your opponent on the field, right, and we have to take care of business and we did that on Friday, we put ourselves in a good position,” Berhalter said.
“El Salvador will be a different opponent. They'll be more aggressive, I think they'll be a higher pressing, better counter-pressing, and away from home. So for us, it's how do we deal with those elements and then how do we put a good performance in a way from home, that we haven't always done since we've been together? So that's certainly going to be a challenge for this group. We know it's the last game before we go on break from each other, and we want to end on a good note.”
Beyond the Concacaf tournament, Berhalter has been very vocal about using this extensive window to test formations and players as the team prepares for the upcoming FIFA World Cup.
But with only five months to go, there are still several unanswered questions when it comes to the US roster. Berhalter must navigate through an undefined starting goalkeeper, the injury crisis overwhelming the backline and an undetermined number 9 figure before jetting off to Qatar.
“Everyone in this camp is trying to be an established player, and we have a lot of guys here that have been the core of the team for the last three years. So I'd say that any time a player gets an opportunity with the national team, it's an opportunity for him to show that he belongs there and show that he has what it takes to play international soccer,” said the coach.
“When you're talking about the detail of chemistry between guys and certain partnerships working together, that's something that you don't always get in some of the lineups that you're playing. But it's still an opportunity for guys to show that they belong playing at this level... that's an important part of the evaluation process.”
But using the Concacaf tournament as the experimental phase before Qatar can also backfire. The head coach revealed there exists a daunting nature of entering a Concacaf competition as the reigning champions in hopes of defending their title, while balancing World Cup evaluation process.
“The tricky thing about the national team is that you have to perform each and every time that you're in camp. How do we get better collectively as a team, how do we evaluate players and then how do we start defending our Nations League title? And we're very much in the present right now and focused on, how do we win against El Salvador?
“That overall evaluation process will take place, it takes place after each and every game in seeing how players do and seeing how they perform in their positions, see if they’re executing the roles that we have them in based on what we're doing on the field. So all those things are daily work. We're not in a position right now where we're saying, ‘OK, this person's locked in or not locked in,’ or this person's out. I don't think we're there yet. But certainly we're using these games to evaluate performances.”
After defeating Granada, the team stands in second place on the Group D standings. A victory against El Salvador would see the USMNT top the group before heading into the continuation of the tournament in 2023.