The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is rapidly approaching. The opening match on Nov. 20 is just over a month away.
The tournament favorites, according to Draft Kings, are Brazil, France, Argentina and England. But with a young roster and a deep lineup of players competing in European leagues, the United States Men’s National Team have had expectations to make a deep run in the tournament.
Those expectations took a hit in recent weeks as the team had a dreadful run of performances in tune-up friendlies.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter has received some criticism in the wake of those performances. In a lengthy interview at The Ringer, he explained in further detail the planning process that’s gone into their preparations for the World Cup.
While acknowledging that there have been a significant number of challenges with regards to player injuries and availability, Berhalter thinks there’s been positive steps and “clarity” on roster decisions and where the group is heading into the tournament.
Even though the team has struggled, he’s confident about the staff’s efforts and where they are on the preparation schedule.
“The only way to get through this is being prepared,” he says. “I feel like we’re in a good spot. We’re not all the way there yet because of logistics. But in terms of our planning and timelines we’re ahead of schedule. It’s going really well. What we try to do is stay in the present and not worry about things we can’t control and put all the effort in things we can control and we go from there.”
While Berhalter is known for being methodical in how he approaches coaching, one example of how dedicated he and his staff have been to getting things right is the team hotel in Qatar.
Officials with the Men’s National Team briefed him in 2019 about possible options for training grounds and hotels, so when the FIFA bidding process opened in October, the US was ready and got their first choice.
For this year’s tournament, FIFA has increased the substitutions per game from three to five, which introduces a new wrinkle into how to approach roster management and who makes the final cut:
“That will impact squad selection,” Berhalter says. “That will impact how we manage the games. That will impact how we feel about guys who haven’t been playing 90 minutes every game [for their clubs], because you can get them off and make subs. All of that is going to come into play.”
November Providing an Advantage?
The tournament is usually played during the summer months, meaning that most clubs have completed their season schedule.
This year though, to avoid the worst of the heat in Qatar, it’ll be in November.
Berhalter thinks that provides an advantage for the USMNT, because they haven’t had lengthy prep times in the past, instead having to work with quick training sessions.
“The way we’ve been working with the team is right in line with what’s going to happen here at the World Cup,” says Berhalter. “We haven’t had huge preparation periods to do things. We’ve had to be adaptable. We’ve had to work in a short period of time with training sessions and multiple games. But for us, it’s business as usual. We’ve been doing this all in qualifying, we’ve been doing it every time we get together.”
Other international teams are used to having more time to work together before heading to the tournament, but that won’t be an option this time around.
While the planning details, intense preparation and detailed thinking sounds encouraging, the results on the field haven’t been there of late for the USMNT.
Small advantages obviously help, but as always, how far the team advances will be determined by how they perform when it matters.
With England, a decent Wales team and Iran in their group, advancing to the knockout stage certainly seems possible, but no guarantee given how they’ve looked of late.
Berhalter’s methodical style and tactical preferences have helped steady the ship after the disastrous 2018 World Cup miss.
But that won’t mean much if the US can’t at least get past the group stage in Qatar.
The USMNT kicks off against Wales on Nov. 21 before taking on England on the 25th. Berhalter’s preparation will be put to the test immediately.