Thursday, April 18, 2024

USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has Nations League and Copa America coming up, but how far must he take them?

Competitive matches are beginning for the United States men’s national team for the first time in 2024 as on Thursday they’ll face Jamaica in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals. With limited competitive matches due to automatically qualifying for the 2026 World Cup as hosts, the Nations League and Copa America will be critical tests for Gregg Berhalter and the team. 

While Berhalter was able to lead the USMNT out of their group at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, falling at the hands of the Netherlands and a poor result in a friendly against Germany raised fair questions on if Berhalter is the manager who can take the USMNT to the next level. He has done a great job restoring high expectations to the side after they missed qualification to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but when making the knockouts of every tournament is now the expectation, raising that bar is now the next step.

How to watch and odds

  • Date: Thursday, March 21 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas
  • Live stream: Paramount+
  • Odds: United States +260; Draw +340; Jamaica +600

It’s a long road to joining teams like Argentina, France, Spain, and Italy in the top 10 of the FIFA  world rankings, let alone contending, but when the Copa America will see the USMNT face Uruguay and possibly Brazil or Colombia, Berhalter will be able to test his side against multiple top-15 nations in the world.  But what does success look like for the USMNT during this cycle?

It’s fair to question the USMNT’s playstyle under Berhalter but if they’re able to get results under him, they don’t have to be pretty. A well-liked coach, the majority of the team seems to enjoy playing under him and while there will never be a 100% approval rating, there also doesn’t need to be. Results are king and that’s why the USMNT have to win the Nations League for the third consecutive edition. 

If they don’t, then all eyes are on Copa America. Winning the Nations League and getting out of the group at Copa America while playing well in the knockout stages is probably the bare minimum for this squad as they’re set for a crash course with Brazil or Colombia. While the USMNT have improved since that 2018 World Cup failure to qualify, Brazil are among the best teams in the world on their day while Colombia are formidable as well. Because of the nature of the competition, that’s why it comes down to how the games are played.

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Losing in the Nations League, the stakes become much higher as not only would Berhalter need to steer the USMNT out of the groups in Copa America but a knockout stage victory becomes critical as well. Without that, it’s when whispers for a new coach in 2026 would turn into roars. With the World Cup on United States soil, it would be fair for them to move on to a new coach.

Expectations couldn’t be higher being a World Cup host and there are big-name free agent managers available like Antonio Conte, Hansi Flick, Joachim Low and Jose Mourinho on the market but there will be quite a few changes during the summer. With Jurgen Klopp, Xavi Hernandez and Thomas Tuchel leaving their posts at the end of the season, there will be shifts in roles around the world but if the United States don’t find themselves where they want to be, there will be some serious international intrigue.

In a perfect world, that won’t be needed but it all starts with the Nations League. Berhalter has been good at meeting expectations so far during his time in charge of the USMNT, and doing that will keep him in the post for at least another World Cup cycle.

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