World Cup 2022: USMNT with confidence sky-high ahead of debut vs. Wales, how far can they go in Qatar 2022?

In a completely different tone than the one used by Jürgen Klinsmann prior to Brazil 2014, this Monday the United States National Team returns to the World Cup after an 8-year absence, in a completely different process, led by Gregg Berhalter.

On that occasion, Klinsmann wanted to be realistic with his players and assured that “it was impossible for the USMNT to win the World Cup” in that edition and he repeated it just before the US team’s debut. His comment was not well received and he ended up leaving the team after a resounding failure and a subsequent crisis that left them out of Russia.

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Then came Gregg Berhalter to rebuild U.S. soccer and this Saturday he gave an interview to ESPN, in a completely opposite tone, prior to the USMNT’s debut against Wales. The coach was asked the same question as Klinsmann and his response, after a short pause, was full of enthusiasm:

Gregg Berhalter’s optimism

“What I do believe… is that on our best day we can beat anybody in the world. Anyone,” Gregg Berhalter said.

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Berhalter’s most important job has been precisely the mental one, pushing them to accept that the only way they will make history is to trust in themselves. That’s why, before traveling to the Middle East, they invited Eric Thomas, a popular motivational speaker, to a lecture and he spoke to them about the incredible power of faith.

Then, Berhalter talked about how he prepared to travel to Qatar, based on the number of pairs of tennis shoes he packed for his trip (he is a shoe lover). His answer has a profound message: he has not chosen which pair he will wear this Monday for the match against Wales, but categorically reported that he packed seven pairs, the same number of matches needed to reach the Final.

“It’s a great honor to play in the World Cup, but we don’t want to just be participants,” Gregg Berhalter said.

However, he did not venture to assert that his team will be world champions in Qatar, instead focusing on the fact that success rarely comes without conviction, something he learned during his international playing career.

Rebuilding the USMNT

Berhalter is approaching his biggest challenge as a coach. He came to the job four years ago, with the goal of getting back on track after the failed process for Russia, and was dedicated to bringing about the USMNT’s generational change, including attracting high-level dual-nationality players Yunus Musah and Timothy Weah, as well as the emergence of young players competing in the world’s top leagues: Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson.

With this combination, Berhalter wants more: he increased the intensity of training since last week, and with his coaching staff have tried to consider all the potential scenarios they could encounter in the group stage. Berhalter is known for his focus on data and analysis, a habit typical of American sports and where soccer lags a bit behind.

“We have time now, we’ve had time over the last two months. When you’re on the field and on the sidelines and the crowd is loud and there are pressure moments, if you’re not prepared, I think it hurts your decision making,” Gregg Berhalter said.

He added in his bid to make history, “We believe the first step is to get out of the group. And the second step is, in the knockout games, to play our best game possible and see how far we can go.”