Berhalter: Uruguay draw another "good step" in US national team's progress

ST. LOUIS – Contemplating what he had just seen as his US national team came back to earn a 1-1 draw with Uruguay Tuesday night, Gregg Berhalter called it “a good step for this group.”

The USMNT head coach had reason for that assessment, four days after a 3-0 drubbing by Mexico in the first of two friendlies during this international window. Uruguay, the world’s fifth-ranked team, seemed destined to leave Busch Stadium with a victory thanks to a 50th-minute goal by LAFC Designated Player Brian Rodriguez. But Jordan Morris brought the US level in the 79th minute when a deflection fell kindly to him on the doorstep of Uruguay’s goal.

Fortunate goal or not, Berhalter felt Morris and the rest of the US side earned a good result.

“We talked about how this opponent was going to be compact and be physical,” Berhalter noted in his postgame press conference. “I think the team did a great job on set pieces. More importantly, it was about the tenacity of our guys and the relentlessness of our guys to hang in there and keep battling. We did a good job, particularly in the first half, of keeping our structure. And I really liked our crosses into the penalty area.”

Legendary Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez liked what he saw from the US.

“We don’t know much about the new players on the US team,” Tabarez said. “But their young players came very prepared and they have great technique. The US team dominated the second half.”

It is difficult to draw conclusions from a set of friendlies in which the USMNT fielded radically different lineups; only four of Friday’s starters were in the XI against Uruguay. But the common factor in both games is the preparation they gave the US for the challenges ahead: The onset of Concacaf Nations League next month, and the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying next year.

“We just played two different teams with two very important challenges,” Berhalter said. “Against Concacaf teams we will play teams that are very compact [like Uruguay]. We have to understand how to break those teams down. Mexico was a totally different challenge. Mexico is a high-pressing, active team in front of a loud, boisterous crowd. Mexico presented us with good challenges but also good learning opportunities.”

In a camp that included a number of young players, such as 19-year-old St. Louis native Josh Sargent, one of those learning opportunities was for the players to learn about each other.

“We’re young group of guys mixed with some older guys,” Sargent said. “We’re learning how each other plays. We didn’t have a very long time; I think 10 days we were together. But things like this [match] really help.”