AL-RAYYAN, Qatar – Gregg Berhalter does lots and lots of interviews and media availabilities; it’s a central aspect of the job of any US men’s national team head coach.
Yet if there’s anything he doesn’t love to expand upon in detail ahead of a big match, it’s the health and fitness of his players. Reporters were reminded of this at the Qatar National Convention Center, home of FIFA’s media headquarters for the 2022 World Cup, on Thursday afternoon.
Berhalter was asked about the health and fitness of key starters Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest – two linchpins who carried quadriceps and adductor issues, respectively, into the tournament – in his matchday-1 press conference ahead of Friday’s massive Group B match vs. England (2 pm ET | FOX, Telemundo), and his answer was brief. Quite brief.
“They’re both doing fine,” said Berhalter.
Gio good to go?
The coach was only slightly more expansive when asked to further clarify the situation around Gio Reyna, the talented young attacker left on the bench in favor of using Jordan Morris as the final substitute in Monday’s 1-1 draw with Wales.
Afterwards Berhalter had alluded to “a little bit of tightness” influencing that decision as “a precaution” in light of Reyna’s troubled history of soft-tissue ailments. A short while after in the mixed zone, Reyna himself said he felt “really good” and “ready to go,” as players often do.
On Thursday Berhalter, whose team has moved their Thanksgiving dinner to Saturday in light of their pregame preparations, was asked if he’d considered it a “risk” to use Reyna off the bench on Monday even if he was technically fully available.
“I think I was pretty clear after the game saying he was available for the match, and it was a coach's decision that he didn’t play,” said the coach, with a brief flash of annoyance. “And he'll be available for tomorrow's match, and we’ll see what happens.”
It’s worth noting that officially, U.S. Soccer classifies everyone on the roster as fit and available for selection on Friday.
All to play for against England
Several players have spoken of the anticipation of testing themselves against England, a storied footballing nation whose current squad Berhalter has touted as leading contenders to win this World Cup, and the home or second home to many members of this USMNT group.
After the Wales draw, Berhalter suggested that the magnitude of this game – where the US can drastically improve their chances of advancing to the knockout rounds with a positive result – will ease the physical challenge of the short turnaround between matches.
“I think this is a pretty easy one – you're getting to play England. That's the recovery right there,” he said. “You get to play one of the teams that we think is the favorite of the tournament. I think there's not going to be many tired players come Friday.”
On Thursday, US captain Tyler Adams said something similar when asked how he and his teammates are feeling three days after an intense, draining encounter with Gareth Bale & Co.
“We've gotten used to, obviously in England and in Europe in general, playing three games a week. So from that standpoint, it's normal,” said the Leeds United midfielder. “When you have to get used to the heat after getting used to the cold in England, and then coming here, cramping was setting in a little bit, but these games are very physically demanding. So you have to be prepared for that.”