After the COVID-19 pandemic left the US men’s national team playing just four matches during 2020, head coach Gregg Berhalter’s group can expect to be significantly busier throughout 2021.
Aside from last week’s international friendly against Trinidad and Tobago, a 7-0 win, some major benchmarks await: Concacaf Nations League and the Gold Cup this summer, then the beginning of FIFA World Cup qualifying in the fall.
That jam-packed schedule will leave Berhalter relying on a deep and diverse roster pool, though the former Columbus Crew SC manager is keenly aware of not overworking players. Addressing that worry, Berhalter pinpointed Chelsea star Christian Pulisic as someone they’ll need to be careful with.
“When they come in, the national team is about winning, it's about results, it's about qualifying, doing well at the World Cup – these types of things and there's really no room to say, 'OK, we can perform at 50 percent this game,'” Berhalter said during an Extratime interview. “Having said that, it's just being mindful of the players and their time.
“One thing I can guarantee you is a guy like Christian Pulisic is not going to be playing Nations League and Gold Cup – it's not going to happen. These guys need a break, so I can imagine them playing one of those tournaments and then getting rest. That's going to be true for a lot of our guys who are going through similar situations right now.”
Watch: Gregg Berhalter on Extratime
The same approach applies to other players, of course, and they'll remain focused on World Cup qualifying all along. After the USMNT failed to reach the 2018 version in Russia, there’s heightened urgency to make the 2022 edition in Qatar.
“It's going to be challenging, the year, but what it comes down to is everything is going to be done to prepare for World Cup qualifying,” Berhalter said. “We have March friendlies, we have the Nations League in June. We'll probably work some type of cadence where we have a third game added to the backend of the Nations League, just to have that cadence of World Cup qualifying.
“Then we have Gold Cup, and then it's going to be about evaluating a bunch of players to prepare for the fall because it's going to be a difficult fall. You have to imagine, the guys are going to be traveling across from Europe, some of them, and then playing on Thursday, Sunday and Wednesday. Having three games in that window is going to be interesting.”
For more from Berhalter on navigating the player pool and schedule requirements, check out the above clip and entire Extratime episode here. He's previously said that they’ll have to call on 30-40 players to meet the demands of 2021, providing opportunities for MLS players and European-based ones alike.