Gregg Berhalter: World Cup Qualifying will be like 14 finals for USMNT

The US men’s national team has already proven itself in two Concacaf finals this summer, beating Mexico to raise Nations League and Gold Cup silverware.

Those experiences will prove invaluable when the final round of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying soon gets underway, head coach Gregg Berhalter said during a Monday interview on The Jim Rome Show.

It’s even more pronounced, Berhalter noted, since the Octagonal’s 14-game slate will be unforgiving as they chase one of Concacaf’s three automatic berths to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“I think it's a big step for this young player pool,” Berhalter said. “We have one of the youngest national teams in the world right now, and for these guys to get used to winning but also believing that they can do it is really important.

“Our next step now is World Cup Qualifying in the fall and there's 14 games. In World Cup Qualifying there's going to be 14 finals. I think as a coaching staff, one thing that we're pleased with is that these guys have been in this situation before and we're ready to go, ready to handle it.”

The USMNT’s young generation's first World Cup Qualifying test comes Sept. 2 at El Salvador, then there’s a Sept. 5 match at Nashville SC’s Nissan Stadium against Canada and a Sept. 8 match at Honduras shortly thereafter. With competition pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Concacaf rigors include several three-match windows that are bound to test the player pool’s depth.

Berhalter is expected to lean on those at top-end European clubs, ranging from attacker Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and midfielder Weston McKennie (Juventus) to center back John Anthony Brooks (Wolfsburg) and midfielder Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig). But Berhalter also said he was impressed by how MLS-based players like goalkeeper Matt Turner (New England Revolution) and center back Miles Robinson (Atlanta United) performed in the Gold Cup, even giving recent Sporting Kansas City export Gianluca Busio a shoutout as the midfielder joins Venezia.

As domestic and overseas players fuse together to form a first-choice squad, Berhalter feels the USMNT is developing a winning culture.

“I think the guys are getting used to winning and really understanding what these games look like,” Berhalter said. “That was the whole objective of this summer. We used two different groups for both tournaments. We want to expose these guys to what Concacaf, competitive games look like.

“When you go down two minutes into the Nations League Final and you have to come back and then you go down again and have to come back and then you eventually win in overtime, it shows a lot how these guys can stay calm in pressure-packed moments and handle any type of situation.”

As for what comes next? Berhalter said they’ve been scouting their upcoming opponents and identifying a roster of “probably 26 to 28 players” who can start World Cup Qualifying on the front foot.

For more, check out the full Jim Rome interview here.