National Writer: Charles Boehm

"The performance doesn't hurt": Gregg Berhalter, USMNT defiantly levelheaded after Canada loss

HAMILTON, Ontario – Gregg Berhalter was defiantly optimistic as he defended the US men’s national team's performance and mentality in Sunday afternoon’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying loss to a ferocious, resolute Canada at Tim Hortons Field.

It was a clash of philosophies that seemed to be decisively won by Octagonal-leading Les Rouges’ intensity, organization and opportunism. Yet Berhalter stuck to his guns after his side’s second loss in their last four meetings with their northern neighbors, who they hadn’t lost to in 34 years until 2019.

“I think it was an entire team effort that was outstanding. We asked them to be dominant, we asked them to embrace the conditions, embrace the physicality of the opponent, and I think we did that and more,” contended the Yanks’ leader at the start of his postgame press conference. “And it's hard for me to remember a performance away from home this dominant without getting a result. So the result hurts, the performance doesn't hurt. I'm proud of the guys, proud of the way they competed.”

Fans and pundits may have some objections to that outlook. Roared on by an appreciative crowd noisy enough to make light of the province’s 50%-capacity COVID-19 attendance restrictions, Canada conceded possession to their visitors for long stretches. But John Herdman’s squad maintained a dogged team shape, disrupted the USMNT with fouls and physicality, and constantly proved menacing in transition.

Former Orlando City SC striker Cyle Larin tilted the field with a seventh-minute goal on just such a moment, combining with Jonathan David to turn a wind-pushed Matt Turner goal kick into a breakaway and finish with stunning speed.

“I decided to stay tight with him and it's obviously a split-second decision, but yeah, I felt comfortable making that movement and then the one-two got through us and then we collided feet,” said US center back Miles Robinson, who stepped into midfield with Larin and immediately saw the space behind him exploited. “And he tripped me up just a bit … and then he got the best of us for that few seconds. But I thought besides that, we stuck to our game plan and we had a good performance.

“Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted, but it's behind us now.”

The opener multiplied the hosts’ position of strength on home turf, with a hard, bouncy synthetic surface and narrow-drawn pitch that drew multiple complaints – though he insisted they weren’t excuses – from Berhalter.

“Disappointed to give up the first goal in the manner that we did, from our goal kick, and two passes, we give up a goal,” he admitted. “That's not how we defend, that's not our style of defending and that hurts a little bit. And I think overall, we want that dominance in possession, we want to translate that into more chances in front of goal and that was lacking as well. But it was a dominant away performance without a win.”

The USMNT were often ponderous in possession, and the hosts made sure to cluster numbers around key dangers like Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic when the Yanks did press into the final third. Much like the 1-1 draw in Nashville during the opposite fixture back in September, it all seemed to be going right to Herdman’s plan. It all made Vancouver Whitecaps FC product Sam Adekugbe’s 95th-minute clincher feel like a deserved exclamation point.

Yet Berhalter reserved his strongest praise for the powerful, clever David-Larin pairing.

“I don't think they dominated much of anything tonight, to be honest, but give them a lot of credit for the resiliency,” said the former Columbus Crew coach. “And one thing that separates Canada from most other teams in the group is the quality of their strikers and their ability to finish a really small amount of chances. They didn't have anything, many chances in this game, but they were able to finish it off. And the first one is a great example. It's a play out of nothing that two quality players make and it gives them the win.”

Berhalter said the decision to start Gyasi Zardes at the No. 9 spot ahead of Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi was “easy” given the game’s expected physicality. Aside from a nod to his side’s lack of urgency to exploit counterattacking moments in their own right, he maintained that his players produced what he wanted.

“Overall, when we talked about what we needed to do to win this game, we checked almost all the boxes and that I'm pleased with,” said Berhalter, shifting focus towards a Wednesday home date with Honduras at Minnesota's Allianz Field that now takes on even more weight (7:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision, TUDN).

The USMNT sounded eager to leave a rough night in Canada’s steel country behind them.

“I thought we were trying to create chances, playing in their half, winning duels and proving that we can control the game,” said Robinson. “It's just a matter of a few moments that can cost us the game. But yeah, it's completely past all of us. I think we just have to focus in on Honduras at this point.

“It's just up to us to kind of get over it, take a step beyond it and kind of just brush it off. Because we've got an even bigger game coming up in a few days. And it's up to us to perform well. We're definitely already locked in on this game in Minnesota against Honduras.”