As enormously talented as the US men’s national team's player pool has become, as fierce as the competition for roster spots is, as exciting for fans as the program’s ongoing youth movement may be, in certain situations there’s just no like-for-like substitute for experience.
The performances and results of the USMNT’s first three Octagonal World Cup qualifiers reflected that, and Tyler Adams admitted as much during a Monday media availability after the Yanks’ first training session of their week in Austin, Texas, where they host Jamaica at Q2 Stadium on Thursday (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, Univision, TUDN).
“Last camp was obviously a great experience for us all – [for] a lot of us, our first taste of what World Cup qualifying was going to be like,” said the RB Leipzig midfielder.
“The most important thing coming into this camp now is to take each and every game, game by game, not focused on saying, ‘OK, let's get nine points.’ I mean, I remember, even myself, I previously said, ‘let's get nine points in the window.’ Let's focus on each game and what we need to do in order to win each game. And then I think that's going to set us up for the best success.”
Adams did indeed explicitly target the maximum haul from those first three qualifiers and did his share of the work to get there, playing every single minute against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras, reminding everyone how essential his bite, ground coverage and leadership are to the USMNT's fortunes.
On Monday he made light of that heavy physical and mental load.
“I think the initial factor is when you have to travel from Germany or over in Europe to come in to the US, for instance, and then getting used to the time change, that's obviously a little bit challenging. But the intensity of the games are very similar, so there's no difference in that,” Adams said. “Our bodies are used to it from playing on the European schedules and playing in different competitions, so when we come to Concacaf and to World Cup qualifying, at least we have a little bit of a feel for it. And we're a little bit into our season now so I think the fitness is there, which also helps.”
But after two frustrating draws and a 4-1 road win in San Pedro Sula that required an epic second-half comeback from what would’ve been a disastrous loss, he and his teammates are insistent that the well-worn old ‘one game at a time’ cliché is essential for them as they host the Reggae Boyz and Costa Rica on either side of a visit to Panama this month.
“A lot of these guys coming in last camp probably didn't know what to expect,” said D.C. United winger Paul Arriola, one of a few on the current roster with caps from the Russia 2018 qualifying cycle and a returnee after missing September's games due to injury. “You can try and prep everyone and you can talk to them about it and try and tell them your experience, but at the end of the day, there's nothing like you doing something for the first time for yourself and understanding what that's like.
“And I think that's what a lot of these guys got last round of qualifying, which I 100% believe that it's going to help and it's going to pay off in the long run and will pay off this round of games.”
The USMNT will benefit from two home games in this window instead of one, and they’re optimistic of strong support in loud MLS venues at Q2 and Columbus’ Lower.com Field. They may also get a boost from the pressure riding heavily on Jamaica and Costa Rica, who picked up just one and two points from their first three matches, respectively, and thus find themselves at the wrong end of the Ocho standings.
That said, you probably won’t find anyone in Gregg Berhalter’s camp making bullish forecasts this time around. The coach has thus far stressed a need for greater speed and directness in the attack, and it’s not hard to see how that mindset translates off the pitch as well.
“I think that coming into last camp, maybe we were just a little bit naive and we didn't really know what to expect. That's why we had to use those first three games as a learning process,” said Adams, a former New York Red Bulls star. “Yeah, it's [only] been one training but at the end of the day, you can tell that the group is focused. And we know what our ambitions are, of course, but again, it's just that game-by-game mentality now.”