But the Yanks still topped Group B, taking the maximum nine points with three victories and producing a tournament-best +7 goal differential. Now their campaign enters a new phase with Sunday night’s quarterfinal clash vs. Jamaica at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (9:30 pm ET | FS1, Univision, TUDN).
“You look at it as a potential for 120 minutes. You have to be calm,” Berhalter said of the knockout phase. “It's about responding to moments, not reacting to moments, and being cool, keeping your composure. I think that's the message.
“We have a game, we have a game plan, we know our game model, we want to execute it. And at times we can expect it to be working great. And then the times it's not working, it's OK, how do we get back on track, and how are we working collectively to win the game? One thing we know about all these games is the margins are very small. When you look at the knockout rounds, it's usually very tight games and for us, it's about being focused on every single play.”
On Saturday, the USMNT officially filed paperwork with Concacaf to replace the hamstrung Walker Zimmerman with New England Revolution center back Henry Kessler, while Cade Cowell’s return to the San Jose Earthquakes could be interpreted as a sign that winger Paul Arriola’s recovery from his own hamstring issue is on course.
Berhalter, who all but confirmed that LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget will start against Jamaica, said both Arriola and Orlando City SC striker Daryl Dike (shoulder) will be “game-time decisions” on Sunday.
“They're both progressing. Dike, I think it looks more likely than Paul, but both of them have made progress. Dike was just a little bit sore, he’s been able to train this week,” said the coach. “Paul was able to get back [to train] with the group.”
Asked about the United States’ shift between 4-3-3, 3-4-2-1 and 5-3-2 shapes of late, Berhalter shared a glimpse of his mindset on such tactical matters, emphasizing the defensive structure that ranks among the tournament’s best so far.
“I think it's about managing spaces. Whether we're high pressing or in a low block, it's about minimizing the space the opponent has,” he said. “When we're able to do that, regardless of what system we're playing, we're pretty good defensively. I think [the] 4-3-3 at times gives us the opportunity to win the ball higher up the field to create goal-scoring opportunities, whereas when we're in a 5-3-2 we're perhaps more in a mid-block, and you win the ball more in midfield and sometimes you get pushed back into a low block, so you’re just winning the balls in different areas. But I've been happy with the defense.”
Jamaica are bedding in several talented dual-national players based in high-level European leagues, with Bayern Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, Preston North End midfielder Daniel Johnson and Fulham forward Bobby Decordova-Reid among them. Add in US-based mainstays like Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and in Berhalter’s eyes, it comprises one of the most talented Reggae Boyz sides ever.
Given that the islanders will also be one of the USMNT’s foes in the upcoming Octagonal round of World Cup qualifying, it’s a timely experience for his group.
“Our whole player pool is young, and we're trying to get them experience, and games like tomorrow are what does it,” said Berhalter. “What I can tell you about Jamaica, it's going to be a physical team, they're going to be up for the game. They have a skillful team, good group of players. It's basically as good as it gets for Jamaica right now, and it's going to be a tough test for us.”
Blake has shown his usual excellence in the Gold Cup, and the presence of New England ‘keeper Matt Turner in the USMNT net sets up a face-off between two of the best shot-stoppers in MLS.
“There's no question Andre Blake's a great goalkeeper, deserving MLS Goalkeeper of the Year last year and when he won it a few years prior [in 2016]. And he's a great person,” said Turner, stressing the importance of staying within himself in the stressful moments ahead. “So I'm looking forward to playing against him, and hopefully having a really great battle that can be remembered for years to come, but … I'm just going to play the game as it flows and see what comes to me and allow that to be the test.”
The possibility of a penalty-kick shootout looms should a winner not materialize over 90 or 120 minutes of open play. Turner was cagey about his preparations for that possibility.
“Yeah, it's something that you definitely think about, you do your homework and if it comes to that, I'll be ready,” said the Revs GK. “That's all I can really touch on in that sense.”