USMNT look to "finish the job" in Nations League vs. Canada

USMNT Nations League 6.17.23

Gregg Berhalter is back as US men’s national team head coach. Big picture, that’s likely how the program’s week in Las Vegas will be remembered.

But the Yanks also have a trophy to defend Sunday evening, meeting Canada in the Concacaf Nations League final at Allegiant Stadium (8:30 pm ET | Paramount+, Univision).

The following has become a difficult needle to thread: Digesting the big news, which broke during Thursday night’s 3-0 semifinal win over Mexico and was confirmed Friday afternoon, while focusing on the task at hand.

B.J. Callaghan, the USMNT’s interim coach, expressed no level of alarm about that challenge.

“The best way I can describe the environment when the players and staff found out that evening, that Gregg was coming back, was a very professional approach,” Callaghan said in Saturday’s Matchday-1 press conference. “I think when you have clarity, there is a sense of calm because now everybody sort of understands how this is going to proceed forward.

“But there was also, within that calmness, was this level of we're still here focused on what's at stake,” continued Callaghan, who will remain in charge through this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup. “When we all came in and made this commitment that we want to win a second [Nations League] trophy, that's where our immediate focus goes.

“Once this tournament concludes, that group of players will be able to maybe think about it in a different way. But right now there's a real focus and determination to finish the job that we all bonded and agreed upon when we came together 10 days ago, give or take.”

Rivalry respect

To raise more silverware, the USMNT must beat an ascendant Canadian team they haven’t toppled in nearly two years. During Concacaf qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, Les Rouges scrapped to a 1-1 draw on American soil before earning a 2-0 statement victory north of the border. Those two results helped them finish atop the region, above both the US and Mexico, while booking their first World Cup trip in 36 years.

Then on Saturday, Canada head coach John Herdman was complimentary of the USMNT before later supporting the federation’s decision to re-hire Berhalter.

“Usually there's a bit of spice and energy with Canada and the US,” said Herdman. “The rivalry's been getting stronger. Obviously the US have done some amazing things over the last 20-odd years, picked up a lot of hardware and I think they’re now the leaders in Concacaf.” 

He added: “I thought that was a great appointment. [Berhalter] knows the game inside out here. He's passionate, he knows the player pools and he understands Concacaf. I think in that World Cup, that performance against England was right up there. I mean, that was a solid performance against a billion-dollar team. I'm looking forward to seeing Gregg back. We have a healthy rivalry, which has been good.”

That respect was echoed by Callaghan, who heaped praise on Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson. The 40-year-old midfielder will retire after Sunday’s match, giving the USMNT’s opponent a rallying point as they seek their first trophy in 23 years.

Canada are fresh off a 2-0 semifinal win over Panama, paced by goals from Lille striker Jonathan David and Bayern Munich superstar Alphonso Davies. They won’t be taken lightly. 

“They're a good team with structure, well-coached,” said Callaghan. “They have some amazing individual and talented players as well, so when you talk about a tough matchup, it's a tough matchup because it's a good team. They can hurt you in different ways.”

High standards

The US will need to replace two key starters after right back Sergiño Dest and midfielder Weston McKennie were red-carded in the chaotic, high-intensity victory over Mexico. In all likelihood, defender Joe Scally and midfielder Luca de la Torre slot into the starting XI as like-for-like replacements.

Altogether, the US are laser-focused on capturing a second straight Nations League title. They’re also viewing this as a building block in the 2026 World Cup cycle, needing to take strides as a program before co-hosting alongside Canada and Mexico.

“Our standard is to remain in a way that we want to continue to grow and compete against the elite in international football,” said Callaghan. “The standards that we hold ourselves to is how we judge ourselves, so I wouldn't make it a comparison between the US and Canada or any team in Concacaf. 

“We have large aspirations as a country and as a team to compete against the elite and to make the biggest impact we can in 2026.”