Still, pivoting from a highly-demanding, high-tempo clash with a ferocious opponent with elite players and four world-champion stars on their badge, to a small island nation with a domestic population of 112,000 sitting 170th in the current FIFA rankings, is a jarring shift for just about anyone.
Uruguay on Sunday, Grenada on Friday (10 pm ET | ESPN+, UniMas, TUDN). That’s the task for the USMNT this week, and if anyone wants to throw around words like ‘minnow,’ the squad would quickly remind you this meeting with the Spice Boyz in sweltering Austin is also the opening of their Concacaf Nations League title defense.
“We have to have the same approach to each game and I think that's going to be a challenge for this group,” defender Reggie Cannon told reporters in a Tuesday afternoon media availability from central Texas. “You're going to have to have the same approach and same mentality to every game [at the World Cup]. Can't really lower that mentality, because those are when these teams are going to be the most dangerous.
“Which is why I think these types of games are going to help benefit this group the most. When you’re going from Morocco to Uruguay to now Grenada, it’s going to be a very tough mental switch, but it's our responsibility to do.”
With the September window earmarked for two friendlies in Europe, Friday’s duel at Q2 Stadium will be the Yanks’ final match on US soil before they jet to Qatar to take on Wales, England and Iran in November. Though it might not quite feel like it yet due to this year’s unconventional World Cup calendar, there’s precious little time left to make a last, best impression on head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff before they complete their roster.
“I don’t think this camp has been different than any other camps,” said Cannon’s teammate Kellyn Acosta as he sat next to his fellow FC Dallas alum. “As players we come into national camps ready to make an imprint of ourselves and having that competitive drive that's already within us, that kind of translates on the field, I think for all of us, we're all competitive, we're all winners. And so when it comes to training sessions, we all bring it.”
All this makes every workout, every minute on the pitch a zero-sum game in some ways, where you’re either improving your prospects of making that cut, or torpedoing them. The USMNT strive to approach their team culture as a brotherhood, but there’s also a “frenemies” vibe, to use Acosta’s term.
“When we go on to the field, I think everyone just, kind of changes the whole vibe,” said the LAFC midfielder. “We're friends off the field, but on the field, we're competing, and I'm bringing it, you're bringing it. And I think that's positive and essential and helps us all to grow. Because when I know that he’s bringing his A-game, that means I need to bring my A-game too if I want to compete.
“When I'm going against Reggie, I’m trying to tackle the mess out of him, run at him, score goals, all the above, right?” he added with a smile. “That's huge for the group and I think each camp has been like that, because we're all fighting to play in each and every game.”
Acosta’s engine and versatility in midfield would seem to put him on course for Qatar; Cannon started against Morocco last week, but is in the midst of a very deep group of right backs, perhaps the most competitive spot on the team.
“This group just has so much depth,” said Cannon. “Gregg doesn't really let us know the lineup until the day of the game. So it's always a battle in training to try to earn your spot.”
As overwhelmingly favored as the USMNT are, Grenada could well prove less of a pushover than they appear on paper. They punched above their weight to rise to the top tier of the CNL in the first edition of the new competition, and gained experience in a respectable showing at last year’s Gold Cup.
In recent years the West Indian program has more effectively cultivated the talent in their substantial overseas diaspora, particularly players competing in the lower divisions across Great Britain.
“It's going to be a dogfight,” maintained Acosta. “First starting point is intensity and mentality. We've got to shift our focus; Grenada is going to be a tough game. It's going to be a team with some talent, and we’ve definitely got to be mindful.”