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Old guard, new faces stress USMNT needs to "stick together" during Gold Cup

ST. PAUL, Minn. – For all the talk about a learning curve in adapting to manager Gregg Berhalter’s system, the Gold Cup will test more than just tactics for a youthful US men’s national team.

That’s the message 20-year-old midfielder Weston McKennie says the old guard has repeatedly hit home throughout their two-week, pre-tournament camp.

Ahead of his first match in a formal competition for the US in Tuesday’s Group D opener against Guyana (10 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, UDN, TSN 1/3), McKennie says leaders such as Toronto FC duo Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore spend more time addressing the intangibles of international competition than specific strategy.

“They always say that we just have to stick together,” McKennie said in Monday’s pre-match press conference. “We have to stick together and look forward to the moments that they had the last Gold Cup. And I believe that’s really helped out a lot into this process.”

That coherence has already been tested in June, with disappointing losses in friendly tuneups against Jamaica and Venezuela ramping up the pressure.

Berhalter has attributed mistakes in those performances – at least on the defensive end – to specific, correctable tactical errors. At the same time, the former Columbus Crew SC coach said chemistry often influences how well individuals perform within a tactical framework.

“We’ve talked about the importance of everyone supporting each other whether they’re on the field or not, and that goes a long way,” Berhalter said. “I’ve been on teams where it wasn’t right, and the performance suffered. And then I’ve been on teams where the team unity is really there, and you get a real boost in performance.

“The group is in a good spot. And now it’s just about performing.”

For Toronto FC center back Omar Gonzalez, the coaching staff has created an environment that allows a team to keep believing in themselves and each other. Even in the tougher times of last week’s disappointing friendly defeats, that’s where Berhalter has excelled, Gonzalez said.

“I think what gives me confidence is Gregg and his staff,” Gonzalez said Monday. “There’s no stone left unturned. They give us every possibility to be successful. So that’s what gives me confidence. And what also gives me confidence is they’re always pushing us to be brave, to be ourselves, to be courageous on the field. And when you have people pushing you that way, I think that would give anyone confidence."