CLEVELAND – Heading into Saturday night’s matchup against Trinidad and Tobago, the US national team had every reason to view the game differently than any other match.
And in the wake of a dominant 6-0 display, Gregg Berhalter and his players could have used the moment to announce their intentions to the rest of Concacaf.
But in true Berhalter fashion, the overwhelmingly positive evening for the USMNT was just another step in the process.
“What we’re seeing is the team getting confident; we’re getting fit, and that’s important,” Berhalter said, after the US qualified for the knockout stage with the win. “I’d classify today as a good game. We still know there’s a lot we can improve on, and we want to keep progressing as this tournament goes.”
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Winger Paul Arriola, who scored in the 78th minute of the win, credited Berhalter for that approach, which he called “the right mentality.”
He said the team knows, “based on past results” that every team is dangerous, and is simply focused on winning.
“Being on different teams and the way different teams are led, Gregg has done an amazing job of bringing the culture and the team together and really having everyone on the same page, which is not always the case,” he said. “So for everyone to be able to come together two weeks before and really become a true team on and off the field, it’s one-of-a-kind.”
Berhalter gave a definitive “no” when asked if the history with Trinidad, who stunned the USMNT to keep them out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the teams’ last meeting, made the game any different for him and his team.
“For us, we advance to the next round; I think that’s important,” he said. “Our focus was on preparing for this game knowing that if we won, we would go to the next round. That was the focus of our group. Trinidad was in our way.”
But even in the midst of Berhalter’s calming message, striker Gyasi Zardes – who scored back-to-back goals for a brace – admitted that the players know what their performances mean.
“Every time we step on the field, we want to make a statement,” he said. “We’re trying to change the way the world views American soccer. So every time we have a moment to do that, we try to execute.”