Supported by For U. Walker Zimmerman? Aaron Long? The United States won its opening two games, against Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, by a combined score of While the United States has already qualified for the knockout round, it must draw or defeat Panama to win its group. Los Canaleros also will be the first quality team the Americans have faced in the tournament.
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Then again, Trinidad and Tobago was good enough to defeat the United States 20 months ago , ensuring the Americans missed the World Cup for the first time since He has led the team for only six months, and these are his first competitive matches in charge. He is open about learning how to navigate the rigors of tournament play, including deciding whether to rest key players against Panama.
It is not just his coaching staff going through a tournament for the first time, but most of the players, too.
Half of his roster had fewer than 10 appearances for the national team when the tournament began, and even fewer had played in meaningful matches.
While Berhalter noted that there are some veterans on the team — Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Omar Gonzalez — the roster was intentionally stocked with younger players. Berhalter knows his task is not only to win the Gold Cup next month, but to get the United States back in the World Cup in The best known young players are Christian Pulisic, 20, the undisputed star who will play for Chelsea next season, and Weston McKennie, 20, the next great midfield hope.
The Gold Cup has always been a bit of an awkward tournament for the United States. As the regional championship, it trails only the World Cup in competitive importance, but few would say teams or fans value it anywhere close to as much.
The United States is expected to advance easily — it has lost only once in the group stage — and rarely gets credit for victories. When the former coach Jurgen Klinsmann took charge of the national team eight years ago, he spoke often of installing a playing style based around possession, of dragging the United States away from the direct physical style for which it was most known.
But in big matches against talented opposition, that stylistic approach proved untenable, or at least unsuccessful, and he never seemed able to reconcile his ideal with the reality.
His Columbus Crew teams valued possession and defenders passing the ball, but they also pressed the opposition to create chances. He speaks often of line-splitting passes, and of attackers getting in behind the opposition.
He benefits from the maturity of Major League Soccer, from which the majority of his roster hails. Increasingly defenders are expected to possess the ball, fullbacks have as many attacking responsibilities as defensive one, and strikers must harry and press the opposition.
Berhalter needs only to refine, not reinvent, what his players practice with their club teams. But as much as he wants his team to learn and coalesce, he also wants it to win. This is the balancing act Berhalter must navigate. He wants to win big but knows it means little.
He wants to protect his young players but also prepare them for the future. He wants to win the Gold Cup but also recognizes its true value may lie in how it sets up his team for World Cup qualifying.
Panama is the first chance to see if the United States can find that balance.
Correction: June 26, An earlier version of this article misstated the frequency of the Gold Cup. It is biennial, not biannual. Email Kevin Draper at kevin. Looks To Return From Abyss.