By Michael Lewis
As good as 2021 was for the U.S. men’s national team – the squad won a record 17 games – head coach Gregg Berhalter won’t be resting on his laurels in the new year.
After all, there’s a World Cup to qualify for.
“It’s clearly unfinished business,” Berhalter told Fox Sports after Saturday night’s 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Carson, Calif. “We’re not there yet. We know [we have] six games [to] go. We take one game at a time. Our goal is to qualify, and we do that by a good performance and then on to the next game. That’s all we can do. It’s been a great year. I can’t thank the players enough for everything they’ve given us as a staff. But now it’s time to really get it done in 2022.”
The Americans will play three World Cup qualifiers early next year, hosting El Salvador on Jan. 27, playing Canada in Hamilton, Ontario on Jan. 30 and then welcoming Honduras on Feb. 2.
Saturday night’s match can go down in the record books as an ugly win. Despite enjoying a one-man advantage for 50 minutes, it took a long time for the USA to break through.
When asked to assess the match, Berhalter replied, “That’s a tough one. It was a difficult game. It really was. Bosnia is a very physical, very compact that when they went a man down. The 5-3-1 was very difficult to break down. I think in the end it had to be the perseverance of the group to keep going and get a late goal.”
Which seemed to be a theme for the team this year, scoring late. The Americans did it during the Concacaf Gold Cup and even during World Cup qualifying.
“I think it was a good build-up,” Berhalter said. “Winning the Nations League gave the group confidence. And then to win the Gold Cup, I think it really started to send a message across Concacaf. And then it’s a good start … to qualify. We’re not there yet, but we’re in a good position now to continue on.”
This past year The USMNT had games in 10 of 12 months, so it certainly was a busy year as Berhalter used players with various amounts of international experience, depending on the camp or competition.
“It’s been a great year, working with so many different groups in the Gold Cup, Nations League qualifiers, friendlies,” he said. “We’ve had to adapt, we’ve had to teach on the fly, working with about 50 players, and that’s been fun. But overall, we’ve learned a ton from World Cup qualifying. I think we’re positioned well to finish it off in January, then March.”