In an alternate universe free of corruption, the 2022 World Cup kicked off on Thursday in front of 90,000 holiday fans in Los Angeles. Either way, American football officials dreamed of it, and this, the second week of June every four years, usually begins the most prestigious sporting event on the planet.
But in a universe torn by Qatar, the U.S. men’s national team is instead walking to a 20,000-seat stadium on Friday night. He defeated a small Caribbean island ranked 170th in the world in a game not shown on English-language cable television. His two best players, after getting the night off, kicked their feet and relaxed.
This is how Austin, Texas, sent the USMNT to a World Cup that feels far from eons. It was the team’s last game on American soil before the World Show, but ended without drama or ceremony after the game, just before midnight ET with the views of the sports world on the NBA. The United States will fly to El Salvador this weekend, after which it will rest for summer vacations. He will meet again in Europe in September, for such a short time. And then, 24 hours after the players’ duel for their clubs in November, they will gather in Doha – with the opening of the World Cup in seven days.
So this, a three-week four-city tour in May and June, is the closest thing USMNT will get to a training camp before the World Cup. There was a diluted media day in Cincinnati and a big commercial in Austin. There was teamwork – video games, birthday dinners and golf – and the inevitable feeling that World Cup rosters were on the line.
Still, several players were absent – some injured, others just resting. There were no film sessions for World Cup rivals. And “we didn’t have a lot of training days,” admitted head coach Greg Berhalter. “We learn the most from these guys in the games” – and yet two of the four games are against significantly lower opponents, who will not come close to repeating the challenges that await us in Qatar.
All this leads to the strangest, most controversial sending of the World Cup that USMNT has ever had.
Noise-free camp before the World Cup
The reason for all the oddities, let’s not forget, is that in 2010 a small peninsula in the emirate with summer temperatures that regularly reach three digits, won the right to host this World Cup. Qatar initially promised space-age cooling technology that would repel the deadly heat and allow the tournament to take place in its traditional June-July window. But in 2015, FIFA, which called the idea “high risk” even before choosing Qatar’s offer over the US, moved its flag for the winter.
In this way, he turned the football universe for 2022 into a mess.
In the 21st century, sport has developed a rhythm. The players have developed four-year habits. They will end the European club seasons in mid-May, after which they will join their national teams and prepare for the biggest matches of their lives. They would train in solitude, break through opponent-specific tactics, and declare their cases for places on the list or in the early 11s. Crowds of patriotic supporters would then send them to the World Cup. The cameras will follow every step of the way.
But here in Cincinnati, on the last Sunday in May, there was no camera at a training session to which the media was invited, only one reporter. When USMNT players returned to their downtown hotel the next day, there were only two autograph seekers. Two days later, there were thousands of empty seats in a 26,000-seat stadium for a friendly against Morocco.
It didn’t look like a typical sending series, the players and coaches agreed. “I don’t think we’re still there in terms of accumulation,” Berhalter said the same week. “I think this is an important training camp for us as a group, but I don’t think the world is saying, ‘The World Cup is just around the corner.’
The oddities of preparing for the World Cup in Qatar
However, Berhatler had a different set of concerns. He hopes that the noise will eventually “increase”. Whether he succeeds or not, he will have to choose a team for the World Cup with just one week and two first-hand proof matches in the five months leading up to the decision. The United States will play El Salvador on Tuesday. He will play two friendly matches in Europe in September. And it will be.
September is the time when the implementation of the game plan of the group phase will probably begin, but will end abruptly. MLS players are likely to reunite for the state’s mini-camp in early November, but there may be only six or seven of them on the final list. The rest of the USMNT will fight for the narrowest possible visions for its European clubs until eight days before the start of the World Cup.
So, Berhalter said, most of the evaluation will take place.
As an obsessive football, Berhalter would like an intense, continuous training block. He planned to gather his entire group in Dubai before Qatar, he said, until the United States drew a draw on the opening day of the World Cup, which made the schedule too tight. He could have used those weeks in June, but his first team had played 23 consecutive games against enemies in North and Central America; and CONCACAF, the region’s governing body for football, threw him two more this month; USMNT had to score in the third and fourth games against opponents of World Cup caliber.
“We will never have enough time on the field, which is unfortunate,” Berhalter said in April. “But this is.”
“We will have to be really effective during these weeks in June,” he continued. But many players arrived with tired bodies and minds after exhausting their nine-month club seasons, exacerbated by World Cup qualifiers. The coaching staff understood the need to relieve stress. “We just have to keep in mind how we push them and how we spend their time,” Berhalter said. He left some – especially Ricardo Pepi – on this June’s list altogether.
For many of them, the upcoming European off-season will be a critical part of the preparations for the World Cup. “It’s really important,” Tyler Adams said earlier this spring, “to come in fresh, rebuild your body, mind, have a good mental break, and get started.” [2022-23] season is good. ”
It’s also important for Adams and the alarming number of regular USMNT players to actually go out on the field.
Adams, Christian Pulisic, Zack Steffen, Anthony Robinson, Serginho Dest, Yunus Musa and Pepi have not been regular starters for their clubs since the 2021-22 season ended. Matt Turner goes to Arsenal as a possible reserve. Brendan Aaronson is leaving for Leeds and will have to fight for his place. Weston McKenney, Chris Richards, Gio Reina and others are injured and have no guaranteed places on their respective teams when they return – wherever they return.
Throughout the pool of players in the United States and even in the starting 11, the club’s future is uncertain. This uncertainty is an inevitable feature of professional football, but it is present at an unusually high rate in this USMNT – and is exacerbated by the World Cup in the middle of the season. Some players, like Adams, don’t have to play regularly for the national team, Berhalter said, but that’s part of the transfer market’s calculations.
“Things are changing fast in football,” Berhalter said this spring. The leading indicator for the shape of the World Cup will be the club uniform. “The boys can really get in good shape and suddenly cope with it [on the roster]”
Berhalter will travel to visit some of them in the fall, but will spend parts of the months leading up to his first World Cup as a coach at home in northern Chicago. He will look closely at their games and the data extracted from those games through screens. He will have just 10 more days with them before FIFA takes place on November 14 – a week before the start of the USMNT against Wales.
“When we get to Qatar, it’s basically preparation for the match and you’re leaving,” Berhalter said.
“This is less than perfect preparation for the time we have,” he admitted this morning after qualifying. “But every team will do the same. So we can handle it like everyone else. “