How the USMNT is preparing for the World Cup

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar — The preparations needed to prepare a team for the World Cup are always complicated. In some cases, they can make or break a tournament. Germany’s safe haven in Brazil in 2014 was widely hailed as the key to their eventual title. Conversely, the decision of the United States men’s national team to sequester in a remote chalet in 1998 has often been cited as one of the many factors that led to the team’s misery in France.

The reality is that every tournament has its own quirks, be it the host country, the venues, the training base or the opponents. The American staff, led by USSF Director of Administration Tom King, is well aware of this truth. The 2022 World Cup, however, will be unlike any other, and not just because it will be the first to be held in the Middle East.

The start of the tournament in November means it will fall right in the middle of the European club season. It created all sorts of hurdles and wrinkles in terms of preparation, and that’s especially true for the United States.

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Typically, the United States would have an extended training camp with around three friendlies to prepare and fine-tune things. Then there was a relatively early arrival in the host country to acclimatise. Not so this time. Players with European clubs played until last weekend. Most national team MLS players have had to deal with the fact that their seasons have been over for a month or more.

For USA manager Gregg Berhalter, it’s been a tough run in terms of his players’ form and fitness. Every week, he would bring a microscope to his players’ performances and pray that they would come out unscathed. He also held a camp specifically for MLS players in an effort to maintain fitness, from which seven of the 26 players on the final roster emerged, although the sharpness of the game – or lack thereof – was an issue.

Now that the roster has been named and the team is in Qatar, the short preparation period is compounded. The United States will face Wales on Monday, the second day of the tournament, giving Berhalter’s side just over a week to settle in and make final preparations. Compare that to the extended camp and 14 days in the country Berhalter had when he played in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea. But the American manager likes the idea of ​​this short track.

“Everyone is going to want to jump in,” Berhalter told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “We’ve been waiting for this for a while, and with a younger squad, we just want to get on with our business. In the World Cup qualifiers, we were used to fast turnarounds. It’ll be a bit more ahead, and we’ll be ready to go.”

There’s the question of how much the short momentum will affect the team’s tactical readiness. When the group reconvened for the September international window, Berhalter remarked on how much there was too much focus on granular details – such as the form of the team when opponents break the pressure and change ground – at the instead of focusing on the basics.

“What we missed was that the guys were out for three and a half months,” Berhalter said. “They’ve just had a whole pre-season with their clubs where they’re learning different things, and our baseline pressure wasn’t even the right one. The second part was that guys were also coming into the camp with different starting points. with the building part of the game.”

Berhalter added that he doesn’t think the six weeks between camps – at least for the European contingent – will be a problem in Qatar.

“They were right with us [in September]so I think it’s a very good thing,” he said in terms of the team’s tactical preparation. “But I think we’re in a very good position to understand what we’ll need to prepare this group to play against Wales.”

There have been discussions as to why the United States did not hold a friendly between bringing the players into the camp and playing the opener against Wales. Berhalter said there was basically not enough time for a friendly as some players wouldn’t arrive until last Sunday evening. The manager said the most sensible time to play a game would be Thursday, but that would only allow three days of recovery before the game against Wales. There’s also the risk of injury, something that has plagued the United States to varying degrees during the preseason.

“I’m just not sure which teams are playing on the [second] World Cup day, that makes sense,” he said.

One area that is helped by the short deadline is scouting. In past World Cups that were filled with pre-tournament friendlies, there was almost a scouting adrenaline rush. Not so this time.

“It gives you a longer lead time,” Berhalter said. “The work is basically done with scouting. It’s actually, I think, beneficial.”

Much has been said about the weather in Qatar. The intense summer heat was the reason the tournament was moved to the fall. With US games kicking off at 10 p.m. local time, temperatures are expected to be in the 70s. Getting players’ bodies to adjust to playing at that time of day will be a trickier issue. .

“We’re going to have to change these guys’ schedule, and we have a plan for that,” Berhalter said. “We’ve spoken to experts in this area and how to do it. We’re going to have a different wake-up day throughout the tournament, and that’s just part of it.”

The United States can have no excuses when it comes to its base camp and training center. The US Soccer Federation visited Qatar nine times, scouting every available location, before lining up the opulent five-star Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel at The Pearl-Qatar, a man-made island off the coast of Doha, to be its basic house. The USSF left no stone unturned, having submitted its application seconds after the portal opened in October 2019. The hotel has a private beach and 10 restaurants.

“The hotel, just as we walked through the doors, all the staff are there, waving flags, our rooms are great,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta. “Our chefs have done an exceptional job. We have a players’ lounge, we have everything we need. It was brilliant. We have TVs, ping pong tables, PS5s, a putting green, nine whole meters, approximately.”

to play

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LAFC’s Kellyn Acosta explains how the USMNT will look to stop Gareth Bale and Wales at the World Cup in Qatar.

Privacy also figured in the choice of the USA team’s training base, with the USA set to use facilities at Qatari club Al-Gharafa. The site has the usual amenities such as changing rooms, offices for coaches and a cafeteria.

“We didn’t want to share a training ground with another [team]”, said Berhalter. “There will be a number of teams that will have to share a training ground. We think the stadium location we have is good for isolated training, for filming.”

Not all of the team’s preparations have been football-centric. Preparation for the tournament emphasized labor and human rights, given the sometimes brutal working conditions in the country, as well as the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community in the festivities. To that end, the USSF has focused on educating players on the issues while engaging in on-field programs. These include inviting workers to their own training session where they will receive coaching from American players and staff at the training site. The USSF plans to display rainbow flags and messages of inclusion during its late-night parties in Qatar.

The USSF has worked extensively with the United States Embassy in Qatar, the Supreme Committee, FIFA, the United States Chamber of Commerce and various government agencies in Qatar to ensure that there is a commitment from each to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all US citizens planning to attend the World Cup. The USSF also supports the creation of a compensation fund which Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UEFA task force have proposed to provide to migrant workers and their families who need such a safety net. security for unpaid wages, injuries or other harm.

“We prepared [the players] for a year and a half now,” Berhalter said. “We’ve had introductions from people who have lived there. We have a weekly newsletter that we send out on this. So I think it’s very important for them to be aware of that, and that’s why we prepared them.”

For USA, the hope is that all of this preparation will pay off with an unforgettable tournament performance.

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