Sports

Actions

US prepared to face South American power Uruguay with its Copa America future hanging in the balance

Copa America US Preview Soccer
Posted at 11:56 AM, Jul 01, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The future of the U.S. in the Copa America tournament will be decided after 90 minutes against Uruguay on Monday night at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

So, too, could the future of Gregg Berhalter leading the American team.

After an embarrassing loss to Panama, which began with Timmy Weah's red card that forced the U.S. to play a man down most of the game and ended with a failure by its back line to preserve a hard-fought draw, the Americans have been backed into a corner. While there are paths through Group C that do not rely upon them beating the South America power at Arrowhead Stadium, that would be the most stress-free avenue for the host nation to advance to the knockout rounds.

“There can't be more pressure on the outside than what we put on ourselves as staff and as players, and how we want to perform,” Berhalter said Sunday. “The external stuff we can't control. All we can control — all I can control — is how we prepare the team to play confident and have a strong performance, and that's really my focus right now.”

There are a whole lot of people focused on Berhalter's future with the national team.

He was rehired last year with the expectation that he would not only shepherd the Americans through Copa America but also the World Cup, which they also will host in 2026. But Berhalter has long had his share of critics, and they have been at perhaps their most vocal since last Thursday night's 2-1 loss to Panama in Atlanta.

It left the U.S. with three scenarios for advancing, none of them appealing: beat Uruguay and win the goal-differential tiebreaker if Panama beats Bolivia; draw with Uruguay and hope Panama and Bolivia draw or Panama loses; or lose against Uruguay, hope for lowly Bolivia to beat Panama and then win the goal differential tiebreaker.

“Our focus as a collective is to go out and win. That's our team goal,” said U.S. captain Christian Pulisic, an ardent Berhalter supporter. “We're all here. We're all hungry. We all want to win. And that's what is motivating us.”

Pulisic also does buy into the belief that there is more pressure on this particular team, given how many of its players are playing at high levels across Europe. Some have even referred to it as the best generation of players the U.S. has had.

“I think it's easy to do that, to say we have players playing at such high levels across Europe and add the pressure,” he said, "but you see other national teams doing that as well, saying, ‘This is such a good generation. You can’t let people down.'

“We don't need any any additional pressure besides what we put on ourselves on a day-to-day basis. That outside noise, it does not affect me personally. People can say what they want. All we can do is do our best.”

The U.S. knows it will be playing without Weah, whose suspension was extended to two games Sunday by the Confederation of South American Football for his punch to the head of Panama’s Roderick Miller; Weah also was fined $3,000.

The team is less certain about the availability of goalkeeper Matt Turner, who hurt a leg during a collision in the opening minutes against Panama and was replaced by Ethan Horvath at halftime. Berhalter said Turner did “limited training” on Saturday and again Sunday, but would not say whether he expects him to be in goal.

The Americans aren't the only ones who will be shorthanded.

Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa will miss Monday night's match after South American soccer's governing body ruled the team broke tournament rules by being late to the field after halftime of wins over Panama and Bolivia. CONMEBOL also levied a $15,000 fine to the Uruguayan Football Association.

Berhalter doesn't expect La Celeste to deviate from its aggressive, counter-attacking style without Bielsa on the sideline. Nor does Berhalter think Uruguay will back off knowing it is virtually assured of advancing to the knockout rounds.

“My estimate would be that they play their strongest team,” he said. “I think you go into this tournament wanting to advance and do your best possible job. Their work is not done, either. My guess is they're going to play their strongest team.”

That means — as Pulisic said last week — the Americans may have to play “the best game of our lives.”

Or at least something close to it.

“To be honest," Pulisic said Sunday, "thinking back, I don't think that's true. I don't think we have to play the best game of our lives. I think we have to play a really strong game. I know we have a good enough team to do that. And eventually over the 90 minutes we can grab a goal and go ahead and win the game. We just need a really strong performance.

“The best game of our lives would be great,” he added with a smile, “but that doesn't happen a lot.”