How the USMNT is preparing for the World Cup

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar — Preparations to get a team ready for the World Cup are always complicated. In some cases they can make or break a tournament. Germany’s 2014 shelter in Brazil was widely hailed as key to their eventual title. Conversely, the United States men’s national team’s decision to sequester themselves in a remote chalet in 1998 is often cited as one of many factors leading to the team’s miserable time in France.

The reality is that every tournament has its own peculiarities, be it the host country, the venues, the training base or the opponents. The US staff, led by USSF director Tom King, is well aware of this truth. However, the 2022 World Cup will be like no 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 that it falls in the middle of the European club season. That has created all kinds of obstacles and wrinkles in terms of preparation, and this is especially true for the US

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Typically, the US would have an extensive training camp with about three friendlies to prepare and refine things. Then there was a relatively early arrival in the host country to acclimatise. Not so this time. Players from European clubs played until last weekend. Most MLS national team players had to contend with their season being over for a month or more.

For American manager Gregg Berhalter, it made for a difficult run in terms of the form and fitness of his players. Each week, he would take a microscope to his players’ performances and pray that they would come through unscathed. He also held a camp specifically for MLS players in an effort to maintain fitness levels, which spawned seven of the final 26-man roster, although game sharpness – or lack thereof – will be an issue.

Now that the roster is known and the team is in Qatar, the short run-up becomes more difficult. The US will play 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 that Berhalter had while playing at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea. But the American manager likes the idea of ​​this short runway.

“Everyone just wants to get it going,” Berhalter told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “We’ve been waiting for this for a while, and with a younger team, we just want to start our business. In World Cup qualifiers, we were used to quick turnarounds. This will have a bit more run-up, and we’ll be ready to go. “

The question is to what extent the short run-up affects the tactical preparation of the team. As the group reconvened for the September international window, Berhalter noted that there was too much focus on detailed details – such as the team’s form when opponents break the pressure and switch fields – instead of focusing on the basics.

“What we missed was the boys being gone for three and a half months,” Berhalter said. “They’ve just done a whole pre-season with their clubs where they learn different things, and our baseline pressure wasn’t even good. The second part was there were also guys coming into camp with different starting points with the build-up part of the game.”

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

“They were just with us [in September]so I think that’s a really good thing,” he said in terms of the team’s tactical preparation. play against Wales.”

There has been some debate as to why the US did not field a friendly between getting players into camp and playing the first game against Wales. Berhalter said there was actually not enough time for a friendly match, as some players were not due to arrive until last Sunday evening. The coach said the most sensible time to play a game would be Thursday, but only three days of recovery would be left until the Wales game. There’s also the risk of injury, something that has plagued the US to varying degrees during the run-up.

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

One area helped by the short lead time is scouting. In the past of World Cups that were packed with pre-tournament friendlies, there was almost an adrenaline rush from scouting. Not so this time.

“This gives you greater lead time,” Berhalter said. “The work is essentially done with scouting. This is actually, I think, useful.”

Much attention has been paid to the weather in Qatar. The intense summer heat was the reason the tournament was moved to the fall. With games in the US starting at 10 p.m. local time, temperatures should be around 70 degrees. It will be a trickier problem to adapt the players’ bodies to the game at that time of day.

“We’re going to have to shift these guys’ schedule, and we have a plan for that,” Berhalter said. “We talked to experts in that area and how to do it. We will experience a different day during the tournament, and that’s just part of it.”

The US has no excuses for its base camp and training facility. The American Football Federation visited Qatar nine times and explored all available locations, before lining up the lavish five-star Marsa Malaz Kempinski in The Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island off the coast of Doha, to become its home base. Leaving nothing to chance, the USSF submitted its application within seconds of the portal opening in October 2019. The hotel has a private beach and 10 restaurants.

“The hotel, right when we entered, all the staff waved flags, our rooms are great,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “Our chefs have done an exceptional job. We’ve got a players’ lounge, we’ve got everything we need. It’s been great. We’ve got TVs, ping pong tables, PS5s, putting green, whole nine yards, pretty much.”

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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 played a role in the US team’s choice of a training base, with the US about to use the facility of Qatari club Al-Gharafa. The site has the usual facilities such as changing rooms, coaches offices and a cafeteria.

“We didn’t want to share a training field with anyone else [team]Berhalter said. “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 were focused on football. In the run-up to the tournament, attention was paid to workers’ and human rights, given the sometimes brutal working conditions in the country, and the LGBTQIA+ community was involved in the festivities. To this end, the USSF has been educating players on the issues while participating in on-the-ground programs. These include inviting employees to their own training session, where they are coached at the training site by US players and staff. The USSF plans to display rainbow flags and messages of inclusion at its night-before parties in Qatar.

The USSF has worked extensively with the US Embassy in Qatar, the Supreme Committee, FIFA, the US Chamber of Commerce and various Qatari government agencies to ensure that everyone is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all US citizens who intend to attend the conference. World Cup. The USSF also supports the creation of a compensation fund proposed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UEFA Working Group to provide migrant workers and their families in need of such a safety net for unpaid wages, injury or other harm.

“We have been preparing [the players] I’ve been on it for a year and a half now,” Berhalter said. ‘We’ve had presentations from people who have lived there. We have a weekly newsletter that we send out about this. So I think it’s very important that they are informed about this, and that’s why we prepared them.”

For the US, the hope is that all these preparations will pay off with a tournament performance to remember.

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