How the USMNT is preparing for the World Cup

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar — Preparations that include preparing a team for the World Cup are always complicated. In some cases, they can make or break a tournament. Germany’s hideout in Brazil 2014 was widely hailed as key to their eventual title. Conversely, the United States men’s national team’s decision to detour to a remote cabin in 1998 is often cited as one of several factors that led to the team’s miserable time in France.

The reality is that every tournament has its own peculiarities, be it the host country, the venue, the training base or the opponents. American personnel, led by USSF Director of Administration Tom King, are well aware of this truth. The 2022 World Cup, however, 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 it will fall in the middle of the European club season. This created all possible obstacles and struggles in terms of preparation, and this is especially true for the US

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Normally, the USA would have an extended training camp with about three friendlies to prepare and fine tune things. Then came a relatively early arrival in the host country for acclimatization. Not so this time. Players with European clubs played until last weekend. Most of the MLS players on the national team have had to contend with the fact that their seasons have been over for a month or more.

For American manager Gregg Berhalter, it has been a difficult run in terms of the form and fitness of his players. Every week he brought a microscope to the performances of his players and prayed that they would come through unscathed. He also held a camp specifically for MLS players in an attempt to maintain their fitness, which produced seven of the final 26-man roster, although sharpness of play – or lack thereof – will be an issue.

Now that the roster is named and the team is in Qatar, the short run is complex. The USA plays Wales on Monday, the second day of the tournament, giving Berhalter’s team just over a week to settle in and make final preparations. Contrast that with 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 runway.

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“Everybody’s just going to want to launch,” Berhalter told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and with a rejuvenated team, we just want to get down to business. In World Cup qualifiers, we’re used to quick turnarounds. This will have a little more introduction, and we’ll be ready to go.”

The question is how much the short run will affect the tactical preparation of the team. When the group met for the September international window, Berhalter noted that there was too much focus on the finer details — such as the shape of the team when opponents break pressure and switch fields — instead of focusing on the fundamentals.

“What we missed was the guys were out for three and a half months,” Berhalter said. “They’ve just done a whole preseason with their clubs where they’re learning different things, and our base pressure wasn’t even right. The other part was that guys were also coming into camp with different starting points in 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 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. “But I think we’re in a really good place in terms of understanding what we’re going to need to get this group ready to play against Wales.”

There has been some debate as to why the USA did not organize a friendly between bringing the players to camp and playing the first game against Wales. Berhalter said there was essentially not enough time for the friendly with some players not arriving until last Sunday night. The coach said the most reasonable time to play the game would be on Thursday, but that would leave just three days of recovery before the Wales game. There is also the risk of injury, something that has plagued the US to varying degrees throughout the race.

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

One area where short time helps is scouting. At past World Cups packed with pre-tournament friendlies, the scouting was almost adrenaline-fuelled. Not so this time.

“This gives you a longer time,” Berhalter said. “The work is mostly scouting. This is actually useful, I think.”

Much has been said about the weather in Qatar. The great summer heat was the reason for moving the tournament to autumn. Since games in the US start at 10pm local time, temperatures should be around 70 degrees. Adapting the player’s body to the game at that time of day will be a more complex problem.

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

The US can make no excuses about its base camp and training facility. The U.S. Soccer Association visited Qatar nine times, scouting every location available, before settling on the lavish five-star Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel on The Pearl-Qatar, a man-made island off the coast of Doha, as its home base. The USSF left nothing to chance, submitting its application within seconds of the portal opening in October 2019. The hotel has a private beach and 10 restaurants.

“The hotel, when we walked in the door, all the staff are there waving flags, our rooms are great,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “Our chefs have done an outstanding job. We’ve got the players’ room, we’ve got everything we need. It’s been great. We’ve got TVs, ping pong tables, PS5, putting green, the whole nine yards, done.”

Privacy also factored into the choice of the US team’s training base, with the US willing to use the Qatari club Al-Gharafa’s facility. The venue has the usual amenities such as changing rooms, coaches offices and a cafeteria.

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

Not all of the team’s preparations were focused on football. Ahead of the tournament, we witnessed a focus on labor and human rights, given the occasionally brutal working conditions in the country, as well as the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community in the festivities. To that end, the USSF has been educating players about the issues while also being involved in on-field programs. This includes inviting workers to their own training session where they will be coached by American players and staff at the training site. The USSF plans to display rainbow flags and messages of inclusion at its night parties in Qatar.

The USSF has worked extensively with the US Embassy in Qatar, the Supreme Council, FIFA, the US Chamber of Commerce and various Qatari government agencies to ensure that all are committed to providing a safe and comfortable environment for all US citizens planning to attend 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 insurance to migrant workers and their families who need such a safety net for unpaid wages, injuries or other damages.

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

For the USA, he hopes that all these preparations will pay off with a performance in a tournament to remember.

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