USMNT face crucial week starting with Mexico

Antonee Robinson of the USMNT during a training session at Houston Sports Park on March 21, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Make or break time for the USMNT and manager Gregg Berhalter

The USMNT is set to face off against Mexico in another edition of the CONCACAF Clasico at the Estadio Azteca.

The Americans have not lost against El Tri in their last three meetings with wins in the finals of the Gold Cup and Nations League and the most recent won in the World Cup qualifier in Cincinnati last year.

Between Gregg Berhalter and Gerardo “Tata” Martino, the onus is on the Argentinian manager to get the win or potentially face the axe. At least, that would be the consensus.

But there is also some pressure on the USMNT. In addition to wanting to keep their dominance over Mexico in tact, they also want to qualify for the World Cup as soon as possible.

“One thing I told the staff in our meeting as we started camp was, this is probably the biggest week of our lives as professional coaches. And that’s just honest,” Gregg Berhalter told reporters in Wednesday afternoon’s matchday-1 press conference. “I’ve coached in Columbus and I coached in an MLS final … but this is bigger than that.

“And what I reassured the group is we’ve all coached in three games before, we’ve been through qualifying already. We’ve coached a lot of games before and we have a process, and just stick to the process. And I think that’s what’s making it easy both for the staff and the group is we just stick to the way we work. It’s been successful so far, and that’s what we continue to do. And I think the second thing is just staying in the moment.”

Source: Major League Soccer

While they may not outwardly say it, the nightmare of that match against Trinidad and Tobago — failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — still looms large.

A win over Mexico would see the USMNT reach 24 points and take a huge step forward towards World Cup qualification.

A loss, however, would put the Americans in hot water.

If they lose to Mexico and Panama win, Panama would get to 20 points and be only one point behind the US ahead of their match on Sunday. It would then become almost a must win since they close out CONCACAF qualification away to Costa Rica who will presumably also have something to play for.

To make matters worse, against Mexico, Berhalter will be without both Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie. Dest suffered an injury in Barcelona’s Europa League match against Galatasaray and McKennie is out long-term after an injury in Juventus’ Champions League clash against Villarreal.

McKennie had become a mainstay in Berhalter’s side, becoming the motor in midfield and taking some of the pressure off the likes of Christian Pulisic. In some ways, he’s their most important player and will now have to make do without him.

Berhalter did mention they tinkered with using a “B” team thinking ahead to Panama but expect him to trot out a strong lineup given the importance of the game.

The USMNT has never won a qualifying game at the Estadio Azteca and have a record of 0-3-3. They did manage to escape with a draw the last time and with their recent dominance over the Mexicans, now might be the test time to pull out an historic win.

“It would mean everything [to win at the Azteca],” he said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. Of course, we’ve got the better of them in the last couple of games, but that means nothing coming into tomorrow’s game. So we’re going need to battle, we’re going to need another top performance and continue to do the things that we have been doing in the past games against them.

“We’re going to need an amazing performance to win again tomorrow.”

Source: ESPN

The pressure to come out and play is going to be on Mexico, meaning the US can do what they’ve done so well in the past which is play on the counter and take advantage of a mistake by the Mexicans.

A win would be one for the record books. A loss would be a setback and while it wouldn’t be the end of the world, it could drudge up old nightmare and put the USMNT under pressure in their final two matches.