“I can see it being, you know, just memories of the past, memories of the last qualifying round coming back,” Berhalter, who was hired after the 2018 World Cup, said of those concerns on Tuesday night. “And people say, ‘Oh, we’re in the same situation.’ I can understand that completely. What I’d say is this is a different group, and we’re focused on winning games, and we’re focused on getting points.”
Such talk had not been convincing before Wednesday’s resounding win.
Few would go as far as to call the Americans hubristic: The notion of this regional qualifying tournament as a gnarly obstacle course, with challenging factors unique in world soccer, has long been ingrained in the psyche of the team and its fans, and the players over the past week have spoken of the process with all due respect. They know, too, that it will continue with three more qualifiers in October, and two more a month after that.
But the lofty standards imposed on the squad, the high expectation and calls for perfection, are in many ways of the teams’ own making.
Berhalter said earlier this week that the tournament’s 14 games should be regarded by his players as “14 finals” — effectively labeling the entire slate of games as must-win contests.