What's stake on Friday when the USA hosts Canada in Orlando in its
third of four games in the new Concacaf Nations League?
The USA's 2-0 loss to Canada in Toronto last month makes the return match a "must-win" game if it wants to advance to the Concacaf Nations League's final four in June.
Almost two weeks after the defeat, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter wrote that “only a win will suffice” in a letter to the American Outlaws, sparking speculation about what he meant and will happen if the USA doesn't win.
Will he quit? Will he be fired? Nothing?
Asked if Berhalter's job is safe, regardless of the results against Canada Friday and Cuba four days later in the Cayman Islands, U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, Berhalter's boss, responded, "We're looking at the future, so yeah. When I evaluate Gregg and the coaching staff, and what I've seen today, I'm a pleased man. An individual result is not going to change that. I think that answers the question in itself."
Stewart was also asked if there were any level of results over the next 6-9 months that would cause him to make a coaching change before the Hexagonal starts.
"Results are part of it," he said, "but you have to look at that, but there are always certain variables within that that you have to evaluate." But he went on to say “I have no fear at all that we won’t qualify for the World Cup."
Stewart's belief is based on what he sees has been the progress made in the last year.
"I do think there's been progress, I really do," he said. "What we've seen in the Gold Cup is that in Concacaf we have a really good level, and that we can play the game we want to play. Getting to a place where we can do that over 90 minutes, that's the place we need to get to. That progression is there, except against teams like a very good team in Mexico and a very good team like Uruguay, that becomes a little bit more difficult. However, Uruguay game [1-1 tie] I thought the response was excellent. We didn't win that game, but the response of the team after the Mexico game [3-0 loss] was excellent. And the Canada game, it was simply a disappointing game."
Stewart cited the first 25 minutes of the Gold Cup final against Mexico as a game in which U.S. players have played at a high level. (It's was also a game that Tata Martino's El Tri dominated after it made some adjustments and won, 1-0.)
“There’s been some other games,” he added. “The question for us more is not ‘Can these players do that?’ because they’ve already shown that they can. However, what I would say is that we need to do that over 90 minutes. And that’s something that we’re constantly talking about.”
Stewart responded to reporters' questions, but he also went out of his way to address on his own what he described as the "banter" about the perception about who's in charge of technical decisions at U.S. Soccer.
“I just want to be really, really clear," he said, "that when it comes to the technical decisions within the federation, in the role that I have now as the sporting director, I want to be clear that I’m the one making the decisions. So all the conspiracy theories that are out there in my mind are very disrespectful to me, and I’ll just name them, to Jay Berhalterand Gregg Berhalter and to myself. When people insinuate these things, that kind of goes against my internal feelings that I have. I’ve worked a little bit too hard to be in the position that I am today to have people actually think that.”
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire