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Thursday, November 30, 2023

USMNT ‘focused’ on Nations League title repeat

After two windows of international friendlies, the United States men’s team shifts attention back to competitive matches this week to defend its Concacaf Nations League title and attempt to qualify for next year’s Copa America.

“November turns the page and now it’s about competing,” coach Gregg Berhalter said Wednesday. “We want to win the Nations League again. This will set us up to do this. We want to play in the Copa America. This will set us up to do that. So the guys are focused.”

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The U.S. hosts Trinidad and Tobago Thursday in Austin, Texas (9 p.m. ET, TNT), before the teams play again Monday in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The winner of the aggregate series qualifies for the 2024 Copa America in the U.S., while the loser will drop down and play a second home-and-away series against another Concacaf team to be determined to qualify for the 16-team tournament.

All 10 CONMEBOL teams will participate, with the other six other teams coming from Concacaf.

Christian Pulisic (AC Milan), Timothy Weah (Juventus) and Tyler Adams (Bournemouth) will all be unavailable due to injury, with Adams the only of those three expected to be out long term.

Monday’s return trip to Trinidad and Tobago will be the team’s first visit to the Caribbean nation since losing in 2017 to miss out on the 2018 World Cup.

While the team has almost completely turned over since then, Berhalter said the defeat is “always still in our minds.”

“Just like we can embrace the good stuff, we also have to embrace the bad stuff and it was a great learning moment for us collectively,” Berhalter said of the 2-1 loss in Couva that saw the Americans fail to make the finals in Russia. “The coaches involved, the players involved and, in my opinion, it’s not about ignoring that, it’s about embracing it and leaning into it.

“And we talk about preparation in this camp, some of it stems from lessons learned in that camp as well.”

The U.S. has won all three matches against Trinidad and Tobago since 2017 by a combined score of 19-0, including a 6-0 win this summer in the Gold Cup, as Jesús Ferreira scored a first-half hat trick.

Trinidad and Tobago qualified for this quarterfinal round of the Nations League after finishing second in its group behind Panama. The U.S., Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica all bypassed the prior round directly to the quarterfinals.

Berhalter also addressed U.S. Soccer’s official announcement that it had hired Emma Hayes as the women’s national team coach, with a reported salary that will make her the highest-paid women’s coach in the world.

“Everything you hear about her is how thorough she is, how process-oriented [she is], it’s how bright she is, how she’s so focused on team culture and teamwork,” Berhalter said. “And I think it’s an exciting step for the women’s team, which has already been a groundbreaking team and already been a team that has been — performance on the field, breaking down barriers off the field, you name it, they’ve done it.”

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