USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter expects more cohesion against Saudi Arabia

If there’s any team that needs a get-right game, it’s the United States Men’s National Team.

After a dismal 2-0 loss to Japan on Friday in which the Americans mustered zero shots on goal and had countless defensive turnovers, the USMNT gets one last dress rehearsal prior to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

It comes in Murcia, Spain, where the U.S. faces Saudi Arabia at noon Tuesday on FS1.

Head coach Gregg Berhalter did not mince words when sharing his thoughts about Friday’s performance and what has to be different Tuesday.

“It was a poor performance from us, we got our butts kicked and we’re not proud of it,” he said. “We think we should have played much better and we didn’t. We want to play better this game and it starts with the collective — us playing together, more cohesive and if we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Between Tuesday and Nov. 9 when the U.S. announces its 26-man World Cup roster, several questions must be answered. The game against Saudi Arabia, which also qualified for the event, can help ease some nerves.

Ricardo Pepi and talisman Christian Pulisic will get the start as the pair look to provide a lethal attacking presence that was nonexistent against Japan. On Friday, fellow forwards Josh Sargent and Jesús Ferreira each played a half but for the most part struggled to get involved in meaningful attacks. Still, Berhalter is backing Pepi to buck the worrying trend, even if his last goal for the U.S. came last October.

“(Pepi) has been great … He has this brightness in his eyes and it’s great to see that,” he said. “I know that it hasn’t been easy for Rico in the last few months, and it’s good to see him have a different demeanor.”

Midfielders will look to provide a bigger spark and better service to the forwards, something that was missing Friday, while the defense has to shore up its mistakes.

A sturdy center back partnership has yet to develop since Walker Zimmerman’s presumptive partner Miles Robinson tore his ACL in May. Players on the bubble will look for a final chance to impress, including Sam Vines left back. The Colorado Springs native played with more confidence in Friday’s second half but is still looking to earn his spot.

In goal, Arsenal’s Matt Turner had a strong performance with several saves, but a position battle is still brewing for the third spot as Highlands Ranch native Ethan Horvath and New York City FC’s Sean Johnson are in contention. Both could play Tuesday.

With the World Cup looming, the team is nearly out of time.

“This is a young team and at this moment, the last camp before a World Cup, there’s stress involved. There’s outside factors that affect performance,” Berhalter said. “We should at least acknowledge that and say that the guys were tense (vs. Japan). It’s our job as coaches to put them at ease and help them perform.”

Ex-Rapids midfielder backs Vines. USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta backed Vines’ abilities Monday. The pair played three seasons together for the Rapids and it was Acosta’s first time training with the 23-year-old since last November.

“It’s great being back with Sam,” Acosta said. “I mean he’s a great dude off the field and on the field. He has a lot of great qualities and I’ve seen his growth — he’s grown tremendously over the time that we played back at the Rapids. So yeah keeping on with that, he’s been very good and I’m hoping he continues down that path.”

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