On Team USA charter flights during the three World Cup qualifying windows this fall, each player was offered a copy of a crossword puzzle, something they also receive every days at lunch. It’s a practice Gregg Berhalter started when he took over as manager three years ago, so it seemed appropriate after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Jamaica that Berhalter was asked to pick a word to describe the performance of his team eight games after the start of the tournament.
“Resilient is a very good word,” he replied. “We talk about the roller coaster that they are, but we kept climbing slowly and steadily. We have been resilient.
Lucky is also a good word since the United States has been lucky. Costa Rican referee Juan Calderon whistled Jamaican Damion Lowe for a foul, erasing the seemingly game-winning goal he scored in the 84e minute.
Tim Weah, meanwhile, chose another adjective: positive. And happy, which is actually two words. But he insisted.
“We just have to stay positive. Keep the positive energy in the group and keep going, ”he said. “We got a positive point in that we didn’t lose, we scored a point.
“I’m happy where we are right now.”
There is certainly something to be happy about. The United States enter the two-month winter break 4-1-3 and second in the tournament standings, one point behind Canada, which beat Mexico 2-1 on two goals from Cyle Larin in temperatures of 16 degrees in the snow of Edmonton.
Berhalter brought the Americans there using the youngest and most inexperienced qualifying squad in US history.
The average age of his 11 starters on Tuesday was three weeks to under 23. He used even younger training last month. Twenty-six men made their qualifying debuts this fall and Berhalter gave starts to 30 different players.
Four years ago, when the United States failed to reach the World Cup, the average age of the roster they used in their last game with Trinidad and Tobago was a few months under 30 years old. That’s not the only difference between the two teams, said forward Paul Arriola, one of five men who played on both.
“Collectively we’re a lot more of a squad,” he said of the 2021 roster, which already has five points in four road games, two better than the 2017 squad overall. of the tournament.
“It really is a brotherhood,” continued Arriola. “Everyone is on the same page and I think that’s the best part.”
This too is a product of the age of the team and their relative inexperience as most of the players have come together.
“Everyone is young. Everyone has the same things we talk about, ”said defenseman Joe Scally, one of four teens on the list. “You don’t have an older guy with kids or anything like that. We have a lot of similar traits.
One of those youngsters started on Tuesday, with Weah putting the United States 1-0 at the start of the first half.
Weah’s mother is Jamaican and he grew up attending a Jamaican school in Queens and vacationing on the island. His father, George, former World Player of the Year, is the President of Liberia. This left young Weah with the choice of four countries to represent internationally.
He chose the United States, a move Jamaica regretted at the 11e minute when Weah, released on a pass-and-go with Ricardo Pepi, dodged Lowe and then beat Cordova-Reid’s Bobby to concede a curved left-footed shot at the far post and inside.
It spoiled a special night for Jamaica, who were celebrating the anniversary of the day they qualified for their only World Cup in 1997. Weah, 21, has no memory of it, being born three years later. .
Michail Antonio matched that with a spectacular goal in the 22sd minute, detonating a rocket with his right foot over the outstretched hands of American goalkeeper Zack Steffen and under the crossbar at 35 meters. Antonio’s shot was hit so hard it looked like a gunshot in the cavernous National Stadium, where COVID-19 restrictions limited the crowd to 4,100.
The coup revived Jamaica. Once in danger of being put out of play, the Reggae Boyz (1-3-4 and in sixth place) dictated the tempo of the long parts of the second half. And they were almost rewarded for it when Lowe rose above the US defense to nod his head into Leon Bailey’s corner six minutes from the end of regulation time.
But Calderon immediately dismissed the goal, ruling as Lowe and fouled Zimmerman while going for the ball.
“I think he had his eyes on this from the start of the play,” Zimmerman said of the official, “Sometimes you don’t get that call. But I think it was a foul. He hit me before he hit the ball.
So even if one point wasn’t what the United States wanted, it was certainly better than what they would have gotten if Calderon’s call had been the other way around. And it reminded Berhalter of another word: perspective.
“We don’t see this as a disappointing result. We are looking at a good result, ”said Berhalter, whose team needs to finish in the top three to reach the World Cup. “Anytime you can score a point away it’s a good thing for CONCACAF qualifying.
“The message to the guys was that we want to finish first or second in this window. We are going to do it. And now we have six games left.