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Gregg Berhalter: U.S. men’s national team lacked desire against Canada

The USMNT head coach listed flu-like symptoms as one of the reasons for Christian Pulisic’s substitution

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter looks on before their international friendly match against Costa Rica at Avaya Stadium on February 2, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

TORONTO — The U.S. men’s national team lost its first game against Canada since 1985 Tuesday night at BMO Field. Head coach Gregg Berhalter was disappointed in what his squad brought to a 2-0 loss in the Concacaf Nations League showdown.

“The first thing that stands out to me was desire,” Berhalter said. “Give them credit, but the minimum we expect was to match that.”

After a scoreless first half which the Canadians won the possession battle, the U.S. suffered goals from Alphonso Davies and Lucas Cavallini.

“We need to compete in every single play in games like this, that’s important,” Berhalter said. “I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful, but I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we’ve lost and that hurt us.”

On Monday, Berhalter described the game as “a good challenge away from home.” The head coach said he spent time with his players talking about that, but is leaving Toronto without the feeling of having completed the task.

“We talked about embracing that. We talked about the challenges that it’s going to face and it’s more than just talk,” he said. “When you get on the field in environments like this, this is where you need to back it up by actions. This is where you need to show that desire and show that we’re not going to be broken by the home opponent.”

Pulisic substitution: Flu-like symptoms factored into decision

At the 60th minute, Berhalter pulled Christian Pulisic out of the game for Paul Arriola. The Chelsea player seemed visibly upset about his coach’s decision in the moment.

“He was struggling with flu-like symptoms, light fever for the last two days,” Berhalter said. “He wanted to continue, you could see the disappointment in his face and we had to make that decision.”

“We made the decision based on being not sure how much he had left. We wanted to inject some energy into the team,” he added. 

Loss not telling of U.S. program says Berhalter

Berhalter refused to talk about the game’s implications on the future of the national team. 

“I wouldn’t make a statement on the program based on this game,” he said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy to come in here and win the game.” 

In the midfield, the U.S. had difficulty capitalizing on 50-50 balls. Samuel Piette and Liam Fraser won the physical duels against the American midfield.

Berhalther didn’t want to focus on the ramifications. Instead, he stressed they will need to accept that Canada offered a tough challenge. 

“When you look at their quality, when you look at their team, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Berhalter said. “We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that. We wanted to win the game. Hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.” 

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