USMNT, Gregg Berhalter desperately need a win against Uruguay in Copa America

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The U.S. men’s national soccer team is in a tough spot — and not for the first time under coach Gregg Berhalter.

The group had hoped to make the Copa America quarter-finals by now. But they were eliminated in the group stage on Monday – a failure that will fuel calls from fans for a coaching change two years before the World Cup in North America.

The Americans (1-1-0, three points) are in second place in Group C — two will advance — but that's a precarious spot because of unfavorable matchups on the final day of group play. After the U.S. loss to Uruguay (2-0-0, six), Panama (1-1-0, three) will need only a draw against Bolivia (0-2-0, zero), which is being played in Orlando and begins at 9 p.m. Eastern time. If both games end in draws, the Americans will advance on goal differential.

Even a U.S. win would not be enough because a Panama win by a large enough margin could overturn the goal differential tiebreaker. Entering Monday, the U.S. team is plus-one; Panama is minus-one.

“Our knockout match actually came five days ago,” Berhalter said of his team’s chances of reaching the quarterfinals on Saturday. “If we don’t perform well, [if] We don't win the game, our Copa America is over. There's nothing more to say.”

The U.S. team is motivated to bounce back from Thursday's 2-1 loss to Panama in Atlanta, where Tim Weah received an early red card — the fifth red card to a U.S. player in the last 21 games in official competition — and the winning goal was scored in the 83rd minute.

Failure to advance would be a significant setback to the U.S. program, which is looking to make progress as the 2026 World Cup approaches and increase public support for the team and the sport. The Copa America is soccer's third-most prominent tournament, coming after the World Cup and the European Championship, and is the last major test for the U.S. team until 2026.

“We are all extremely motivated and want to put on a really strong performance, especially on home soil,” captain Christian Pulisic said of the importance of this tournament. “We want to show everyone that we are here to compete with the best.”

Berhalter and his team have faced and overcome numerous adversities over the past 19 months.

At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, they needed to beat Iran in the group final to reach the knockout stage. They did so.

In the group opener of the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup, they trailed against Jamaica but later scored an equaliser. In the quarter-finals, they fell behind to Canada in extra time but then took advantage of an own goal to win in a shootout. In the semi-finals, they made a similar comeback against Panama but lost in the tiebreaker.

In this year's Concacaf Nations League semifinal, a stoppage-time own goal against Jamaica forced the United States into extra time. Haji Wright's two goals secured a berth in the final, where they defeated Mexico to win the program's third consecutive trophy.

“It’s a good experience for us,” midfielder Tyler Adams said.

However, in a do-or-die situation, Uruguay will be the best team the US team will face as they lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16 of the 2022 World Cup. The 15-time Copa America champions La Celeste (Sky Blue) beat Panama and Bolivia 8-1.

Uruguay has not reached the Copa quarterfinals because, in theory, three teams in the group could finish with six points. However, its famous coach, Marcelo Bielsa, will not be on the field on Monday: Tournament organizers suspended him for one game and fined the Uruguayan federation $15,000 because the team was late returning to the field after halftime of the Bolivia match.

His longtime assistant Diego Reyes will handle sideline duties. Asked about resting Uruguay's regulars, Reyes said Sunday that the lineup had not yet been decided.

“My guess is they’ll play their strongest team,” Berhalter said.

Bielsa's absence will not change Uruguay's plans to play with high intensity and press aggressively – Bielsa's hallmarks. “We think as a team. There is a clear idea,” Reyes said.

The Americans will need to adapt to Uruguay's style while also trying to score goals of their own, as this is a must-win match for them to advance.

“If you look at it realistically, this could be our last game,” left back Antonee Robinson said, “and there's no reason to stop anything.”

notes: Weah, already disqualified against Uruguay, was suspended for an additional game for punching Panama's Roderick Miller in the head. If the United States qualifies, it will miss the quarterfinals. …

Goalkeeper Matt Turner, who left at halftime with a foot injury in the Panama game, has been involved in limited training over the past two days. Berhalter said the staff will continue to monitor him. If Turner can't play, Ethan Horvath will.

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