Berhalter defiant as USSF set to review Copa exit

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Gregg Berhalter said he believed he was still the right man to lead the United States men’s national soccer team, despite crashing out of the 2024 Copa América in the group stage on Monday with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay at Arrowhead Stadium.

The defeat, combined with Panama’s 3-1 victory over Bolivia in a simultaneous match in Orlando, Florida, left the Americans in third place in the group. Uruguay advanced as Group C winners, and Panama, which defeated a 10-man USMNT on Thursday, moved onto the quarterfinals as the second qualifier out of the group.

U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Matt Crocker said in a statement after the game that a review would be conducted into the team’s exit.

Asked in his postgame news conference whether he was still the right person to lead the U.S. team into the 2026 World Cup, Berhalter responded with a simple “yes.”

However, he admitted that the performances had not been good enough.

“Just to see the guys’ faces in the locker room and to see the emotion of the staff and players, we’re bitterly disappointed with the results,” he said. “We know we’re capable of more, and in this tournament, we didn’t show it. It’s really as simple as that.

“You look at the stage that was set with the fans in this tournament, with the high level of competition in this tournament, and we should have done better. We’ll do a review and figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong, but it’s an empty feeling right now, for sure.”

When asked if he should lead the review of the tournament failure, Berhalter said, “That’s not up to me.”

Crocker will lead the decision around whether to retain Berhalter.

“Our tournament performance fell short of our expectations. We must do better,” Crocker said in a statement following the loss. “We will be conducting a comprehensive review of our performance in Copa América and how best to improve the team and results as we look towards the 2026 World Cup.”

Uruguay scored the winner in the 66th minute on a controversial goal from Mathías Olivera. Ronald Araújo headed on a free kick that was saved by Matt Turner, who started against Uruguay after leaving Thursday’s match with a leg injury.

Olivera was the first player to the rebound and appeared to be in an offside position at the time of Araújo’s header. But after a long delay, referee Kevin Paolo Ortega pointed to the middle of the field to uphold the goal, much to the chagrin of the American players and a large portion of the crowd.

Bolivia had equalized against Panama moments prior, which briefly put the United States back into second place in the group in the live standings. Berhalter received word of the Bolivia equalizer on the bench moments before Uruguay’s goal and tried to relay a message to players right before Uruguay’s free kick.

U.S. midfielder Tyler Adams said, “We weren’t knocked out from this game today,” referencing Thursday’s loss to Panama as the result that derailed the Americans’ tournament efforts.

“I don’t want to go into a game worried about other results,” Adams said. “The goal should be to win the game. As soon you start playing for a tie and you absorb pressure, and they start to possess different phases of the game, then you’re f—ed against a team like that. You don’t want to go into games with the idea that you have to tie or get a point.”

The USMNT had not previously been eliminated from the group stage of a World Cup, Copa América or Gold Cup that it hosted. The U.S. is now 2-4-3 against Uruguay.

Berhalter was rehired in June 2023 and given a contract through the upcoming World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Canada and Mexico. But despite a lineup that included Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Adams, the U.S. failed to even match its last Copa América appearance, when it lost to Argentina in the 2016 semifinals.

During the second half Monday night, the home crowd began chanting, “Fire Gregg.

Players largely supported Berhalter after the match.

“We all have a comfortability with Gregg, and we all understand him; we’ve had him for a long time,” McKennie said. “He’s progressed the team very far from where we started off four or five years ago, and I think the connection that we have with him is important, and having a coach — players that would run through a brick wall for him, listen to him.

“Whatever happens, happens, but I think if he’s the coach, we’re all happy.”

Adams said not everything that needs change is “just from necessarily above” and stressed the necessity for players to better handle moments of pressure.

“I absolutely have faith in him,” Adams said of Berhalter. “I don’t think it’s a coach’s job in a lot of situations. You know, we put a game plan in place; guys need to follow the game plan, of course, but you’re a footballer at the end of the day. How many times have you played the game?

“You need to be able to find solutions on the field, as well. He’s stuck with us through a lot of tough moments; I think we’re going to stick with him, as well. I think that’s important.”

The U.S. will next play September friendlies against Canada and New Zealand.

Yunus Musah started in place of the suspended Timothy Weah for the U.S., which shifted Giovanni Reyna into a winger role. Weah was sent off early in the loss to Panama on Thursday for violent conduct off the ball, and he was suspended an additional game by CONMEBOL for his actions.

Monday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium got off to a chippy start. A frenetic first half was interrupted by 14 total fouls and two injuries that required substitutions.

Uruguay winger Maximiliano Araújo left the match on a stretcher in the 27th minute after a heavy fall following a collision on Uruguay’s attacking corner kick. He was replaced by Cristian Olivera.

Fourteen minutes later, U.S. forward Folarin Balogun exited due to an injury after colliding with Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet.

Berhalter brought on attacking options Josh Sargent and Malik Tillman late as the U.S. chased an equalizer, but the Americans finished with only three shots on goal and were not quick enough to get the ball off their feet inside the 18.

Berhalter referenced expected goals on multiple occasions on Monday to support his claim that the USMNT did enough at Copa América to create chances. Per Opta, the Americans created 0.58 expected goals to Uruguay’s 1.4.

“I think that, again, when you’re in tournament football, there’s very little that separates success from failure,” Berhalter said. “And it’s one action. It’s one decision from the referee and you could be in trouble.

“And for us, it’s having that understanding. This understanding that every time we step on the field, it has an impact. And I think we’re getting there, but we’re not always there. And that’s something that we can improve.”

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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