Uruguay clash 'could be huge' but Berhalter urges early Copa America focus from USA

By Sports Desk December 09, 2023

A match against Uruguay could be crucial for the United States, but head coach Gregg Berhalter urged his side not to look too far ahead after the Copa America draw was made in Miami.

Uruguay and USA are the two favourites to progress from Group C after the draw. It should be an intriguing battle to top the group with just one place separating the teams in the FIFA rankings - the South American side are 11th and Berhalter's tournament hosts sit 12th.

But USMNT will face matches against Bolivia and Panama before they take on Marcelo Bielsa's men for a potentially decisive clash in Kansas City on July 1.

And Berhalter urged his team to focus on collecting maximum points from those initial two clashes, even with the Uruguay game looming on the horizon.

Securing first place could be even more important on this occasion than in other tournaments. The team who finishes as runners-up in Group D are likely to face Brazil, who will be expected to top Group D, in the quarter-finals.

"It could be huge [against Uruguay] but I think there is danger in skipping past the first two games and thinking, 'It's the Uruguay game'," said Berhalter.

"Every game is going to be meaningful. Our goal is to get as many points as possible in the group stage and then continue on."

Berhalter knows his team will be expected to progress from the group, even though he does not feel it will be an easy assignment.

"That [high expectations] is the reality. For us, it’s about going on the field now and competing. 

"We know that you can be favourites and not win the game. 

"For us, it’s about being focused, trying to get momentum with the fans, and then trying to go as far as we can in this tournament and setting up the group in a way that we can continue on after the group stage."

Berhalter is excited about the 16-team tournament – which starts on June 20 – taking place on home soil and feels the USA supporters understand how significant hosting the event is.

He added: "I think they do. We have so many different cultures in the United States that I think there is going to be a huge appreciation for what is happening. 

"This is a mini-World Cup. The fans want to get a taste of what it’s going to be like in 2026. Now is time to check it out. 

"I think you are going to see some great stadiums, great soccer, competitive soccer, and some really great support.

"The whole idea with this and the World Cup is to try and really captivate the public and grow the game. That’s what we’re trying to do as a group. 

"The two sides of it are the public really getting to know our players as people because it’s a special group of guys, and then the second thing is performing well so that everyone wants to turn on the TV and watch us."

USA open their campaign against Bolivia in Dallas on June 23, before taking on Panama in Atlanta four days later.

It is world champions Argentina, who also won the last Copa America, who will open the tournament with a match against either Canada or Trinidad and Tobago, with the final qualification spots yet to be finalised.

Brazil, meanwhile, will start their Group D campaign against either Costa Rica or Honduras on June 24.

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