Berhalter takes blame for U.S. lineup gamble


United States men’s national team goach Gregg Berhalter took full responsibility for his lineup choices following a 1-0 defeat to Panama in World Cup qualifying.

Berhalter changed seven starters from Thursday’s 2-0 home win over Jamaica, leaving a lineup already missing injured Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie having to go without Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams during the first half. In addition, Antonee Robinson remained in the U.S. due to British COVID restrictions that would have impacted him upon his return to the UK.

Gyasi Zardes, Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, Tim Weah, Shaq Moore, Mark McKenzie and George Bello joined four holdovers: Turner, Walker Zimmerman, Yunus Musah and Paul Arriola.

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Berhalter took into account which players he wanted to be fresh for Wednesday night’s qualifier against Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio, the third match in a seven-game span under a schedule revamped due to the pandemic.

And after Anibal Godoy scored in the 54th minute to settle the match, Berhalter was asked about his lineup.

“Now it obviously doesn’t look like the best choice,” he said. “We know we’re playing in extreme heat, extreme humidity, we’re know traveling for 4 1/2 hours, and we know that we have another game on Wednesday and we wanted to rotate players. And if it didn’t work, then it’s on me, and it’s my responsibility, or our responsility as a staff.”

During the final hectic minutes, the game was interrupted twice when fans ran onto the field. Ball boys at times threw multiple balls onto the field after one went out of bounds.

“I had like two or three,” Matt Turner said. “I was just trying to get them off the field as quickly as I could. I didn’t want the game to stop anymore. People running on the field – the ball boys were throwing, kicking the balls onto the field as high as they could. And I was just trying to keep the chaos off the field as much as I could and keep our momentum going.”

The match was played on the fourth anniversary of a 2-1 loss at Trinidad that ended a streak of seven World Cup appearances for the U.S., a defeat that enabled Panama to reach the World Cup for the first time. On Sunday, Panama outshot the U.S. 8-5, including a 4-0 advantage in shots on target, and ended a 13-game unbeaten streak for the Americans that included 11 wins. Quite a turnaround for a nation that had one win and 16 defeats in 23 previous games against the U.S., including no wins and six defeats in eight qualifiers.

Through five of 14 matches, Mexico leads with 11 points following a 3-0 win over visiting Honduras, and the U.S. is second with eight, ahead of Panama on goal difference. Canada has seven after a 0-0 draw at Jamaica, and Costa Rica has six following a 2-1 victory at El Salvador, which has five. Honduras trails with three and Jamaica two.

The top three nations qualify, and the No. 4 team advances to a playoff.

“The good thing,” Berhalter said, “is we’re still in second place.”

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