So on Saturday afternoon, with four-time champion Germany stateside for the first time in 10 years, the Americans will relish a rare chance to measure themselves against soccer nobility.
“Any opportunity we get to play teams like this, we want to do it, and it’s not about being afraid of the result, being afraid of competing,” Berhalter said Friday. “It’s about embracing these moments, and from now until the 2026 World Cup, if we could play Germany five times, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, we would do it because that’s what’s going to really strengthen this group.”
His team will face another good test Tuesday in Nashville against Ghana, a frequent World Cup participant.
These games are a notable upgrade from last month’s international window (friendlies against Uzbekistan and Oman because most top teams were preoccupied with continental tournaments) and next month’s window (Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals).
U.S. players say they understand the importance of performing well against teams they could face in the World Cup knockout stage.
“We expect ourselves to win these games now instead of just competing [in] them,” midfielder Weston McKennie said. “It’s a great opportunity to see where we’re at. These are the type of games we have to win to advance the program forward to be successful.”
As joint hosts with Mexico and Canada, the United States received an automatic berth in the 2026 World Cup. Without the usual qualifiers scattered throughout Central America and the Caribbean, the U.S. schedule will look much different. However, there are still mandatory Nations League matches in early and late 2024 and into 2025.
Concacaf has set aside late 2025 for World Cup qualifiers, which frees the United States from Nations League games, but finding opponents for friendlies will not come easy. South American World Cup qualifiers run through September 2025, and European qualifiers go until November 2025.
The schedule will open up for the only pre-World Cup window of 2026 (two games in March).
Until then, the tallest test for the United States, Mexico and Canada — assuming they all qualify — will come at the 2024 Copa America, the eminent South American tournament taking place in the United States next summer. Six Concacaf teams will join the 10 South American sides. (The 2016 Copa America was also held here.)
“It’s time where we want to start going into these games with confidence and not just trying to compete,” forward Christian Pulisic said, “but trying to take control of these games and win these games and feel confident that we can do that.”
To escape second-tier status in the sport, the United States will need to apply lessons drawn from these matches toward beating European opponents, and other esteemed teams, in major tournaments.
In eight World Cup appearances since 1990, the Americans have a 1-11-7 record against European sides. The only victory was a 3-2 shocker over Portugal in the 2002 group opener in South Korea. (In that time, they played South American sides just twice, both in 1994, defeating Colombia and losing to Brazil.)
While the United States is seeking to grow, Germany is looking to get back on course after a rough five years: first-round elimination at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, a second-round exit at the 2021 Euros and a recent five-game winless streak that cost Hansi Flick his coaching job.
Former Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann, 36, will debut Saturday with No. 15 Germany sitting four slots behind the United States in the FIFA rankings.
U.S. ties to German soccer run deep. Nine of the 23 players in camp are currently or formerly employed by Bundesliga clubs, and Berhalter played for Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich between 2002 and 2009.
Now with Italian club Juventus, McKennie came through the ranks at Schalke with German midfielder Leon Goretzka and calls him “a big brother.”
McKennie added, “It’s going to be nice to be able to see him and play against him — and then maybe I’ll be able to say some bad words to him in German.”
Defender Chris Richards, who now plays for Crystal Palace in England, rose through the Bayern Munich youth academy with German star Jamal Musiala.
Defender Joe Scally, who scored a spectacular goal for Mönchengladbach last weekend, said he and former teammate Jonas Hofmann (now with Bayer Leverkusen) “want to beat each other so bad.”
“It definitely gives you a better feeling in the [club] locker room with a bunch of German guys where you can brag,” he said.
Gio Reyna, a Borussia Dortmund attacker, is expected to play in some capacity Saturday as he continues to build fitness following a long injury layoff. He is in his first camp under Berhalter since their rift at the World Cup in Qatar and the subsequent fallout involving Reyna’s parents and a wide-ranging investigation.
Reyna, who played for two U.S. interim coaches this year before Berhalter was rehired over the summer, has yet to comment on mending his relationship with the coach.
Berhalter, though, said Friday that “we’re moving forward.”
“I don’t really want to talk too much about the past,” he said. “It’s about talking about the future, and Gio has done a great job this week in training. He looks really sharp, really strong. You can see his quality.”