CHAMPIONS GATE, Florida -- United States manager Gregg Berhalter said there is no fear of failure in his side as it prepares for a must-win CONCACAF Nations League match against Canada on Friday.
The U.S. currently sits in second place in its three-team group, and must win against Canada and Cuba, while making up a three-goal differential in order to progress to the semifinal round next summer.
When asked if he thinks there is a fear of failure about the team, Berhalter said: "I don't, not at all. I think it's a group that is developing. I think it's a resilient group. I think it's a brave group. From day one, the players have been focused on doing every single thing we've asked of them. For me that mindset is amazing."
Berhalter added that his team is embracing the pressure it is under, especially in the wake of the 2-0 loss to Canada last month.
"When you look at the history of U.S. Soccer, we've been in games like this before," he said. "In the pre-Hex groups we've been in must-win situations. In the Hex group we've been in must-win situations. And this is what builds the team. This is what makes the team strong. We absolutely need events like this to help the team grow."
Berhalter was critical of his side following the Canada loss, stating that his team lacked intensity and competitiveness. He noted that seven of the players from that night were playing their first away match in CONCACAF and that it was new for the staff as well, though Berhalter and assistant Josh Wolff did have plenty such experiences as a player. But Berhalter feels his team has taken those criticisms to heart and responded well.
"I think that the message was received loud and clear from our end in terms of understanding what those games are like, and I think we're better prepared now," he said. "You see it right off the bat in this training camp that the guys, the intensity level has increased every day leading up to today."
The U.S. will have to prevail without the services of midfielders Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley, who are out with hip and ankle injuries, respectively. Pulisic is impossible to replace given his ability in one-on-one situations.
"We'll have to compensate with other types of skills," said Berhalter. "But what we do have is speed, what we do have is physicality, and we'll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component to the game."
Berhalter added he and his staff have been working with the attacking midfielders and wingers to take better advantage of the spaces that Canada left open last month.
"[It's been] having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, being very aggressive in and around the penalty box," said Berhalter about his attackers. "One thing we weren't happy with the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their back line and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and we didn't take advantage of that. So we focused on that this week, and it's been looking pretty good."
Berhalter has come under criticism for his team's adherence to playing out of the back, but he disputed that this was a problem against Canada, despite a giveaway from Tim Ream leading to Canada's opening goal. He didn't sound like a manager who plans on changing his approach.
"I think if we want to get to a certain point, we can't be afraid to try," he said about playing out of the back. "We can't be afraid to fail. There will be failures."
He added, "What I'd say is we have to be smart. If we think we're under pressure we should clear the ball. What we're trying to do is draw the opponent out to hurt them behind the back line. We're doing this to create goal-scoring opportunities. That's what we're focused on."