United States team says no added pressure for Uruguay

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The United States men have their collective backs against the wall at the Copa América ahead of Monday’s decisive group finale against Uruguay, but USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and captain Christian Pulisic insisted on Sunday that the pressure is no different than usual.

“The pressure that you’re referring to has always been there,” Berhalter told reporters at Arrowhead Stadium. “Again, there can’t be more pressure on the outside than what we put on ourselves as a staff and as players and how we want to perform, and we want do a great job. The external stuff is we can’t control; all can control — all I can control — is how we prepare the team to play confident and have a strong performance and that’s really my focus right now.”

The USMNT likely needs to defeat Uruguay on Monday to advance to the quarterfinals. After Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Panama, the USMNT could even fail to advance with a victory on Monday if Panama beats Bolívia and makes up the goal difference on the Americans.

Panama scored late to defeat a 10-man U.S. team in the second round of group play after forward Timothy Weah was sent off 18 minutes into the match for jabbing an opponent in the back of the head on a play video review caught away from the ball. Weah was given a two-match ban for the offense.

The Americans scored first, but quickly conceded an equalizer, then sat in a 5-3-1 defensive shell before conceding a late winner.

The U.S. still sits second in Group C heading into the final matchday, but the loss and the expectation that Panama will defeat a Bolivia team that hasn’t won away from home in nearly a decade means that the Americans could fail to get out of the group on home soil in their only major tournament before the 2026 World Cup.

Pulisic said after the loss to Panama that the Americans would need “play the game of our lives” against Uruguay to win. On Sunday, he walked back that phrase, saying he was emotional in the moments after defeat. Sitting next to Berhalter as he spoke to reporters at Arrowhead Stadium, Pulisic echoed his coach’s words about setting high internal expectations while filtering out the outside pressure, which includes mounting criticism of his coach.

“I think we have to play a really strong game,” Pulisic said. “I know we have a good enough team that if we do that, put on a really good performance.

“That means coming out with intensity from the start, not letting emotions get the best of us though sticking to our game plan and trusting that we have a good enough team and that eventually over the 90 minutes we can grab a goal and go ahead and win the game. So, I think we just need a really strong performance. The best game of our lives would be great, but that doesn’t happen often.”

U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner‘s status remains unclear after leaving Thursday’s game at half-time due to a leg injury. Turner participated in light training on Saturday and Sunday, but Berhalter said his staff will “continue to monitor” its No’ 1’s status.

Weah leaves the USMNT with a hole to fill on the wing as well, which will force them to find different solutions up top.

“Timmy gives us a verticality, gives us assists,” Berhalter said. “He’s dangerous in front of goal and defensively, he does a really good job so it’s difficult to replace. But for us, we have a game plan that we go and execute, and we’ll put the players on the field that we think can do that.”

Uruguay will not have head coach Marcelo Bielsa on the sideline for the match on Monday. CONMEBOL announced on Sunday that Bielsa was suspended because Uruguay was late to enter the field for the start of the second half against Bolivia on Thursday.

Berhalter does not believe that Bielsa’s physical absence from the sidelines will change how Uruguay approaches the game. The U.S. coach also expects Uruguay to start a full-strength squad even though a draw would see La Celeste clinch top spot in the group and a spot in the knockout round.

“They do a couple things, just really, really high level,” Berhalter said of Uruguay. “The intensity that they play with, the speed, how they maintain the intensity throughout the game is different levels. The physical data, it’s above and beyond other teams in this tournament. And then the second thing is counterattacking, transitioning. They win the ball and immediately begin behind the back line, and that’s something we need to be prepared for.”

Failing to get out of the group would be a major disappointment, but Pulisic said: “I would just say our focus as a collective is to go out and win the game because that’s our team goal. That’s not what we’re thinking about. So, for us, we’re all here, we’re all hungry, we want to win, and we want to continue in this tournament and that’s what’s motivating us to go tomorrow.”