The Concacaf Nations League was designed to provide a boost to developing national teams across the region. And last year, at the conclusion of its inaugural edition, the tournament had functioned as promised from an American perspective. After all, what was coach Gregg Berhalter’s squad if not nascent and developing?
Berhalter and the U.S. men emerged from the pandemic committed to youth, and the roster he selected for last June’s Nations League final four averaged just 17 senior caps—a number skewed by veterans DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Ream and Jon Brooks—and under 24 years old. Then, over the course of 210 fraught and frenetic minutes against Honduras and Mexico, the young Americans began to come of age.
“[The Nations League] helped us a lot to gain confidence in the team as a whole,” U.S. forward Paul Arriola told reporters this week from Austin. “Winning this tournament for the first time was very important for us. It gave us the confidence that we can win cups and tournaments.”
Following a long flight from camp in Switzerland, the Americans outlasted Honduras in a 1–0 grind of a semifinal and then beat Mexico, 3–2, in a wild and tempestuous overtime decider in front of a pro–El Tri crowd. That weekend in Denver was peak Concacaf, and it served as a valuable training ground and crucible for a team on the threshold of both the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.