ORLANDO, Fla. -- U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter hailed his side's determination in its 4-1 CONCACAF Nations League win over Canada.
Last month, Canada defeated the U.S. 2-0 for the first time in 34 years. On that night, Berhalter criticized his team's lack of competitiveness. This time around there were no complaints.
"To me, the difference was that we were ready to overcome anything, the guys were focused and ready to overcome," he said. "You saw that right from the start of the game."
The win gives the U.S. the inside track to prevail in Group A. A win by any margin in four days over Cuba -- being played in the Cayman Islands -- will see the U.S. qualify for the semifinals over Canada on goal differential. A loss or a draw on Friday would have seen Canada prevail.
Berhalter said he loved how his team responded to the pressure ahead of Friday night's match.
"We need to keep in mind this was an elimination game," said Berhalter. "We tie the game we're out of the Nations League. There is no performance barrier that you need to get over when you're playing games like that. And for me the, the mindset of the guys was really good going into the game. I think they were determined, and that determination carried us through and that determination helped get the result."
The home side broke on top inside of two minutes, with Jordan Morris firing home Sergino Dest's pass following a short corner. Gyasi Zardes double the U.S. team's advantage in the 23rd minute, finishing off a counterattack after excellent approach work from Morris and Paul Arriola. Aaron Long then put the U.S. three ahead with a header from Tim Ream's free kick.
Zardes' second seals win for USMNT
CONCACAF Nations League: Gyasi Zardes (89') United States 4-1 Canada
Canada had most of the possession on the night, but found it difficult to break down a U.S. defense superbly led by Long and John Brooks. Steven Vitoria got a goal back for Canada with a 72nd minute header, but Zardes capped off the night with an 89th minute blast. For Morris, the win came just days after his club side, the Seattle Sounders, claimed its second MLS Cup.
"He's been fantastic," said Berhalter about Morris. "And really [his] game changing ability, with his physicality, with his speed, with his ability to finish off plays in the right way in the appropriate way, he makes good decisions in front of goal."
Zardes was considered a surprise starter given that he hadn't played a competitive match in over a month and that Josh Sargent has been getting more playing time this year with Werder Bremen. But Berhalter opted for Zardes and his faith was repaid.
"With Gyasi, it was a question of what we thought we needed against Canada to be successful," said Berhalter. We thought we needed some of Gyasi's pace and his physicality, and it was a decision based on that."
Berhalter had come in for considerable criticism over the past two months, with the U.S. not only losing to Canada but getting humbled 3-0 at home by rivals Mexico. He insisted that even amid those defeats the team continued to get better.
"There's a path of getting results and there's a path of developing a really, young team," he said. "And sometimes you know those tests go in different directions, and you don't always get the results but the development is still there. And the progress with the team, you know you're still you're still pushing for that. I think we all stayed calm in this last two weeks and just focused on our jobs."
If there was one disappointment on the night, it was that the U.S. didn't do better in terms of keeping the ball, with Canada enjoying 63.6% possession. Berhalter is mindful of the fact that there is still more work to be done, both in terms of the Nations League as well as his team's overall performance.
"We haven't done anything yet, right?" he said. "We had an objective is to go to the next round. We're not in the next round yet. It was a good result, the effort was amazing. We could have played better. There's a lot to work on. It's one of those games that galvanizes the group because of how much you need to put into it. And then when you get a victory, it's nice. But we're nowhere near where we need to be, or where we're going to be. And, you know, we have to go down to the Cayman Islands and we have to win because that's our objective to get to the finals."