National soccer teams can have terrible build-ups and do well in the World Cup. They can have great results before the World Cup and flop at the tournament. But is any US Men’s National Team fan confident this team can get out of its group? Are the players?

Remember, US Soccer waited a year for Gregg Berhalter. So far, he has matched the accomplishments of previous managers Bruce Arena (for 2002, at least), Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann: qualify for a World Cup and win a Gold Cup. The CONCACAF Nations League didn’t exist during the...

National soccer teams can have terrible build-ups and do well in the World Cup. They can have great results before the World Cup and flop at the tournament. But is any US Men’s National Team fan confident this team can get out of its group? Are the players?

Remember, US Soccer waited a year for Gregg Berhalter. So far, he has matched the accomplishments of previous managers Bruce Arena (for 2002, at least), Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann: qualify for a World Cup and win a Gold Cup. The CONCACAF Nations League didn’t exist during the tenures of the other managers, though I wouldn’t hang my hat on laboring through to the Nations League finals, then beating Mexico in extra-time on home soil.

Can anyone look at Gregg Berhalter’s time with the national team and boldly state that he has even come close to maximizing its potential? Berhalter has had nearly four years to impose his system. But the United States is not Spain or Germany. They have twenty-three players from almost as many clubs spread over sometimes ten or more countries. The USMNT, as it stands, needs a manager who fits the system to the players, not the players to the system.

Stu Holden said during the disconcertingly uninspiring Saudi Arabia match on Tuesday that “expectations have been raised for this team.” On paper, that’s a team you’d expect to accomplish plenty. Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson. After years and years of a Wynalda, a Donovan or a Dempsey, whose skills complemented a capable, athletic national team, the US is (in theory) spoiled for choice when it comes to star players.

Yet there is no reason to believe on current evidence that any of the United States’s supposed saviors, except perhaps Brenden Aaronson, will be able to play three games in eight days. It seems like every other game for four years a commentator has said “this game would be so different were Pulisic/Reyna/McKennie/Adams/Musah involved.” Isn’t that a problem? Does Berhalter leave Qatar with a point or two and shake his fist at the entirely predictable injury problems he’s unable to work around?

I can’t see how anyone who has watched, or often endured, this side for the last four years can have higher expectations than in recent World Cups. This team automatically qualified for the World Cup on goal difference in what was an extremely forgiving format. They only seem to rise to the occasion when they must, like after drawing the first two World Cup qualifiers or losing 2-0 at Canada in the Nations League.

(Speaking of: Canada and its coach, John Herdman, manage to combine a few stars with competent, if unheralded players, forming a team certainly greater than the sum of its parts. Who knows how they’ll do in the World Cup. But I can’t imagine any team in its group is looking forward to playing them. By contrast, who fears the US?)

The worst decision former US Soccer president Sunil Gulati made — besides giving Jurgen Klinsmann an extension through the 2018 World Cup before the 2014 World Cup — was not firing Klinsmann in 2016 when it was clear his “methods” no longer worked. Gulati waited until there was no more room for error, which cost the US a spot at the 2018 World Cup. Even with the 2022 World Cup eight weeks away, current US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone doesn’t have to make a similar mistake with Berhalter.

As a longtime supporter of the USMNT, I hope this ends up being the most incorrect article ever written about anything. I’d much rather the US do well at the World Cup than be right. No, they haven’t always been bad. But they’ve too rarely been great. And they’ve too often been just good enough. There’s no reason to believe that will change in two months. After four years, that’s not the players’ faults. That’s on Berhalter.