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USMNT diary: My thoughts and adventures while following the U.S. at the Copa America

We’re taking you behind the scenes on a busy summer for the United States.

12 min read
Design: Peyton Gallaher

As part of Backheeled’s on-the-ground coverage of the U.S. men’s national team’s Copa America run, I'm bringing you this updating journal. It’ll be a summer diary, but, like, a summer diary that I somehow always forget to close and shove back in the closet before you walk into the room.

You’ll read about what it’s like covering a major tournament. You’ll get access to quotes from Gregg Berhalter and his players as I follow the team from Dallas to Atlanta to Kansas City and beyond.

You’ll get my hot takes about the Summer of Soccer, featuring insights into both the Copa America and the Euros (read: you’re going to hear a lot about how much I love Canada’s Ismael Kone). You’ll get food reviews that I’m fully prepared to take way too seriously. You’ll get other random musings. You name it, you’ll probably find it.

We’re going to have fun. Catch up on my latest insights, U.S. updates, and more down below.

Monday, 7/1: 10:25AM local time

Location: My room, Kansas City, MO

If you want to read about the soccer, click here:

USMNT vs. Uruguay: Predicting major lineup decisions, tactical tradeoffs, and more
The biggest game for the United States in this new World Cup cycle is almost upon us.

...or here:

The USMNT have to hunt for goals in their Copa America clash with Uruguay. Will they find them?
Margins are thin for the United States as they prepare for a pressure-filled meeting with Uruguay.

If you want to read about the BBQ, well then YOU'RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE.

I've tried two different BBQ spots here in Kansas City so far. The first one? Arthur Bryant's, where I devoured this burnt ends and brisket sandwich (with an onion ring on top)! It was absolutely unreal. If there weren't 4,912 other places to try around here, I'd go back in a heartbeat. 9.5/10.

Yesterday's BBQ spot?

Slap's, which is on the Kansas side of Kansas City. This time, I went for my usual go-to: a pulled pork sandwich.

Again, excellent. But without a toasted bun (that's a difference-maker for me, as it should be for you), it lost a little on the classic 1-10 scale. The meat was warm but not hot, which knocked it down another half point, too. In all, an entirely respectable 7.5/10.

I love this city. I could eat BBQ forever.

Saturday, 6/29: 7:50PM local time

Location: Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, KS

Last night: the Current. Tonight? Sporting Kansas City.

It's been an interesting week for SKC – one that you can read more about come Monday's mega-MLS column. But for a club that badly needs a few get-right games, playing Austin FC at home is about as good as it gets.

The crowd is loud, the weather is beautiful, I've got Canada-Chile playing on my laptop while the actual game plays out in front of me. Soccer never sleeps, baby.

Friday, 6/28: 7:10PM local time

Location: CPKC Stadium, Kansas City, MO

I'm at an NWSL game! For the first time ever! And it just so happens to be one that's being played at the first privately financed stadium purpose-built for a professional women's soccer team! It's awesome.

I took this picture well before kickoff, so don't let it fool you into thinking that the fans aren't showing up for this one. They are. In droves.

I've only been in Kansas City for a few hours, but going to a Current game feels like an event. For every "USMNT losing a very winnable game in a huge tournament" that makes me ponder the future of soccer in this country, there's a "great women's soccer team playing at a great venue in front of a great crowd" that puts a huge smile on my face.

Go watch local soccer.

Friday, 6/28: 9:31AM local time

Location: My room, Atlanta, GA

Last night's USMNT vs. Panama game was, without a doubt, one of the craziest games I've ever been to in my life. Though it's bested by MLS Cup in 2022, where LAFC narrowly beat the Philadelphia Union in penalties after Garth Bale scored a late equalizer in stoppage time of extra time, it just might be number two on my list.

As I type this before heading off to the airport to catch my flight to Kansas City, I'm still in shock. The Tim Weah red card was as bizarre as they come. The U.S. responded in the best way possible with Folarin Balogun's goal. And then? Panama's equalizer killed their momentum and exposed, if only for just a moment, huge defensive cracks.

How the USMNT lost to Panama and lost control of their Copa America destiny at the same time
A red card and a defensive lapse kicked the United States out of the driver’s seat ahead of a crucial match with Uruguay.

A draw would've been a fine result! Not great. But fine. A point against what will be a partially rotated Uruguay team would've been enough to get them through. But now? Now things are messier. Now there's real pressure. And now they need help.

Gregg Berhalter and his players were in an incredibly focused mood after their 2-1 loss at the Benz, knowing full well what they have to do on Monday to close out the group stage. Will Berhalter, who's potentially coaching for his job, make a few changes? Or will he simply evaluate Matt Turner's injury situation and add Haji Wright or Brenden Aaronson into the equation for the suspended Weah?

The next few days just got interesting.

Thursday, 6/27: 9:41AM local time

Location: Dancing Goats, Atlanta, GA

It's game day! The USMNT take on Panama at the Benz tonight at 6PM ET. The day before each U.S. game, Gregg Berhalter gives a press conference to field questions from us media folk. The best nugget out of his presser yesterday? The Wisdom of Gianni.

"We just sit and listen to [set piece coach Gianni Vio's] stories. I actually have a note that I made on my phone. It's called The Wisdom of Gianni. It has about five different sayings that we write down. He's a hilarious guy. He's got a ton of experience, a ton of expertise in set pieces."

I asked Berhalter about his evaluation of Tim Ream and Chris Richards' play in possession on Sunday against Bolivia. The manager acknowledged that "when we analyzed the game, I think there were some moments in possession where we could've done a bit better", especially when dealing with Bolivia's press.

How the U.S.'s starting center backs conduct themselves on the ball later today will be key to breaking down Panama's lower 5-4-1 block.

Under manager Thomas Christiansen (a coach that Berhalter said he knows well), Panama will take a few risks in building from the back, they'll test the USMNT with long balls, and they'll tend to be more compact than the United States' first group stage opponent. All of those things will test the timing, discipline, and skill of the American defenders.

Bring on the match.

Wednesday, 6/26: 1:24PM local time

Location: My room, Atlanta, GA

The eagle has landed in Atlanta.

It's me. I'm the eagle. Technically I arrived last night, but other than finishing my draft for a story about the two very different versions of the USMNT that we've seen over the last five years under Gregg Berhalter, I didn't have a chance to do much.

Oh, hey, here's the story! Who put that here?

Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t what he hoped it would be — and that’s just fine
The United States have fully embraced a new identity, putting their own twist on a pragmatic classic.

Today's different. I just got back from the U.S.'s training session, where it looked like all 26 players in the squad were up and at 'em. Later this afternoon, Berhalter has his press conference ahead of the Panama match tomorrow. Oh, and then tonight? Well, I'm hoping to pull off a surprise trip that will make one of my co-hosts on the Total Soccer Show very happy.

Be back soon.

Tuesday, 6/25: 10:36AM local time

Location: Dallas Love Field, Dallas, TX

Costa Rica did what?

The most impressive result of the Copa America to date is officially in folks. Costa Rica drew 0-0 with Brazil last night in Los Angeles in a true shocker – for reference, Costa Rica aren't even a top-four team in Concacaf at this point. The draw is just the latest example of Brazil's post-World Cup woes, which have included key losses in 2026 World Cup qualifying and that 1-1 draw with the USMNT ahead of the Copa America.

With the top two teams in the Group C (the U.S.'s group) scheduled to meet the top two teams in Group D (Brazil's group), last night could end up having real ramifications on the United States in the knockout rounds.

That's the magic of the cup, baby.

While I have you (and while I'm sitting at the gate waiting on my delayed flight), allow me to present the best thing I ate in Texas over the last few days:

Namoo Korean Bowl in Arlington did not disappoint. A fried, garlic-seasoned pork cutlet with white rice, a mix of produce, and a vegetable egg roll? Mhmm. Yep. That's the good stuff. 9/10.

Atlanta here I come.

Monday, 6/24: 10:38AM local time

Location: My room, Dallas, TX


1PM: Arrived at AT&T Stadium

4PM: Recorded a pre-game show for Bleacher Report

5:03PM: Watched Christian Pulisic score a banger

7PM: Recorded a post-game show for Bleacher Report

7:30PM: Attended postgame U.S. media availabilities

8:30PM: Recorded an episode of the Total Soccer Show in my car (as an aside, don't record an hour-long podcast episode in your car with the A/C off and the windows up unless you're prepared to sweat through your shirt)

10:30PM: Drove to Raising Canes, mainline some chicken, dive back into the game, and write a postgame piece

“We move on”: How the USMNT checked the box against Bolivia in the Copa America
A few key themes emerged as Gregg Berhalter’s team took care of business in their group stage opener.

1:30AM: Fell asleep peacefully, dreaming of set piece excellence

I fly out to Atlanta tomorrow, but not before snagging lunch with Backheeled's very own Arman Kafai later today. Vamos!

Sunday, 6/23, 7:45 AM local time

Location: My room, Dallas, TX

It's game day in the state of Texas.

Ahead of the USMNT's match with Bolivia tonight at AT&T Stadium, I spent a few minutes combing through my audio from Gregg Berhalter's press conference yesterday. Berhalter didn't reveal too much, giving standard answers to basically every question. Still, the U.S. coach can't help but say at least a couple of interesting things over the course of a 15-minute presser.

In particular, this quote from Berhatler stood out to me:

“One thing I know for sure, our most success is going to come from being able to limit our opponents’ high-quality goal scoring opportunities. If we can do that consistently, we’ll have a chance in each game because we always create enough chances to score a goal.”

It's fascinating just how much Berhalter's mentality has shifted from the first day he took charge of the USMNT all those years ago. Against the best, it's now a defense-first approach for his team, with a sprinkling of attacking risk thrown into the equation. Not the other way around.

Looking around the Copa America, huge props to Venezuela for taking down Ecuador in their group stage opener. That's the first real upset of the tournament, even if it came against a 10-man Ecuador team.

Bring on tonight!

Saturday, 6/22, 12:32 PM local time

Location: Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, TX

The Cotton Bowl is just doing its thing. Sitting right on the Texas state fairgrounds, I've never seen an old football stadium, a giant stone elephant, a ferris wheel, and Tyler Adams in such close proximity.

The Copa America is full of wonders, isn't it?

After picking up my credential from CONMEBOL this morning, I drove out to the Cotton Bowl for quick chats with Tim Ream and Yunus Musah before the USMNT's training session. As journalists crowded around Ream to begin the media availability, the United States' veteran center back shined a light on how they're preparing for tomorrow's match against Bolivia – and what they're expecting from their South American foes.

"They’ve changed their style a little bit in terms of the way they press and we’re prepared for that," Ream said. "We’re prepared for them to, more than anything, press higher up the pitch...We have to read what the game gives us. But we’re fully prepared for them to come out and press and press higher up the pitch. If they sit back after that, then okay, we’re prepared for that as well. We have worked a lot on both ways."

“I feel like they’ll put us under pressure the whole game," Musah said later. "They’re going to be very aggressive, they’re going to be very physical and just going to put us under pressure and make the game difficult.”

I'll be keeping a close eye on Bolivia's line of confrontation tomorrow night. Are they really going to cede space in behind their open backline to the U.S. by pressing high? Or will they, as Ream acknowledged is possible, quickly fall back into a deeper block? Time will tell.

Also, I jinxed Luis Advincula yesterday. The blazing outside back went down with an injury in the first half of Peru's 0-0 draw with Chile. That's my bad, y'all.

Friday, 6/21, 3:00 PM local time

Location: Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix, AZ

It’s go time, people. Lionel Messi is carving up defenses, we're all freaking out about grass, and I'm about to board my flight to Dallas to really get this Copa America coverage rolling.

My in-flight meal? A ham, cheese, and salami sandwich from home, which I'm preemptively rating a 5.5 out of 10. Not unlike Jedi Robinson in possession for the United States, it'll get the job done but it won't do much more than that.

With exactly 48 hours until the USMNT kick off their tournament against Bolivia, I'm genuinely curious to see how impactful Robinson and his opposite outside back, Joe Scally, will be in the attack. Robinson's cross-heavy nature won't be a big boost for the U.S. against a set defense and Scally's lack of comfort going forward will be a theme in the coming weeks. File "fullback question marks" under "things to watch on Sunday evening.

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