MURCIA, Spain — When the US men’s team takes the field against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, it will be 43 days before coach Gregg Berhalter names his 26-player squad for the 2022 World Cup. For the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKenney and Tyler Adams – as long as they’re healthy – their seats are safe. There is no drama in their fate at the World Cup.

But for those players who are on the bubble, these last days, as well as Tuesday’s matchup, will see an awkward dance. After all, they feel the pressure that comes when the dreams of a lifetime are at arm’s length from becoming reality, but can just as easily slip away.

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For most bubble players, the approach is based on the old adage of “control what you can control” among players, although this strategy has several different variations. American defender Sam Vines prefers to stay as focused as possible on the present in the hope that football gods – well, Berhalter – will leave him a place in the squad. “To visit the World Cup is a dream. I’ve dreamed of this since I was born,” Vines told Sportzshala. “But you can’t control that much and you just have to work your hardest and hope it’s enough to get on the team.

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“I just try to focus on my daily activities. Today we have training, the next day we have training, the next day we have a game. I just try to work day in and day out and don’t think about anything.”

Of course, this is easier said than done. While it can be easy to focus during a practice or game, it’s harder to brush off any negative thoughts when you’re away from the field, a reality that teammate Mark McKenzie acknowledges.

“Of course, it’s always in your head. Every player knows that the World Cup is coming,” he said. “So while you might say, like, ‘Yes, I blocked it’, no, you sit and go home and you say, ‘We’ve got a few weeks left,’ you know? Before that, you’re like, “Oh, it’s going down.” This is what everyone knows about. But you can’t focus too much on the future because you don’t know what it has in store. So the most important thing is to be present, to be in the present, to use this opportunity here in the camp.”

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Discussion is open as to how the November 9 roster announcement will affect the performance of certain players. In Friday’s 2-0 defeat to Japan, the United States suffered the most from the players whose places in the roster seem to be the safest. And while Vines also struggled, he said the prevailing atmosphere he felt was the trust of Berhalter and the rest of the coaching staff.

“Especially if you start the game, [Berhalter] trusts you so you don’t have to worry about making mistakes,” he said. “You’re just more focused on how you can help the team.”

For Mackenzie, the fact that he’s even here with the US is a bonus. Defender KRC Genk was initially left out of the squad, but was only added after Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers had to pull out due to injuries. He didn’t hurt his prospects in a solid 45-minute game against Japan.

McKenzie added that the mood within the team is still positive, regardless of the likelihood of the player going to Qatar. Now the focus is on how to make amends for the team’s obviously bad performance against Samurai Blue.

“I don’t feel like there’s that kind of tension in the team where you feel like you’re walking on pins and needles when the guys are so irritable that they can break down,” he said. “I think this is the business end of the World Cup preparations and I think everyone understands that and understands that you need to learn from Japan, take it to Saudi Arabia and end this period together on a high.

“The band is still close, the band is still together. The group remains focused on making sure we have all aspects of the game ready.”

There is another reason not to view the current camp as an all-or-nothing venture. The fact remains that after the match on Tuesday, the players will have to play about seven matches for their clubs before the squad is announced, which is equivalent to one last attempt to impress Berhalter and prove that they deserve to be on the plane.

Weeks may seem like an eternity in terms of waiting for November 9th, but they will also flash by during every game.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen between this and then,” McKenzie said of the line-up announcement. “Insane things happen when guys who were expected to be true locks end up losing form and not being considered anymore. Also, the guys who sleep end up coming to the tournament. previously injured – various factors and variables influence this.

This brings up another awkward moment for players in preparation for the roster announcement: health retention and how that affects a player’s aggressiveness level. There was a noticeable lack of sharpness on the part of the US against Japan, as evidenced by the fact that the Americans committed only three fouls against Japan’s 16. One would hope that the US would play more assertively against the Saudis.

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Mackenzie, if he sees the field, is not one to worry about his health.

“If you think about injury, it will probably hit you,” McKenzie said. “And if you start thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going to get into too many tackles,’ it can hurt your game in the long run. If you’re playing 70% just because you’re already thinking about three to four weeks of lineup selection, it won’t do you any good if you start to give up on your game.”

Of course, a player in Mackenzie’s place has no choice but to give it his all, and given how he secured his starting spot at club level after long periods of struggle, he’s not going to back down now. Tuesday will see how the rest of his US teammates are handling this moment, as well as the weeks and games ahead.