Germany: A Crucial Test for USMNT Despite World Cup Being Years Away

Germany: A Crucial Test for USMNT Despite World Cup Being Years Away

Germany’s men’s national soccer team flew from Frankfurt to Boston on Monday for a mission that most of their countrymen don’t understand.

They’re here for friendlies against the U.S. and Mexico. But getting those games required transatlantic flights, battles with jetlag, short turnarounds, and kickoff times that are inconvenient for TV audiences back home. “It’s not optimal,” midfielder Leon Goretzka said. Defender Niklas Süle, speaking last month, called the trip “not a very good choice.” German media and fans have criticized it, while Bundesliga coaches have bemoaned the burden it places on players. All have wondered: Why would Germany’s soccer federation, the DFB, take its team to the U.S. to prepare for Euro 2024, which will be in Germany?

The DFB answered those questions Tuesday. “The upcoming World Cup will take place in the USA, Mexico and Canada in 2026,” it noted. And then the kicker: “There is no possibility of traveling with the team to the World Cup host country [between Euro 2024 and 2026].”

That, precisely, is why Saturday’s U.S.-Germany matchup (3 p.m. ET, TNT/Telemundo) is so significant — for the Germans, but even more so for the USMNT.

The World Cup remains distant; but this, an otherwise meaningless friendly, might be the USMNT’s only chance to test itself against a European giant between now and March 2026 — less than three months before its World Cup opener.

These games were once fixtures of the USMNT calendar. From 2010-18, excluding January camps, the Yanks played 29 friendlies against European foes. Many were measuring sticks or dress rehearsals — the exact types of games that the USMNT needs now, perhaps more so than ever before. It won’t have to qualify for the 2026 World Cup. So it needs other challenges. It wants to be “confident that we can beat the elite of international soccer,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said last month. To grow and “maximize our preparation,” assistant coach B.J. Callaghan said, “we want to try and play the best opponents that we can.”

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Finding those opponents, however, is increasingly difficult. In 2018, UEFA began to get insular. The European soccer confederation, in pursuit of more centralized revenue, created a “Nations League.” Its North and Central American equivalent, CONCACAF, soon created a replica. And calendars filled.

BRENTWOOD, TN - OCTOBER 09: Gregg Berhalter, Kristoffer Lund of the United States during USMNT Training at Brentwood Academy on October 9, 2023 in Brentwood, Tennessee. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

They are now so full, especially in Europe, that U.S. Soccer will struggle to arrange the type of tests it craves. Next summer’s Copa America will provide the USMNT with top-tier South American competition. But Europe, where eight of the world’s top 10 teams reside, will be elusive.

In nearly every FIFA window — when professional clubs are required to release players to national teams — between now and 2026, there is a conflict:

• November 2023: CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals; Euro 2024 qualifying
• March 2024: CONCACAF Nations League finals (or Copa America qualifying playoff)
• June 2024: The USMNT and European teams will both be free in early June, prior to the Copa America and Euros. But European teams have no incentive to travel across the pond for pre-tournament friendlies. Similarly, it would make very little sense for the USMNT to prepare for a stateside tournament with games in Europe — unless it arranges a brief European camp for its European-based players before traveling back to the U.S. “We hope to play good, strong opponents in June,” Berhalter said recently; but they’ll most likely be South American ones.
• June-July 2024: Copa America, Euros
• September-October 2024: UEFA Nations League group play
• November 2024: CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals; UEFA Nations League group play
• March 2025: CONCACAF Nations League finals; UEFA Nations League quarterfinals/promotion-relegation playoffs
• June 2025: This is where the calendar gets messy. There is a FIFA window June 2-10, during which the USMNT should be available. There are UEFA Nations League finals, but those only feature four teams. Roughly half of the European teams who don’t reach the Nations League finals will be busy with World Cup qualifiers; but some others, a limited selection, could be available.
• June-July 2025: There will be a CONCACAF Gold Cup — a regional tournament — in June and July. There have been rumblings that the 2025 edition could expand and extend invites to teams from other confederations, including UEFA. But that fanciful gimmick was undermined when FIFA announced that the first 32-team Club World Cup — featuring Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, nine other top European clubs and many of the world’s best players — will also take place in June-July of 2025. So, it’s very unclear what the USMNT’s summer will look like. (Some U.S. players also could have to choose between the Gold Cup and Club World Cup.)
• September-November 2025: UEFA World Cup qualifiers

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So the USMNT will be restricted.

Since December 2018, when Berhalter took charge, it has played three A-team friendlies against European nations — Wales, Northern Ireland and Switzerland.

Germany will be the fourth, and while it probably won’t be the last of the cycle — at worst, the March 2026 and pre-World Cup windows should be open — the rarity makes this a precious opportunity.

It’s also a strange one. Germany has won just one of its last six games. The rotten run, after a second straight World Cup flame-out, led the DFB to fire a head coach for the first time in program history. Julian Nagelsmann soon replaced Hansi Flick. A Tuesday training session in Foxborough, Massachusetts, was Nagelsmann’s first in charge of the team.

So the Germans are unsettled. Their game plan could be experimental. But they’re still the second-most talented opponent of Berhalter’s entire tenure — after England at the World Cup.

Their starting 11 could comprise players from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and other Champions League clubs.

“I don’t think anybody looks on the schedule, sees Germany, and thinks it’s gonna be an easy win,” USMNT defender Chris Richards said Monday. “Regardless of what team Germany puts out there, regardless of what’s going on in the background, we know they’re gonna field a strong team.”

So Saturday will, to some extent, be indicative of how far the USMNT has ascended. It’s also a chance for players to stockpile evidence — and by extension self-confidence — that they can hang with international soccer’s powers, the type that discarded them from the 2022 World Cup, and the type they’ll have to topple to reach the semifinals or beyond, their goal in 2026.

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“If we wanna do well in the World Cup in ‘26, we need to learn how to win games like the ones that we have ahead of us,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said Monday.

“As we sketch out what our three-year pathway looks like, we wanna challenge ourselves and give ourselves many opportunities to play as many world-class opponents as we can,” Callaghan said. “It’s clear, with the players that Germany has on their roster, the type of team that Germany is, that they fall right into that bucket.”