United States head coach Gregg Berhalter is urging his players to stay "in the moment" ahead of Sunday's World Cup qualifier at home to Panama with a shot at reaching the finals on the line.
The U.S. battled to a 0-0 draw away to Mexico on Thursday and sit three points behind leaders Canada in the CONCACAF group standings. They are tied with Mexico on 22 points but are above them in second place on goal difference.
The top three teams automatically earn spots at the World Cup in Qatar which starts in November. The U.S. face Panama at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida, and could punch their ticket to the tournament with a win if Costa Rica fail to beat El Salvador away on Sunday.
"I preach the team about just one game at a time, sticking to the process, doing the small things, doing the process-orientated things and the results will come," Berhalter said on Saturday. "For us it's really just doing what we do."
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The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, raising difficult questions about how the sport has progressed on the men's side, even as the women's team flourished. While that painful chapter will linger in the back of the mind for fans heading into the final stretch of qualification, Berhalter told reporters he was tamping down nerves among his players by urging them to stay "in the moment."
"It's really important not to get ahead of ourselves. We can only control what we can control," he said.
After Sunday's clash, the U.S. hit the road for their final qualifier away to Costa Rica on Wednesday.
Canada have another shot at ending their 36-year World Cup drought when they host Jamaica on Sunday in Toronto before wrapping up qualifying on Wednesday away to Panama. Costa Rica handed the Canadians their first defeat in the qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win on Thursday.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)