As Gregg Berhalter prepares for his first camp in charge of the U.S. Men’s National Team, the goal will indeed be to get off on a positive note but also dissect the talent that has been called in. With 12 uncapped players being included in Berhalter’s 27-player roster, the decision-making process may become just a little bit tougher.
January will mark the beginning of a new chapter for the USMNT as they look to take the next step in their rebuilding process. With many European players not being included due to domestic play, this camp will give the opportunity for MLS players to prove what they can offer to Berhalter and his staff in the future.
“I’m excited, I know this camp is the start of a process of building this group up,” Berhalter said. “I’ve had the privilege of speaking to 25 players in the past two weeks and trying to get a sense of the past but also the future and what this group is looking for. This camp is a slice of time, this roster does not reflect how the roster will look down the road.”
“I think there were guys that were deserving of a call-up that just didn’t get in. I made calls to guys explaining the reasoning why they didn’t make it and that we’re going to keep monitoring all players, and opportunities will be given to other guys as well. I’m excited and I’m ready to move forward.”
Some of the more intriguing names that Berhalter chose was Philadelphia Union homegrown defenders Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty, as well as Chicago Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailovic. Trusty, has represented both the U-17 and U-20 National Teams at World Cups, while McKenzie is preparing to be included in the 2019 FIFA U-20 Men’s World Cup in Poland.
Mihailovic, 20, only made nine appearances with the Fire last season, scoring once and registering three assists despite seeing his appearances cut in half. He is a promising young player not only for the Fire, but also in the eligible pool of players for the USMNT.
“What I looked at was the young players who are performing in Major League Soccer, we know it isn’t an easy league to play in,” Berhalter said. “I think the younger guys like Trusty, McKenzie, Mihailovic [when he got fit] are interesting. To be able to perform in MLS at that young of an age means you have quality.”
“With Djordje in particular we see a very versatile and creative midfield player, who can create goals but also score himself. With Auston and Mark, two guys who have played in a lot of tough games in the Eastern Conference, they were battling and they have bright futures ahead of them. It’s good to get our hands on them and work with them and see how they can develop.”
Also included in Berhalter’s selection was a pair of Real Salt Lake representatives in defender Justen Glad and forward Corey Baird. Glad, 21, is a player who has several seasons of MLS experience and has been able to learn from other talented veterans in the league.
Baird, the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year, capped off a strong season with eight goals and five assists under the guidance of Mike Petke. All three players bring different elements to the table but surely will be fighting for minutes under Berhalter in these upcoming matches.
“I really like what Corey did this season, I liked his off the ball movement and his aggressiveness in space but also his ability to finish chances,” Berhalter said. “I think he had a very good year and in our system we see him as a guy who can get behind the lines and use his timing to set up other players. This is a player I’m looking forward to see how he takes to things.”
“With Justin, it’s not easy to come into the league as a young centerback and he did it with intelligence,” Berhalter continued. “He’s calm, he’s composed and although he may not physically be like Trusty or McKenzie, we want to see how he does with this group. I think he’s done enough this season, playing 33 or 34 games with RSL to earn a chance.”
Right back is a position that is expected to be held down by DeAndre Yedlin long-term but having depth is key for any roster. San Jose Earthquakes rightback Nick Lima was also given a chance under Berhalter to translate his play domestically over to the National level. The 24-year-old started 34 games for the struggling Quakes but has the ability to get after defenders and provide good service into the box.
“I’ve admired Nick since he came into the league and he has a very good profile for an outside back,” Berhalter said. “He’s aggressive defensively, but has the capacity to get up and down the field and make plays on the offensive end by crossing the ball and being good in tight spaces. I’m looking forward to having him in camp and working with him.”
Whether or not these players make a big splash remains to be seen, but the hope is to retrieve positives from the camp and the pair of friendlies. Berhalter may reward these players with future call-ups when competitive fixtures appear later in 2019, but for now it will be about grooming these 12 players for the next step on the national level.