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Berhalter stresses team building as main objective of USMNT January camp


The U.S. Men’s National Team January camp is a unique time, especially during the program’s period of transition.

New head coach Gregg Berhalter has experience with the camp as a player and now he gets to translate that into his role as head coach.

While things like style of play are important for Berhalter and his staff, the manager stressed building a cohesive team above everything else when it came to the goals for January camp.

That goal has been the main focus of every decision he’s made from roster selection to holding the camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

The team won’t have to leave the facility for any reason. All the players and coaches are staying on the campus. The fields are right there and in pristine condition. The gym and other off-field training facilities are top notch and, again, right there next to everything else. The environment is exactly what Berhalter wanted.

“I think it’s a great environment to foster one of our main objectives of the camp, and that’s team building,” Berhalter said during his camp opening press conference. “We’re here, we’re going to be together here.  It’s an intensive period, but it’s a focus period. I think we’re really going to get quality time together as a team.”

In order to build a tightly knit group, Berhalter has his players staying in a dormitory for the duration of the camp. He mixed up roommate assignments so the guys can get to know their more unfamiliar teammates. Some rooms have as many as four players in a fairly small space. He hopes this allows the players to get to know each other off the field as well as they do in it.

It’s an unfamiliar setup for some of the players, but it doesn’t seem to be harming morale. At least not yet.

“First dorm really since residency in Bradenton,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “But it’s great. As professionals this is our job. This is what we’re here to do. We’re not here for vacation, we’re not here to go and sight see. Specifically, we’re here to train and to get better.”

Everything, including teammates, being so close makes it easier to build the team cohesion that Berhalter seeks. Arriola is on board with the idea and thinks that being around everyone else 24/7 will help the team grow.

“It definitely makes it easier, for us,” Arriola said. “I think the most important thing is that we’re all together always, that we’re a group. Obviously there’s a bunch of new faces. Everyone is fairly new. So for us it’s important to be together and learn about each other and always interact. So, it’s pretty good.”

Berhalter made sure to explain why he’s running this camp the way he is. Communication is important to the new boss and he made sure to get his message across right away.

Everything his players do matters, whether it’s on the field during his competitive practices or off the field when bonding with teammates. He and his staff are looking at everything the players do when evaluating them for the future.

“I think it was very important to tell the players how they were going to be evaluated in this camp,” Berhalter said. “It’s not only going to be what happens on the field. It’s going to be how they fit in culturally to what we’re doing. So that is a big part of it, of course we’re looking at those things. We’re aware of that we want them to get to know each other, we want them to enjoy this camp, enjoy the time they have together, and we want them to play soccer.”


  1. Good for team building. In Brazil they do the same thing with dorms for longer camps but they used to stick much more prominent players like Neymar or Ronaldinho in a dorm for the longer Selecao camps. It humbles everyone a bit which is good, hope he sticks with it going forward.

    Some of the those Brazilian dorm stays I’m speaking about would be in 90-100 degree weather with no A/C in the dorms. I’d see the Brazilian news reporting on how hot they were and trying to cope with the heat and humidity. Half my family is from Brazil so I follow a few things down there.

    • Chula Vista is almost unendingly nice San Diego weather. Like they average 2 days over 90F a year and on the other end they count historical snow days on like two hands below mountain elevations. Friend of mine on a different sport’s national team trains there year round and raves about it. I think the one thing is it can be windy.

    • I think it’s a decent idea for team unity and focus — though more effective if the real core of the team also gets the treatment — with the caveat that there are only so many windows a cycle to literally camp a team off in a corner of the country for a few weeks, camp cupcake, offseason friendlies, Gold Cup, and then before the world cup if you make it. This is a decent idea for those occasions, and probably more sequestered and team building than Carson, but not something they can do every friendly.

      That and I sometimes wonder what the point to these camps is, fitness or games, because when the games arrive the team often looks like it does for the World Cup sendoff friendlies, fit but tired. In a word, overtrained. I’d rather have world cup performance than freshness then, but for these I’d like to see us look fresh for a change when we actually play.

  2. BTW, the training center is in Chula Vista (some call it Chula Juana because of its closeness to the border) and I think Arriola is also from CV. I wonder if he sneaks home while he is there.When Arriola played for Tijuana he lived at home and commuted across the border for training and games.

  3. I would think the first camp with both MLS-based and Europe-based players would be the one to concentrate most heavily on team building.

  4. Arriola’s mention of Bradenton is interesting because I feel like that sort of centralized gelling process with focus on the players being brought up is one thing that is missing now. With the end of the Bradenton residency we turned late development over to the pro clubs who often are more focused on their first teams. it is kind of a mature soccer nation problem to be having players sign pro at 16 domestic or 18 national and go to some big club where they are guaranteed no time. but even some world powers like France have something like Clairefontaine.

    • part of the issue is MLS academies are taking over (slowly) at the youth level and only some are actually earning that right by churning out first team ready players. so unlike bradenton some of the leading domestic development destinations haven’t really proven they should be the ones training up the future. but they are getting many of the players anyway.

      • Is it about the same though instead of having 20 or 30 at Bradenton and maybe half turn out to each academy turning out 1 or 2 with NYRB, RSL, and Dallas covering for some of the teams. I guess the goal would be each team turning out more than and thus far surpassing what could be done at Bradenton.

      • I don’t think it is about the same, yes, you can argue that in some overall sense x amount sign abroad or whatever, but my question would be whether the players that do turn out are the same quality. We used to have a couple world class kids a cycle, Howard, Donovan, Beasley, etc. Now despite the broader pro destinations, we actually produce fewer Pulisics. Plenty of competent players, fewer good ones. If your argument was really true it would be a better, world competitive team. We are spread wider and signing higher but actually, no, the specific players turn out not as good and the team worse.

      • Except most of the players in the pool still went through Bradenton, including the lost generation of players (the Shea, Agudelo group) that should have been there to help qualify last cycle but didn’t progress. The Academy model hasn’t had enough time yet to truly evaluate, but it has produced better YNT teams in the past 4 to 5 years. I would argue the bigger problem is MLS itself not the academy system as few American prospects are awarded time within MLS in that 18-22 age range. When the guys you talked about Howard and Beasley came through they left Bradenton and got immediate time in MLS. Today Development league all-stars like Carleton then sit because they are too good for Dev. but sit behind mid-priced South American players.
        American players are in a catch 22, if the stay with MLS they sit or play USL and get paid little. If they make the jump they have potential to earn more and will actually play good competition until they age out of youth teams. Where Europe becomes problematic is when they get above 22. Take Lederman, he’s still progressed and gained more experience with Barca and now Gent reserve squads than he would at UNC.

  5. Interesting conceptually if he does this every camp but realistically a lot of the specific people called this time are not the starters and probably one and done so it needs to be consistent to be worthwhile. Like do this before GC etc.


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