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Berhalter’s tactics against Panama had first choice squad in mind


It’s hard to take a lot from the U.S. Men’s National Team during their January Camp friendlies. The team doesn’t usually feature players that will factor in when it comes to competitive games and they are usually taking on another nation’s second choice squad at best. This situation leads to few viable conclusions, despite the often positive vibes that emerge.

This January Camp takes on a different scope with Gregg Berhalter coming on as head coach. This is the first chance anyone has to see what he intends to do with the team on the field and how he wants them to play in the future, specifically how the team will work when the European based players come into the side. While Berhalter didn’t want to dismiss the efforts of the 23 players he had available on Sunday night, he also admitted that he and his staff are looking at how those other players can contribute.

“We had that in mind also when we were envisioning the structure of the team,” Berhalter said during his postgame press conference. “We’re projecting some guys and what positions they can play and how we’re going to teach and how we’re going to train and what the sessions need to be.”

The 3-0 win against Panama on Sunday went just about as anyone would hope for. The USMNT controlled possession and offered a strong look at how they want to play with the ball under their new leader.

Berhalter had his team line up in a 4-3-3 formation with Gyasi Zardes as the lead striker and Jeremy Ebobisse and Corey Baird operating as winger/forwards. Djordje Mihailovic and Cristian Roldan operated as duel attacking midfielders, with Michael Bradley serving as the deep-lying defensive midfield anchor. Finally, the fullbacks, especially Nick Lima, consistently lobbed crosses forward and made overlapping runs into the center of the pitch in roles that were very fluid, even by modern fullback standards.

The system looked like a 4-1-4-1 at times, and Lima’s movement took him into defensive midfield positions on occasion, leading to some interesting tactical variations.

It was a fluid system that asked a lot of players to take on various duties on both ends of the field. With the ball, the wide midfielders and forwards interchanged several times as they tried to open up space for themselves and their teammates. The first goal demonstrated that perfectly as Lima jumped into the play to help set up Baird’s run down the wing.

In the rare moments Panama was able to get forward, Zardes and Mihailovic were tracking back defensively. The forwards and midfielders pressed fairly high as if they were trying to implement a Pep Guardiola-type system of trying to win the ball back quickly.

This was obviously not the first choice squad that Berhalter will use when competitive matches return this summer, but it doesn’t take much effort to see how the A-team will fit into this system.

Jozy Altidore can man the target striker role, with Josh Sargent and Bobby Wood offering competition for the spot. Christian Pulisic can take on the role of Jeremy Ebobisse on the left wing creating chances and floating in to take shots himself. Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams could work together in central midfield, with Bradley providing support underneath. Finally, DeAndre Yedlin would have a blast playing in the same role as Nick Lima, where he can use his speed and intelligence to create plays going forward while being a hard tackling right back on defense.

Overall, Berhalter was happy with the data his team provided on the win and he seems to think that it was a good starting point to build on in the near future.

“When I addressed the group after the game, I said it was a good baseline,” the head coach said. “It gave us enough content to work with. Some of the movements we were working with on the wings were very complicated movements. It involves three players interchanging and still with the intention of disorganizing the defense to get behind their line. You can see it.”


  1. Panama didn’t give us much of a challenge. I’ll hold off judgment until after the CR game. I thought only 3 players played good enough to be backups once the Euro guys are called, that is Lima, Mihailovic and Lewis.

    Why would the writer think Jozy is not much better? Jozy for being USA starting CF is not even the best scorer in his MLS team, that honor goes to a little Italian guy.

  2. OK….we’ve gotten our first taste of Berhalter’s style/system, although with B/C Team. While I applaud the fact that we had a structure and a gameplan (something lacking with JK & Arena), it’s too early to really determine if/how it will work with our “A” players or against teams with more skill.

    That being said there are a couple things that the Author touches on that are clearly wishful thinking (IMO)
    1) Bradley playing the deep role with Adams & McKennie in front of them as attacking midfielders. For me either Adams should be that deep lying CM….have McKennie play the roll of Roldan, and use a Parks, Scott, Mihailovic, or one of the up-and-coming U-20 guys (Mendez, Carlton, etc…). Bradley should be a bench player (at best) for the next 12-18 months while our young players at the U-23 & U-20 get up to speed.
    2) Yedlin may be able to play the RB role in Berhalter’s system, but it’s not a given that he’ll be able to adapt to it. Again just need to buy some time for Dest or one of the other young players to progress enough to step into the roll.
    3) I don’t see Jozy succeeding in this system. He’s not a high press type of striker, he’s a post up banger. He’s going to struggle with the amount of movement and interchange he’ll have to do.

    I’m a firm believer that to get the most out of our player pool we should be looking at either a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-3 formation. Either would shield/mask our weaknesses (Outside Back & Striker) while getting the most of our strengths (CM & CB)

    Against Teams that are going to have more possession 3-4-3:

    This provides defensive coverage for our weak outside backs who are better at attacking than defending. Gives us the hard nose defending & motors of McKennie & Adams to provide pressure while keeping our speediest players in the line-up to provide counter attacks.

    Against Teams we’re stronger than drop 1 CB, shift the Wingbacks to the backline and add another speedy attacker or possession midfielder. The backs will still be bombing forwards and McKennie & Adams can play a double pivot in the center. Basically takes nearly all defensive responsibility off the attacking 4.

    We have depth & prospects at CB. We have depth & prospects at CM.
    We’re thin at outside back, but have prospects (just need time for them to progress)
    We’re thin at Wing Midfield with only a few options.
    We’re thin at Striker, and many of those we do have are going to struggle with a high pressing style of play.

  3. I do understand why Berhalter used Bradley ,in this camp he had the best skills to play his assignment. Thats why Trapp didnt start. When the European and Mexican players are available that might not be the case, in fact can’t see him starting but maybe on the bench. Altidore may be 4th in the depth chart but at 26 his is an option if injuries occur. I never wanted to see either one again in the US colors but Berhalter must be calculating. I want us to win and hope Berhalter can get it done in more serious competition.

    • Jozy is 29, he fits Berhalter’s style and he works well with Pulisic, but we have to see how he recovers from his foot surgery. Weah is in a league likely weaker than MLS, Sargent isn’t getting regular minutes yet and Wood is in his third ho hum season in the Bundesliga for a team fighting relegation. Wright is on the radar, but seems well behind the other 4 at this point. So until someone knocks him out of the roster or his body breaks down Jozy is in the discussion.

      • Center Forward is the biggest weakness in our player pool. We relied on Donovan and Dempsey to score goals for us for so long and that is a huge void right now. Sarg looks to have great potential there, but not sure he’s ready just yet. Like you said, until someone steps up Jozy remains in the discussion.

    • Sargent is on a similar trajectory to where Pulisic was in 2015-2016. Pulisic broke in to the Dortmund lineup during that year, making nine appearances and scoring two goals. His first cap was in 2016 against Bolivia in the run-up to the CA Centenario and was a starter for both Dortmund and the USMNT Sargent will probably have at least nine appearances by the time this season is over and already has two goals. I fully expect him to continue to follow the same trajectory with Bremen and the USMNT over the course of this year. The difference being that Sargent has already broken in and scored two goals with the USMNT as well. I believe he’s already better than Jozy, but that will be the battle over the next few months.

      • Expecting Sargent to stay on Pulisic’s trajectory is probably a reach, but I see what you are saying. At this point in his career (less than 10 pro appearances) the national team should remain a secondary concern for him. I really like the little bit I have seen of him after being very skeptical initially though. Hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg and he will lock this position down in the next 12-24 months. Until that happens were going to have to see Jozy and Bobby etc too.
        This is not a very different situation to when we were waiting for Jozy to emerge as a full national team starter. We went mainly with Brian Ching to do a job for the team until Jozy was ready.

  4. This is a pretty young and inexperienced Costa Rica team as well, they have a few more MLS guys but none of the Ticos stars will be there. Their domestic season is about a month into real matches so that should help them somewhat. It will be an opportunity to check out Allan Cruz the FC Cincinnati signing.

  5. To me the UsaMnt has a long way to go. No ball control at all , bad passing or no existent : in other words with a Panamian F team the USA National team just look awful. To say the least.

  6. A couple of observations. First this system will work fine against a team like Panama’s B side. I don’t think it will work against Mexico. Even with our best players, I doubt we will be able to control possession against them. I also think it won’t work against CR. If you remember, when we lost to CR at home in the Hex 2-0, their speedy wingers were constantly getting down the flank and playing havoc with our back line. Putting a RB into the midfield seems like a recipe for disaster to me. Finally, I’m all for playing a possession game. However, I think we need quicker movement of the ball than we showed against Panama. Some of that is undoubtedly due to having a bunch of new players thrown together for only a short time, so hopefully this won’t continue. However, one thing I disagree with is that it seems that they put too much emphasis on possession. One way is that when Panama began pressing high and we tried to play out of the back, we had some dangerous turnovers in our third of the field. If you are pressured deep in your territory and have no safe outlet, just kick it the hell out of there, or even out of play if necessary. Also, when in attack, while in the opponent’s third, too often I saw a player, when he would run into opposition moving forward, instead of trying to find someone in a forward position, he would pass it back, sometimes way back. If you are in the opponent’s third, a turnover rarely hurts you. Thus, I think we should emphasize attack over possession when the ball is far forward.

    • If we can’t maintain possession with our A team against Mexico what’s the point? Mexican is not even a top 15 squad. CR beat us because their manager had more strategy than either “just go influence the game” or “play for the shield”. Ramirez out managed both. Gary, you got on me a couple months ago for not being positive enough about our roster, if our roster is really as deep as people believe we should be able to hold possession against anyone in CONCACAF.

      • Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are very few teams in the world who recently have kept a possession advantage on Mexico’s A-team, right?

      • Mexico is really one of the best teams in the world when it comes to maintaining possession. They couldn’t do it against Brazil in the WC, but can do it against most other teams. I remember a friendly they played against England a couple of years back. They totally dominated possession and even had the English commentators talking about how good they were on the ball. England kept them from scoring and then won on a header from a corner kick. That’s the problem they have with good European teams. They play great but lose out on the physical side. So, not maintaining possession doesn’t mean we lose to Mexico, but it does mean we can ‘t count on it to dominate the game. If we can even have 45% of the possession against Mexico, then it comes down to who creates the best chances and who finishes, which is true of most games, actually.

      • If we put out a lineup made almost entirely of top 5 league players and can’t maintain possession against the top team in our region we are no better off than we were 20 years ago. Klinsmann’s possession based plan failed because he had little strategy beyond everyone just get better individually and then when we come together we will hold possession. Berhalter actually has a plan to hold possession and create opportunities. This plan works across multiple formations which makes it adaptable to multiple opponents and within a match. If we continue with this defeatist let’s just play with two deep DMs and try to spring our athletic forward against the run of play is so frustrating. Either we are developing better players or we’re not.

  7. Costa Rica is going to be a better yardstick. They also have a new coach (Gustavo Matosas), who is looking to implement his system. Panama was led by an interim coach.

  8. Well, I am glad there appears to be a system or framework, but I think it’s going to be a challenge to get all of the “young core” on the field together. McKennie and Adams, for example, are very similar and neither would fit well in the 10 spots that were manned last night by Roldan and Mihailovic, in my opinion. They may end up battling each other for the 6. And there is no way Yedlin can play this RB/CM hybrid position. Yedlin is an elite athlete and his defending has improved playing in England, but I can’t ever remember seeing him hit a sweet cross like Lima did last night on the Zimmerman goal. Now I think Pulisic and Weah can slot into the wide forward roles quite nicely. It will be interesting to see in March how we line up.

    • Echo this. The organization and framework was great to see (and all I had realistically hoped for), but assuming the European players can simply be plugged in to the team we saw yesterday seems to be getting ahead of ourselves. As you say, McKennie and Adams are really much different players for me than Roldan and Mihailovic. Perhaps it works…

      • Hence Twellmans suggestion that Adams play RB. McKennie plays the Roldan role and Pulisic plays either the Baird role or Mihailovic role. I know yedlin plays in the EPL but name a game he’s influenced for the USMNT? His greatest asset is his athleticism which is usually on display but not always when he messes up and has to recover. I’m intrigued for match to see where he places the pieces. I keep hearing he’s not going to be here in 2022, I don’t Gregg cares he wants to win the GC and the nations league then qualifiers and then he’ll start to worry about the WC.

      • I think when the euro players arrive and start to play against better competition than the tactics may change a little bit. Against a better team they would have probably played down Lima’s side all night and it would have been exposed kind like Brazil did with Robinson. Yedlin isn’t the greatest but still think he is the best RB right now. Now Dest is one to watch out for if he can crack first team. Still don’t see many of the players last night with a chance of making a difference when all players are available. Not a knock on them though, they played well

      • I scored probably not much for tactics to keep Brazil from not doing whatever they want. The idea of course would be by flooding the midfield you are maintaining possession and limiting quick transition. Not sure we have the horses to do that against Brazil or France.

      • Brazil was just an example of a better team and better teams would find weaknesses and space down that side if Lima or whoever is tucking to far inside especially if the wingers are pushed up. Basically my point is it worked against a weak team in Jan and that’s all we have to go by right now, but I don’t think flooding the middle would help especially when winning back possession and holding possession has never been a strong suit for the US against a quality team. I hope it changes and they find the right balance in the midfield with two good 6/8’s and a capable 8/10. Which I believe they have 2 of the 3 in Mckennie and Adams.

    • Yedlin goes forward a lot for Newcastle. He has played 3 seasons in the EPL after being outstanding in MLS. Amazing how quickly people are willing to throw him out based on one good game by a young MLS player against a very inferior team in a friendly.

      • I agree with your comments that soccer players should be judged playing against the tougher teams to assess their true soccer talents, especially when their decisions and actions have to be made quickly against very good opponents. However, there is one past US player who I never liked who was mentioned by the author who IMOP should never again play for the national team – Jozy. Standing around waiting to shoot goals (sometimes) does NOT a great forward make for any soccer team!!!

    • I Scored 3, at this moment, GB doesn’t need to worry about if these tactics can beat Brazil, he just needs to beat Concacaf.

    • Right? And jozy isn’t manning anything, Weah or Sargent, most likely weah but let’s see who starts getting 90 consistently but anyway jozy can go, I’m going to the game this weekend just to yell at Bradley to hopefully get him to retire from the national team. Absolute waste of space and hampers our progression. I would rather lose for the next two years with Adams and Mckennie learning to play with each other than beat concacaf c teams with Bradley playing at all. It’s over dude, you’ve made millions we’ve cheered you, step aside

      • Yeah, I agree with you 110% : Bradley is a no-no..and I don’t understand why Berthalter is using him.

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