The next chapter of U.S. Men’s National Team history begins Sunday night when Gregg Berhalter leads an MLS-heavy roster against Panama (8pm ET, ESPN2).
The former Columbus Crew head coach has had over half a month to teach his group his philosophy and is happy with where the team is heading into its first match of his tenure.
“When I look at these last two and a half weeks I think it was very successful and it all starts with the mindset of the players,” Berhalter said. “They were very engaged, very open to the environment, very inquisitive, and really bonded over these last two and a half weeks.”
The USMNT’s long January camp will come to a close with two games including Sunday’s meeting with Panama. The second and final match of the camp takes place six days later in San Jose, California at Avaya Stadium against Costa Rica.
Berhalter is prepared to start building for the future as opposed to giving every player involved a shot at showing their capabilities in the pair of games.
“You’re not going to see two different teams in these games. What we want to do is start working on building continuity and building a core, that will be important in these games. Everyone in camp has worked extremely hard and you’d love to give everybody the opportunity, but that may not happen in these two games.”
The appointment of Berhalter certainly wasn’t a unanimous one as far as fans are concerned but the 45-year-old is ready to get to work and ready to learn more about the team he has taken over.
“I’m really excited for this. It’s going to give us information. Right now we’ve got no body of work to go on and this is the start of our body of work.”
While some things have to wait until game day, Berhalter has certainly noticed a few things since taking over. Amongst the noted things the USMNT head coach made clear was his goal of getting different players from different settings on a common page.
“One thing I’ve learned is you have players coming from diverse environments. Some clubs play a certain way, other clubs play another way, and it’s getting them all together. Getting them on the same page. It’s more clear when you can tie into a common mission and you can get the guys focused on one philosophy. “
The new head coach has given those who have studied his work in Columbus reason to be excited. A lot of Berhalter’s thoughts revolve around the idea of creating advantages in every area on the field.
The tactical side of Berhalter may perhaps be most evident in the attacking third where his philosophy often leads to a solid production of opportunities for the attacking players.
“As a coach you always want goals. I wish I had five strikers on the team that each scored 25 goals. That’s normal, but I don’t think it’s realistic. What I’d say is we want to put forwards in positions to score goals. We want to create a system that can produce goal-scoring opportunities, and then it’s up to the strikers to finish them off.”
The system allowed for Gyasi Zardes to score a career-high goal tally in his first season in Columbus after spending half a decade with a successful LA Galaxy side. Zardes is one of three forwards in the camp alongside LAFC’s Christian Ramirez and Portland Timber’s Jeremy Ebobisse.
Berhalter is optimistic regarding the player pool at the forward position placing belief in veterans and younger players alike.
“When I look at the pool of strikers that we have, I think they’re capable of scoring goals. We have some veterans when you think about guys like Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes. We have some younger guys like Josh Sargent, and some inexperienced guys who have potential like Christian Ramirez and Jeremy Ebobisse. We always want goals and hopefully our system can help get them chances that they can finish.”
“I like what the forwards have been doing. We have been using them in a slightly different way as we had previously, but I really like how they’ve been adapting to that and I’ve been pleased. I think they’ve done a good job.”