Gregg Berhalter’s first match in charge of the U.S. Men’s National Team could not have gone much better. A 3-0 victory over Panama saw numerous players shine in their first appearances for the senior team while Berhalter finally got the taste of life at the helm of the team he once represented.
Now with their first victory of 2019 under their belt, Berhalter and the USMNT can focus on the next step of their progression as a unit. Saturday’s clash with Concacaf rivals Costa Rica will provide a strong test for the USMNT, which will aim for its second consecutive victory of the new year. The test will be against a side that, like the USMNT, is in a time of transition under a new head coach.
“We know normally this is a veteran heavy group so it will be interesting to see how what Costa Rica does,” Berhalter said at Friday’s press conference. “We feel they will press us higher than Panama did and they are talented and have talented young guys as well as MLS players so it will be challenging for us.”
“I’m really pleased with the progression of the team this camp,” Berhalter said. “It will be a good test for both teams, we know we’re facing a team that is tough and eager to perform but we’ve been working on getting better every day in training to prepare for this test.”
It may not be the same Costa Rica team from last summer’s World Cup, but plenty of talent remains on the Ticos roster. Francisco Calvo, David Guzman, and Waylon Francis headlined the six MLS affiliated players chosen by Gustavo Matosas for this friendly. The test will be a positive one for the USMNT, which will look to follow up last weekend’s strong outing with another.
“We’re going to learn about them and I think it’s also a good position to learn about their new head coach,” Berhalter said. “We have very little body of work on what they will do, but on our standpoint we have checkmarks that we would like to achieve in our progression. We know tomorrow isn’t the finished product but we would like to progress.”
With several of the USMNT stars unavailable for this camp due to the European domestic season, opportunities have been given to several first-timers from MLS. Players like Djordje Mihailovic, Nick Lima, Corey Baird, and Daniel Lovitz shined in their senior debuts last Sunday while several others returned to the fold under the USMNT’s newest head coach.
For many of these players, this opportunity has been new and something for them that has become a reality sooner than expected. However, with the USMNT aiming for success in 2019, the players have been asked a lot and so far have answered to Berhalter’s tests.
“At times it’s been tough but when it’s worked then we’ve done well,” Baird said. “He’s asked a lot of us but we’ve improved a lot during these three weeks and now we’re looking to translate that over to the games. It’s a lot to take in but a lot of us knew that would be expected.”
“The main thing is the result, 3-0,” Lima said. “I think that’s most important for the team. Now we have to go on and build from it but there certainly is a lot of positives to take away from it. We’re still going to learn a lot heading into the future with more camps and matches but for now we have to focus on the match at hand.”
The opportunity to bring in new players is a bright one and could possibly play big dividends in the future. With World Cup Qualifiers, Concacaf Gold Cup, and other friendlies later in the year Berhalter could give this opportunity again to these young players especially if they do well against Costa Rica.
“I’ve been impressed with the amount of work they can do, the number of formations they can take in, and their openness to learn,” Berhalter said. “They’ve been willing to ask questions and want to learn. We will be up for this game, like we were for the last one.