Gregg Berhalter’s first opportunity to field a full-strength U.S. Men’s National Team is finally here, and Thursday’s friendly against Ecuador in Orlando should provide the USMNT coach with plenty of insight after months of planning and preparation.
USMNT fans will be hoping for a win, and for some promising performances from standouts like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, but for Berhalter the team’s March friendlies against Ecuador and Chile are more about beginning to build a body of work that will help him shape the team.
“It’s all about expectation, we know this game isn’t going to be perfect but it’s important to start,” Berhalter said. “We began talking to players in between camps with video, but it’s a different thing to do it on the field. We started to do that in training with the limited time we had and we will continue in the game. We will use the game as an evaluation period of what we want to build on going forward.”
“We’re in the process of forming that identity,” Berhalter said. “We want to be a team that competes and is brave. We want to give teams a tough time and create goalscoring opportunities. I would look at this phase as another step in the development and I think we will continue to figure out who we are as time goes on.”
Nine foreign-based players were included in this camp while several MLS players were brought back in from January. Some younger players like Josh Sargent and Timothy Weah were not included, but Bundesliga standouts Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, and Weston McKennie got the nod and will continue their growth at national team level.
The group doesn’t have a lot of time to figure out every single detail that Berhalter wants to execute, but they will get a sense of his ideas. With the Gold Cup just under three months away, these friendlies will be a part of the evaluation process of picking out which players can bring what Berhalter wants to the table and which ones cannot.
“It’s a change but sometimes that can be good,” McKennie said. “Before we had a little more free time in between camps but Gregg has ideas of how he wants us to play, what we wants us to do, and an overall style to the group. Knowing we weren’t in the January camp with some of these guys, it had us a little behind but he’s been great in helping us get up to speed and I think that will make us better.”
“It’s been great to be back and it’s been good to try and get involved with what Gregg wants to do,” Pulisic said. “He wants to play soccer, he wants to play the game, he wants us to build out of the back. It’s a style of play which I think is good and it’s what the country needs. It’s been positive.”
Like the USMNT, Ecuador is coming off a year without involvement in the World Cup. The CONMEBOL side has talent on its roster with Antonio Valencia, Enner Valencia, and Carlos Gruezo being the marquee names in the squad.
Unlike Panama and Costa Rica, Ecuador will provide a different challenge for the USMNT, and the goal after 90 minutes will be to get better as a unit and continue to grow the chemistry between this group of players.
“We’ve been studying [Ecuador] a lot,” Berhalter said. “They have some fantastic players. What I like about Ecuador is they have very diverse profiles. They have some players that are very skillful and some others who are very physical and strong. It leads to a very difficult team to play against and an exciting matchup for us. They are a very interesting team but we have become more familiar with them.”