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Gregg Berhalter preaches patience implementing new USMNT system

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Trust the process.

It is a sports cliche that has become more and more popular in recent years as head coaches try to manage fan expectations while trying to lay the building blocks for their teams.

It also essentially what Gregg Berhalter preached on Friday.

The U.S. Men’s National Team took a beating to the tune of 3-0 at the hands of arch-rival Mexico in a friendly on Friday night. The embarrassing defeat at MetLife Stadium not only gave the USMNT a second loss to Mexico in three months, but also raised plenty of questions about the direction the Americans are heading in and whether they have what it takes to play the build-from-the back, possession-based system that Berhalter craves.

Judging solely on the performance against Mexico, you might be utterly convinced that USMNT does not. Berhalter disagrees.

“By definition, a process takes time, so we know we have to be patient” said Berhalter. “For me to see the improvement from last game is important. I think that there was some really good soccer played in this game, there were some really good movements in this game to disorganize them and break them down.”

While Berhalter may have been encouraged by some of what he saw, there is still a lot of room for improvement by the USMNT with regards to building out of the back. On three occasions in the first half, the Americans turned the ball over in the defensive third and they nearly led to goals for Mexico. Eventually, that sloppiness and penchant for misplaying passes proved costly, with the Mexicans scoring their second goal in the 78th minute after another USMNT turnover in a dangerous spot.

Berhalter did not say exactly how long it would take when asked when the growing pains could possibly go away, the start of World Cup Qualifying is fast approaching for the USMNT. Time is not on its side.

“Honestly, it took a couple years,” said goalkeeper Zack Steffen about learning the Berhalter’s system while at the Columbus Crew. “I wasn’t with Gregg when he first went to Columbus but I know from talking to the guys who are in still in Columbus that had Gregg from the start, there’s still times where they feel uncomfortable and you really just have got to get out of that.”

Wil Trapp, who also previously played under Berhalter with the Crew, added: “I think you saw moments in the first year that were great but not until the second year did we really have the constant confidence to do it. I think the experience of failing helped immensely.”

The USMNT might admittedly need to work through the kinks, but it is unclear if there is sufficient time to do so. It is one thing to implement a system at the club level, where coaches get to work with the players on a daily basis and have many more games to fine-tune things and learn. It is entirely another to do so at the international level given that the group only gets together a few times a year and usually only for short periods.

In any case, Berhalter is staying the course with his plans to play the more attractive and proactive style of building out of the back. As such, his players will have to adapt to the best of their abilities in order to try and prevent repeat showings of the lackluster Friday performance.

‪“I feel comfortable and I feel most comfortable when my guys are moving for me and we’re connected and we’re all on the same page,” said Steffen, whose inaccurate pass to centerback Aaron Long led to Mexico’s second goal. “I don’t feel comfortable when we’re disconnected and guys aren’t moving and we’re kind of ball-watching and just kind of waiting to react to what I’m going to do.

“We’ll get there. It takes time to really come together and learn each other and know what that person is going to do on the ball.”‬

The process is well underway. The USMNT has worked all year on learning Berhalter’s desired style of play and attempting to avoid hitting hopeful long balls up the field as much as possible. Players are going to continue to try and make the necessary improvements that will allow the team to move the ball quickly and accurately from the back to the front, similar to how Mexico did on several plays on Friday.

Exactly how much time all that will take the Americans is one of the main lingering questions, however.

“At the end of the day, it’s a way of playing in which the learning curve is sharp and you get punished at times.” said Trapp. “It’s one of those where you could abandon ship, for sure, but as I saw when we were in Columbus, we had mistakes early on where eventually guys got more confident and they were able to now see the passes and be more comfortable on the ball and find the solutions better.”


  1. Berhalter played a soccer style that reminded me of the late 70’s early 80’s eastern block nations. It mirrored the late Yugoslavia. There were several problems with this; the first, the US does not have the individual talent or experience to be successful, the second, this style is out of date with the newer full press and forward traps, third, it played into Mexico’s strength. This style pulled the Mexican players close to our goal with the premise to play quickly through or over them, catching them too forward. The US could not do either.
    Berhalter’s player selection made most common viewers scratch their heads and the more seasoned viewer scream out vulgarities. When it came down to correcting his gross misjudgments, he substituted too late and with too many players. Between the 57 and 90 minutes periods, he pulled six players; two defenders, two midfielders and two forwards. Surely this was a formula that resulted in a 0-3 line and being embarrassed at home with Mexico’s total dominance. But Berhalter epic comedy wasn’t just his style of humor, many players joined the punch line.
    Steffan had the worst modern day game witnessed on a national broadcast. He may be a standout with shot stopping, but he has no skill below his waist and his judgment or pass selection was horrific. I don’t think their is a US goalkeeper that has ever played that poorly. It reminded me of Meola during a US verses Russia Olympic game back in the late 70’s under Bob Gansler.
    Dest was outplayed and in a bit over his head. This was understandable, noting that this was his first cap on the senior team. Berhalter through him unfairly into the fire expecting him to prove himself during this rivalry.
    Long was sucked out of position far to often for a player of his experience. This was partially due to the extended responsibly playing this system.
    Zimmerman was sound but did not excel. He too was pulled this way and that way. At times during the game, he seemed totally lost.
    Cannon played out of his responsibly far too often which pulled midfielders wide and Zimmerman out for support. Cannon became the pulled cork in the drain.
    Moralas was a standout. He was solid and stood up to the heat. Unfortunately the other midfields did little to support, overlap or trap. Moralas was most notably on his own island.
    Trap was out played at every level and on every part of the pitch. His skill level did not match up well with the Mexicans. Additionally, he had to retreat almost constantly deep into the defensive field to provide outlet options for the pinned back defenders.
    McKennie would have served the team better if he just remained on the bench or just pulled himself out of the game. The Mexican attacks simple embarrassed him. He had no offense and no creativity. On defense, McKennie only saw their heels and the Mexicans only saw his frustrations.
    Pulisic can’t do it alone. He is heads and shoulders above any player, US or Mexican, on the pitch. He covered more miles than John Glenn of NASA. His individual skill was showcased several times but without other moving parts, he was as alone as Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
    Boyd ran this way and that way, up and down, in and out, but rarely saw the ball. It was certainly not the lack of effort, it was the deep Eastern Block style which negated his play.
    Zardas does not belong on the field, not this game, not any game at this level. He has very little ball skill and even less creativity. He has speed, but if he doesn’t make runs or try to create space, then the speed is for naught. He played as poorly as Steffan, the front of the attack was equal to the back of the defense.
    Rankings; Steffan (1), Dest (4), Long (4), Zimmerman (4), Cannon (2), Moralas (7), Trapp (3), McKennie (1), Pulisic (7), Zardas (1), Boyd (2)
    The substitutes could not improve the game on their terms, they too were chained to the same style of play but came in cold and never really reached game level. Robinson, Morris and Sargent competed as well as they could, but found themselves chasing the game. Robinson was an improvement, but not enough to make a difference. Morris and Sargent also did well, but too little too late and too many substitutions at this level of a rival game. Lovitz did little to change anything on the pitch and Yueill did not have enough time to even get sweaty. Lietget was a positive force and should have started the game.
    Rankings; Robinson (6), Morris (6), Sargent (5), Lovitz (3), Lietget (7) and Yueill (?)

  2. Right, because Beerholder’s “system” is so great hat he has won countless titles during his coaching career thanks to it, and coaches for the Real Madrids of the world are begging GB to provide insights into his awesome tactics!

  3. If any of our CONCACAF competitors played the way the USMNT played against Mexico on Sept 6th., the coach of that team would have been fired immediately after the final whistle was blown. The US team demonstrated a harsh reality: our soccer is more than poor… we do not have the understanding of the game that our Latin American competitors do. The lack of ability to play out of our own side, the nervous complicated indecision demonstrated an problem that as of now has no solution. Passion for soccer in the US does not exist. That’s not a knock on our players, it is a reality of our culture. Soccer is still a cult sport in the US, and it appears we want to keep it that way. I don’t have the answer to the question….how do you create a love for the game so that in summer days, or days off from school, or during free time KiDS desire to have the ball at their feet? Go to any playground in any Central America country or Mexico and witness how life revolves around soccer. The almost innate ability to make the right decision comes from unsupervised play as children.

    Start with a coach that not only understands the technical and tactical part of the game, but can also transmit a “soccer smart” knack, skill, capacity.

  4. I watched the 2nd half again, the first 20 minutes was decent, played even with Mexico. A couple of chances for them, a few times we were dangerous, Morales off the post a couple others were we just missed the final pass. Once Lovitz and Sargent came on we lost what connection we had (four subs at that point). I’m a Steffen fan but he was bad. The US had started to play more over the top and Zac just decides to play a soft short pass to Morales that even if he gets it has no were to go. Down to the US has to push and gets too many forward chasing a goal, Morales is on a yellow after Herrera is allowed again to put his hands to the face of an opponent so he cannot commit the foul. 35 minutes of the 2nd half were ok, better than the last 25 of the first better than the 2nd half of the GC. But those other 10 minutes were bad, filled with mental errors from guys that should know better.

  5. While there are currently many, many things wrong with the USMNT the biggest (IMO) is the formation that GB is trying to implement. I’d like to see us try a 4-2-3-1 at some point in the near future when we have our “A” Team available….

    A. Robinson or Dest at LB.
    Sargent a possible starter at CF….or off the bench.
    Boyd a possible starter at RM…or off the bench.
    CM is a bit more of a question. Not sure who slots into that role at the moment, but hopefully someone steps forwards in the near future. (Lletget, Scott, Pomykal, Mihailović, Parks)

    We still need to strengthen our depth options (CDM, Striker, & Wide MF), but there is enough raw talent to at least get us into the WC and if a friendly draw we could potentially advance.

    • We played a 4-2-3-1 Friday night and the 2nd half of the GC final.
      Morales and Trapp as DMs McKennie as the CM Boyd and Pulisic wide. In the GC Weston played next to Bradley.

  6. Does anyone think we’ll win a WC playing a 4-4-2 defending at all costs and countering? Any chance that we can use that four times in a 2 week period to beat 4 opponents of equal or greater quality?

    • Does anyone think that the US (with the US player pool) will win the Word Cup because of some smarter than everyone else “system”?

    • Then what’s the point, we saw in the GC we’re good enough to qualify using this system especially if we can get Brooks, Adams, Miazga, Holmes, Yedlin and Weah healthy. We saw in 2014 against Germany and Belgium defending and countering isn’t going to get it done we’ve got to be able to control the ball better. At least trying something different is trying bunker and counter just mentally tells our guys we don’t believe in you, but maybe we’ll get lucky.

      • Nate- we will never develop into a possession game country if all our National team does is defend and counter. The system naturally flows down hill. Virtually no MLS team tries to play that way anymore, ten years ago in the Bunker Bob days almost everyone did. Yes foreign hires into MLS and guys improving their craft like Bradley and Vermes play a role in that but Klinsmann call to change the American game had a large effect even if he abandoned it to some excuse. Watching US YTs 15 years ago it was hit and hope our fast guy could get it and bull his way to goal or get fouled and score on a set piece. Our YT now play possession while using our athleticism to punish opponents. Does Berhalter need to find ways to make simpler, sure he doesn’t have the same time with the club as he did with the Crew. Seeing our top players playing this way encourages young players to work on these skills and youth coaches to change their styles. It make take 30 years but that’s better than this defeatist we can’t ever do it attitude that people have on US message boards.
        Lawrence I encourage you to go back and rewatch. It wasn’t as bad as the echo chamber led us to believe we were getting out of the back and possessing the ball and breaking pressure especially in the 2nd half. It was not a great performance but it was not as bad as we first thought. Through in guys that were hurt or unavailable and we aren’t in bad shape. As for Sargent/Zardes, you’d assume Sargent will start in his home town against Uruguay, and for friendlies Bremen likely asked that he not play 180 minutes. Yes we could have brought say Wood but then you have two guys relatively new to the system. Zardes can operate as a teacher for Josh even if his skill set is less.

    • @johnnyrazor

      assuming those are honest questions and you want an honest answer: no. i don’t think we’ll win a world cup that way, because i don’t think we’ll win a world cup in the next 30 years, and by then we’ll all laugh at “4-4-2” the way we laugh at the “2-3-5” of yesteryear.

      however, i think we’re much more *likely* to win a cup that way than with possession soccer that We’re Not Good At. defend-and-counter is a proven way for lesser teams to win short tournaments. greece probably never thought they would win the euros; hell, portugal had to play that way to win the euros, and look who they have. spurs, and to a lesser extent liverpool, made it to the champions league final that way; atletico made it to two in three years that way.

      one of the most important characteristics of a national team coach is having the flexibility to fit a system to a (by definition) limited pool of players. if berhalter sees our current pool and decides that we’re playing out from the back against the better teams in the world, either (a) he thinks that these players can play that style, which means he’s blind, (b) he thinks he can teach them to, which means he’s ignorant, or (c) he thinks that his way is the only way, which means he’s not suited for our national team.

      • I agree with your comment about a need for flexibility. Any system can be adapted to high pressure, possession, etc
        What I did not see in the Mexico game was an ability to adapt/adjust. The players are partially at fault because they seemed very programmed out there. The coach as well, though. When Tata overloaded midfield, our guys could not solve, and I didn’t see the coach react, either, until halftime.
        Mexico is the kind of team that makes buildup play very difficult. Their strengths are pressing and midfield play. What I found very frustrating was our lack of awareness up front in giving options to mids and defenders as a response to their pressure. Everyone up front (Whoever was in front of the play) was really static and reactive. Reggie Cannon would advance the ball, see no options, pull it back, start over. Sometimes this is the nature of buildup play, but sometimes its the result of a lack of fwd options. I”m not sure where we go from here. I’m a big Tyler Adams fan and a huge Reyna fan. Call Reyna up soon. I also think Josh Sargent should be allowed to start, to make mistakes. He has the ability to move us in a good direction – not that he is there yet, but Zardes is who is is. Ugh.

  7. Berhalter is a joke, can we please hire a real coach? It’s like watching Ben Olsen coaching Barcelona, he’s way out of his league. Also, Zac Steffen, WTF is wrong with you?

  8. Wonder how long his leash is going to be before he gets fired or if they would die him. If he would have taken this job a year earlier when everyone knew he was going to get it maybe the players would be use to his style by now. I also think he should scrap the Jan camp so he doesn’t get to tied up with MLS players and plays them because he’s more familiar and like their work rate. He should spend Jan watching film and studying what would work with his core players and fit the system around them instead of making them fit his system

  9. The players will be alright in 2-3 years but Berhalter will not be a good coach for a national team. The players deserve better and the fans also. Get an experienced man like the Mexican coach. Unfortunately, the US seneior leadership lacks the necessary experience and wisdom to lead a national team in need of wise selection from the available player pool good and who can provide them with tactical direction.

    • For all the posturing from veteran managers, they weren’t coming because they could see this cycle was always going to be limited. Although there a lot of young guys going to Europe they are mostly playing for youth sides. In 2022 when GGGs contract ends Pulisic, McKennie, Adams, Steffen, Weah and Sargent will be in mid 20s and have another few years of Euro League experience. Tata will be 60 after Qatar and wouldn’t be surprised to see him make an actual run at the job then.

  10. I’m so happy that at least the general consensus is that this system will not work for us against even or better teams. We need defensive discipline and two really defensive midfielders and team playing in a 4 4 2 and against really good teams a 4 5 1 always playing to create chances but also having a counter attacking style of play being solid defensively that’s what began to work in the 90s and early 2000’s then when we tried pocession based playing out of the back it didn’t work remember klinnsman vs Mexico final possession was bad 30 to 70 for mex in 2015 final. At US Soccer it may be that it’s all about the good old boys network which is why berhalter was chosen he is related and has connections well they need to fire him Fast.

  11. There is so much b.s. here, it’s going to take a while to dig out from under all of it. In an AP article Berhalter said, You may think I’m crazy, but I’m more pleased with our performance in this game than in the Gold Cup final.” He’s right, I do think he’s crazy. Doing the same thing over and over again even when it is clearly a failure is truly stupid. You don’t have to be doctrinaire to implement a new system. Why not tell the team that the preference is to play out of the back, but use your discretion and hit long balls when necessary. That is obviously not their mindset One thing I remember about when Arena was coach is that he would often start out playing long ball, or short quick passes, then after the half he would have the team do the opposite after the opponent had adjusted during the half. In watching recent US Mexico games, one thing that sticks out to me is how well Mexico moves off the ball. We don’t. A US player will often just take a position and stand there, waiting for a pass. The Mexican player is constantly moving, looking for open spaces and holes in the defense. The result is that Mexico almost always has a relatively easy outlet pass from out of a press, while the US often doesn’t. This is coaching. At one point Mexico adjusted their formation to better control the midfield. Berhalter’s idea of adjustment seems to be putting in a substitute. Tata basically schooled Berhalter in this game.

    • “Doing the same thing over and over again even when it is clearly a failure is truly stupid”.Thats the definition of insanity and Beerholder ? is makong the players and fan base go crazy by hanging the team with the boring one dimensional, lackluster tactics and player selection.

  12. Please. The system does not work against faster, more skilled teams. We simply don’t have the horses to run this type of system. We look like hot garbage and, while it’s not all Berhalter’s fault, I don’t see it changing anytime soon until we get back to the gritty style of play we are known for.

    • Just a reminder. Zardes, Trapp, and Steffen all have played for Berhalter, so they should know how to play the system. Pulisic, Morales, McKennie, Sargent and Dest all play on top European teams. They certainly should have the ability. Then, in the wings we have Adams, Yedlin, Brooks, and Miazga and even Ream who have played in first division European leagues. Now I realize that a lot of these players are young, but if you can start in the Bundesliga or the EPL, you should be able to handle anything in CONCACAF In the past you could use the excuse of lack of able players, but I don’t think that holds water any more.

  13. It’s clear that the staff from GM to manager did not care if we won this game. The possession system worked against smaller Concacaf teams at the GC, the area of concern was against high pressure from Mexico and Jamaica in the 2nd half. Both Berhalter and Stewart basically said the plan was to make them play through it because otherwise it’s all they’ll see. That would be a solid strategy in a club situation when your training daily and playing 5-6 matches a month. GGG has to figure out a way to simplify things and someone has got to step up and say I’m going to turn and go at my defender. Stewhalter made clear in their comments they are not going to just give up like Klinnsman and run a 4-4-2 and bunker.

  14. This guy is a sorry excuse of a coach. He cannot hack anywhere he coaches. Mediocre. Our national team deserves better. The whole USMNT is a joke. No heart. They play afraid. Egos. I’m ashamed.

  15. Greg is not the coach for an ambitious US soccer program, he got out coached and he does not know how to read the game. If a “learning process” is what he’s preaching, he needs to go to let the young players play. he keeps calling the same MLS washed out players. His tactics, his player selection are terrible, we need a world class coach like Matias Almeyda or Tata!

  16. Sarachan played better with less time what system we have only looked dangerous against much weaker island teams we have showed virtually no offensive threat against better teams we are still learning to play out of the back. Fire him it’s going to be too late. A good coach adjusts during games and has a style of play. This is our style of play ??????? The federation needs to make a change fire this coach. at this point it’s harsh I am a die hard fan but I am hoping for a loss to Uruguay a bad showing because I really don’t want this guy as our coach and I feel this will be the only way we get another coach. There is no pressure at all for the coach or USMNT that was supposed to change but no one cares about soccer I hope Greg is feeling some pressure. He needs to go asap he has had more than enough time more than 10 games and we looked worse than under klinnsmans worst games and arenas worst games.

    • Sarachan had two things going for him. Willingness to live and die with younger players and ability to adapt depending on opponents. Not sure Berhalter will depart from his plan. Even on occasions like the second half last night while it was 1-0 he could have diverted to another approach yet he kept smashing a square peg into a round hole. Wish I could get paid to do the same.

    • Quick comment – some of those worse games under JK were horrid. Guys not knowing what they are doing.
      That CR loss before he was canned was 10xs worse.

      Not defending Berhalter at all but gotta bring perspective.

      • No sh!t KC, but good luck here. JK revered here at SBI while the facts are he destroyed everything. The fans deserve this sh!t show, it’s what they wanted. Play sexy, play possession, blah blah blah. We used to beat Mexico when we’d defend hard, counter hard, and play balls into the box in the air to make the game physical. Now we suck, but it’s what the fans demanded. Stupid

    • Losing 2-0 at home to Costa Rica under Arena and losing to Trinidads B team when all we needed was a draw worse than a loss in friendly. 2006 against Czech’s worse as well. It was bad but not the worst ever.

  17. I’ve seen much less talented US teams play much better. This team has plenty guys starting in European first divisions we have to do better.
    Berhalter is obviously out of his depth coaching at the international level. His tactics are lame, naive, and misguided, he can’t read the game and adjust.
    Fire Greg and get a real coach that has actually been successful in his carreer instead before it’s too late.

    • starting at the european level…who cares!!! we need a TEAM, not a collection of individuals. Again, it’s another hangover from JK’s tenure…barf. HE was the one who went that direction, and look at us now with that stupid idea of how to build a national team.

      • The reason we can’t play as a team is all on Beerholder. He has a deeper pool of players than many of his predecessors, but obviously he has zero tactical acumen and can’t get guys who are good performers in top leagues to play well together. Good coaches figure it out. Get a real international caliber coach and you’ll see the difference within 6 months. Needs to happen sooner than later.
        I wasn’t the biggest JK fan, but also give credit where credit is due. His team got to the WC, got out of the hardest WC group the US had ever been in quite frankly. He also made it to copa america semis. He had many flaws, but i’d take him over beerholder any day!!

      • Also, GB’s obsession with possession soccer and building slowly out of the back with our player pool is so naive it hurts.
        Just get back to what has made any success for the usmnt. Blue collar die on the field defending and swift counters and set piece danger. We’re not Spain from back in the day. As long as we believe we can pass and dribble our way past better teams we’re in for a rough ride – again naive

      • Catching this reply late.

        Thanks for the article, read through it!

        It seems to me however that the author is trying to find a way to put the blame of the last debacle for WCQ on JK, whereas really it’s on Arena and the USSF for choosing Bruce 2.0, who had many games and easier games than JK’s early ones in that hex, to get us to the WC.

        Yeh maybe JK lost the locker room in the end and his methods were unorthodox. For me the mistake is USSF continuing with JK for another cycle. In general I believe that you should have one coach per WC cycle. National teams aren’t clubs, so every 4 years or so you need to reset things a bit with fresh eyes and new ideas.

        In any case and despite the article, facts are a stubborn thing: during his first cycle, JK got us to the WC and out of the hardest group in US WC history, despite the controversial Landon snub – in the end qualifying out of a group with Ronaldo’s Portugal, future champs Germany, and a team we never could beat before in Ghana, all vindicating his Landon omission. He got the job done and that’s all that matters!

        With the added cherry on the cake of the Copa semis and historic wins away in Mexico and Italy, and overall I will maintain that JK’s time at the helm was more positive than negative.

        Blunders came from the federation for:

        1- Keeping JK for another cycle (never a good idea for a national team)
        2- Replacing with a former coach out of fresh ideas in Arena


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