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Berhalter on a busy 2021 for USMNT: “It’s going to be a balancing act”

The COVID-19 pandemic has put international soccer on the shelf for the majority of 2020, and even though there are signs that national teams will return to action in the fall, the U.S. Men’s National Team is facing the prospects of having to wait until 2021 for important matches.

Of course, when 2021 does arrive, the USMNT will have no shortage of opportunities for what is shaping up to be a young squad for Gregg Berhalter. The Nations League knockout rounds, followed by the start of the final round of World Cup qualifying, potentially the Olympics, and then the Gold Cup. It is a schedule that is going to test the USMNT’s depth and quality, and set the tone for the rest of the cycle.

“It’s going to be a balancing act,” Berhalter said of 2021 in an interview with “For us it’s about first prioritizing World Cup qualifying. We need to have our top group in for these games, and they are very important games starting in June.

“As we move into the Gold Cup, we know we have another opportunity to win a trophy and it may be a different group that steps up for that. For us, it would be giving players another opportunity to prove they’re good enough.

“Having said that, it’ll be a balance also with the Olympics because those two events overlap each other,” Berhalter said. “It’s balancing the age of our roster and making sure we don’t have players that are gone for all three of these events. There’s going to be some maneuvering involved, that’s for sure.”

Given the young age of Berhalter’s squad, the reality is many of his top players are age-eligible for the Olympics, meaning the USMNT will likely have to decide whether to try and send as strong a team as possible to the Olympics and sender a lesser squad to the Gold Cup, or prioritize the Gold Cup and send a weakened squad to the Olympics (assuming that the United States qualifies).

Another challenge for Berhalter will be gaining player releases for Olympic qualifying and, if the Americans qualify, the Olympics. Clubs are not obligated to release players for the Olympics, and it is a safe bet that some teams will object to having their players playing in June qualifiers and the Olympics.

That reality would make prioritizing the Gold Cup more practical for Berhalter, but his comment that “it may be a different group that steps up” for the Gold Cup than would be used in qualifying suggests the Gold Cup won’t necessarily feature a full-strength squad.

The USMNT’s first competitive matches will come in March of 2021, in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals, followed by four World Cup qualifiers in June of 2021. The Concacaf men’s Olympic qualifying tournament is also set to be played in March of 2021 as well.

The unveiling of Concacaf’s plan for World Cup qualifying, and the rest of its senior competitions over the next two years, helped provide a clear picture for Berhalter and the USMNT program to start planning ahead, with October looking like the best bet for the national team to come together for the first time since January, and for the first time as a full team since last November’s Nations League wins against Canada and Cuba.

“Our priority is to get games in a safe manner, Berhalter said. “We don’t want to put any players at risk, but we want to play in the October and November windows.

“The first thing is figuring out opponents and locations,” Berhalter said. “Given what the world has been confronted with the last few months, it goes without saying that the priority is doing it in a safe way.”


  1. Based on our tepid Nations League performance, where we barely escaped the group, emphasizing unit chemistry and continuity would be silly. What is the point of keeping together a player set who took one win from two Canada games, and lost both games to Mexico, when you would then be playing good teams in qualifying in the “Ocho.” If they can play fall games then Oct and Nov need to be experiments. If games don’t start until the spring then Nations League also needs to be an experiment. If we get 4 fall games then NL can be a dress rehearsal. “A” team for 4 qualifiers in June. Sit them back down for GC to rest and make their clubs happy. Experiments at GC, all age groups, best prospects based on promise, regardless if they could be on the Olympic team. Also anyone we want cap tied. Send to the Olympics the best U23s we have who aren’t senior-ready or need to be cap-tied. Then back to the “A” team for the 6 fall qualifiers. After each experiment we add to the “A” team the players who actually stand out. To me the focus needs to shift to identifying the best talent in the pool, and away from “playing to win” or “chemistry” in non-qualifier games. That approach IMO rarely leads to actually winning tournaments, our friendly success has fallen off, and instead results in suboptimal roster stasis. Our historical incumbency bias reflected a degree of regular success no longer present. There is no objective reason to pretend a team that split games with Canada and lost to Mexico twice is optimized and our best chance at qualifying. Or that if we just play them 10 more games together in The System TM they will magically get better. Personally I think talent wins out and you have a better chance in identifying the best 23 people actually performing in games, than in trying to drill a lackluster set of regulars. So use NL and GC to identify helpful players from the aspirants eg Weah Adams Holmes Wood Horvath Reyna Llanez Pomykal Soto etc. And then punt the driftwood off the back end of the “A” team roster. This needs to become about performance if we’re going to improve results.

    • Used to be if we struggled to advance or lost to Mexico that was seen as a sign further roster churn was needed, not spun as “well we got out of group.” We shouldn’t have such confidence in rosters that don’t win trophies or beat Mexico.

    • I’m confused…you say the objective should be about finding talent over “regulars” or “winning” but fail to talk about the fact that GB called in different young players in pretty much every camp, furthermore you failed to mention that many of the players that people have been cramming for can’t stay out of the training room because of injuries and there are some who just weren’t released by their clubs. Does it make sense to you to bring in players to the senior team that have yet to play ONE professional game that isn’t with the reserve team or “U” teams? I’m asking because i thought GB did a great job of intergrating younger players with the vets again in every camp and invited nothing but young players in for the January camp where players like Ferreira, Aaronson, Llanez, etc showed they could possibly be ready to step up to the senior team. The senior team is not a development team however, and the sooner we realize that the better.

      People are infatuated with instant gratification, or wins right now, but at the saeme time want the team to be progressive in their play. Here is a quick thought to consider then, if people want the team to be aggressive and to control tempo in games there will be pitfalls along the way considering we’re still not technically savvy as other nations yet in that regard but we’re getting there, so games wiere never going to look pretty. What gets me is again this idea that Nations League and the Gold Cup don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things to the masses but yet there are complaints when “the system” is pushed and we lose. You can’t have it both ways, in that you want progressive soccer but expect results to come right away, it doesn’t work that way. The WC is still 2 years away, and with GB having been on the job only a little over a year(i keep saying this too)i would argue he’s done a pretty good job and the wins and losses record would tell you the same! Losing to Mexico shouldn’t be an indictment on this regime when you consider that the past regimes couldn’t get it done in those games either. Losing to Canada was an eye opener of sorts but not really either, considering our history playing away from home, but more than made up for it in the return leg! I wish the european friendlies would have come off because GB’s selections would have shut a lot of this nonsense down about continued missed call ups(I know this from several articles i’ve read). At the end of the day people can keep pushing this narrative that GB favors MLS over our european players but I want someone to show me the the team sheet where MLS players were in the majority over the european contigent?!

      • It’s very simple. if you claim to be a system coach with system players and you err on the side of experience for your call sheet, then you are playing to win now and should be judged by whether that happens. One of the deep flaws in the US for most of a decade has been playing to win — and then only doing so once — 2017 — but then protecting incumbents. if you play to win you better win. If you run friendlies to trial players then I shift the concern to do you find new contributors, and worry about winning when we play to win. if you play older players and don’t win then playing to win actually impedes progress. You aren’t winning and you aren’t trying new players.

      • What GB does is favor first team club minutes which leads to the absurdity of no-names like Aaronson out-racing to the team the premium talent like Reyna and Weah and the like. To me he hasn’t meaningfully experimented because the consensus U20 prospects who made that world cup haven’t gotten their full runout, nor have the guys like Holmes. Instead we use people who couldn’t even make the U20 team. You wanna pretend like his oddball stuff makes him an experimenter, fine, I am talking about trying the obvious people. No one on the planet was like you know who the USMNT needs to try? Mihailovic, Aaronson, etc.

    • I don’t think your roster breakdown is too far off. Although from 3Gs comments it sounds like you just have the importance of the GC and Olympics switched around. The new direction the US is taking with dual nationals seems to be treat them right, make them feel apart of the group, and help them in whatever why possible with their clubs. When we’ve lost guys it’s because someone hasn’t been honest or respectful. Under Berhalter we’ve had two guys come up and we’ve kept both. With the addition of McBride you also have another layer to help players feel included. Capping everyone to lock them in just comes off as desperate and dishonest. As for the Olympics I think probably carries more pressure than the GC and certainly more exposure to casual fans and likely more European scouts than the GC. A good problem we may have is some of our U23s may be too good by next Summer to be released for the Olympics. For some of these players it might even come down to which the GC or Olympics their club wants them to play.

      • You’re confusing what might be moral to the coach with what attracts players. What actually attracts players is how we fast tracked Dest. You saw how fast he committed once we reciprocated. It has worked before with players like Green.
        Some might view that as immoral or premature. I haven’t heard actual players beefing about how sorry they are they were capped by the USA. Any heartache at us losing interest tends to be offset by the honor of the selection. You are able to go around saying “I am a US international” the rest of your life.

      • I seriously doubt that given the choice of representing the senior team in Gold Cup — and being on fast track to the world cup team — or playing U23 in the Olympics, the players would prefer being on the second team. It’s like do you want to be on varsity for an ordinary game this weekend or do you want to play in a district championship game with the JV. Most ambitious players would want to be with the senior team for a lower key event as opposed to in a key event for a lesser team. The players would also likely get that being with the senior team leads to far larger exposure in the long run. I think you are massively over-rating the value of being scouted as a U23. U20 I could understand – it’s a youth age group and players may make their first pro signing or transfer out of it. And they are expecting you may need development team time. But U23 they want finished players. You probably show sterner stuff playing with a senior team for a U23. Anyone can hack age group ball. Are you an adult player? Show me how you play adults.

      • I’m sure Pomykal beefed about how Weah and Sargent got treated last year because players don’t care if they are senior team or U23.

    • Ok lots of things to go through here.
      Dual nationals: listen to what Dest said it was all about how the US believed in him as a U17, not they’re going to play me right away. Listen to what Robinson says in his ASN interview it doesn’t have anything to do with promises, he even mentions really wanting to play in the Olympics.
      Aaronson: was first called to camp in October after having a good camp with U23s. Pomykal and Weah were injured and he was seen as a training player who didn’t even dress for matches. He could have called a Ledezma but Euro sides don’t like players to travel not to play. Aaronson then spent Nov. with the U23s playing alongside Mendez and Ledezma. Aaronson finally got a cap in January when Weah was hurt and Reyna, Ledezma, Mendez were all playing with their clubs. By the way Reyna in September was playing the final tune up for the U17 WC in September and and WC in October (in which he stunk as did the entire group). Other U20 MFs Servania and Pomykal were in this camp. Aaronson did beat out Bundesliga vet Marco Fabian at Union and Curtain has basically said he’ll be sold in the next six months to Europe so this idea no one rates him is ridiculous.
      Weah, said he wanted to play U20s, so why bring him to the one possible camp in March when he wasn’t available for June. Also Lennon had just taken over at Celtic so only having to travel to Spain gave him more time with his new manager. One thing people over look in that March camp it was the return of Morris and Yedlin (who 3G wanted to try at W). These were established regulars who Sarachan had not used because of youth movement and injuries. They had earned at least a camp. That came at the expense of U23 eligible Euro based players.
      Holmes? I don’t know I’d take him over Roldan.
      Mihailovic is still pretty widely regarded and seems to have interest from Europe. Hasn’t been called since GC, spent all his time with U23s. He wasn’t U20 WC eligible.
      You are probably right about scouts and Olympics but players seem to care about more than GC. Although the soccer portion is kind of an afterthought guys still grew up wanting to be an Olympian. You said guys can walk around saying I’m a US international I think saying I’m an Olympian is probably bigger.
      Berhalter has know Gio since he was in diapers. Gregg and Claudio are reportedly close friends he wasn’t going to throw him in USA/Mexico because he played some preseason friendlies. The followed the Pulisic timeline just like you’ve been asking for.
      Julian Green looked pretty lost on the pitch in 2014 and played a grand total of 72 minutes in 8 matches he dressed seeing the pitch 3 times. He only got into the WC when all hope was lost. If not for a bit of luck it be remembered as a complete failure. He didn’t really contribute for the NT until a couple good performances against world powers Cuba and NZ in 2016. JK himself didn’t use him in any competitive matches after the WC. He played in 7 matches for Sarachan and had maybe two good performances. His is hardly a path we should be advocating.

  2. GB is lucky the pandemic has bought him time. People are forgetting just how bad his player selection was and how poor we looked in the games we played. Now he gets a fresh start and lets hope he’s smartened up (I doubt it though)

    • You’re clearly overlooking the amount of injuries to the NT’s top young players, as well as the denied release of other players by their clubs, limiting who GB could call in! What were the I don’t know why people feel the need to bring their own narratives into conversations without first thinking about the conversation, but instead push forward with emotion via the need for instant gratification. At the end of the day GB has been on the job a little over a year and hasn’t done any worse than any other manager in their first year in charge of the USMNT, so if you’re calling his first year shit, explain the reasoning behind it, instead of these reaching generalizations!

      • Bull. Given opportunities outside of injuries he has left off players like Weah and Holmes. Weah before he got hurt, Holmes after. He also has not capped people like Reyna of elite promise, instead choosing to wait on their first team coach to annoint them. This is a team that under Klinsmann would cap future contributors or stars who at the time were in college or in youth or II team sides in Europe. His selection has been impacted by injuries but since he sent Weah to U23 when he had a chance, it’s actually likely he is conservative or skewed and not necessarily just injury-bugged. He hasn’t taken many risks when given windows to try.

      • what narratives?! Shithalter was appointed to the position by his brother (fact). USSF shit-show allowed it (fact) What has Shithalter accomplished in his career to earn this job? the young players will not develop under his tenure (fact) the USMNT needs a coach with international experience, Bielsa or Almeyda should be on the USSF radar. Here is a question for you, why does he continue to call zardes when you have young forwards that have the experience and are playing over seas? You must be a Columbus crew fan…

    • Year W L T W% W% w/D Pts per game
      2019: 11 5 2 .611 .667 1.94
      2018: 3 5 3 .272 .409 1.09
      2017: 10 2 7 .526 .710 1.94
      2016: 12 2 6 .600 .750 1.95
      2015: 10 6 4 .500 .600 1.70
      2014: 6 5 4 .400 .533 1.47
      2013: 16 4 3 .696 .761 2.22
      2012: 9 2 3 .643 .750 2.14
      2011: 6 8 3 .353 .441 1.24
      2010: 5 5 4 .357 .500 1.36
      Just a little perspective.

    • IV your narrative on Reyna is an absolute falsehood, you continually mention how JK capped Pulisic when barely played. That would have been in March. I’m so sorry Berhalter didn’t predict the global pandemic and withhold Reyna from the U17 WC when he’d played zero professional matches.

      • Weah got injured very early too, and before the roster for the September and October friendlies were set to be released. And before then he was playing with the U-20’s at the WC, which btw Weah had a preference in playing in as opossed to the GC. Thanks JohnnyRazor for calling out the falshoods of the narrative seekers LOL

      • I’m talking last year when he was already turning heads. And yes we have done it before with players like Morris and Green. You’re just arguing GB’s lame theory you need to be a first teamer to be any value. This is false. Morris and Green were helping us before they put on a first team shirt. You are buying snob theory that doesn’t track Klinsmann practice. And to be clear I am not talking about promoting every U17 or U20 from their junior teams. I am talking about treating a handful of European-acknowledged elite, as elite. Reyna was already on lists of the best U20s to watch in the world. Why we have to pretend like he’s a hidden secret until he dons a first team jersey is beyond me.

      • DUDE WEAH HAS 8 CAPS AND 1 NT GOAL. Why was he (and Sargent) even with the U23s? And to be clear, there was at least one window where he was healthy and sent to train with the kids instead of the adults. How’s that for narrative?? Mine is actual history and facts as opposed to coach’s excuses.

      • 8 caps and 1 g is not that great.
        Arriola 33 caps 5 g (better rate)
        Morris 39 caps 10 g (although was much lower 3/2019)
        Zardes 56 caps 12 g
        Sargent 12 caps 5 g
        Yes Tim had a good run with YT but so did Morris, Arriola, and Sargent. I think Tim will be an important player going forward but to tout his record as proof he should have been a lock roster invitee in March or June (when he wanted to play in U20 WC) is just ignoring facts you don’t like for facts you do like.

  3. This could be very good for guys like Bobby Wood, Julian Green, Kenny Saief, and Ethan Horvath. Guys that might get a chance for the GC roster that wouldn’t if everyone is available. Bobby has to play somewhere next year of course.

    • I thought during the Timbers/FCC match someone said US in Oct. Europe in Nov. I don’t remember if it was Taylor or Ale or Gregg. Of course both MLS matches were snoozefests until the last 10 mins of Port/Cinc. so I might have been dreaming that.

      • I know they’ve expanded the window in October and November and are allowing for three int’l matches. Many European clubs have added a friendly to tune up for the two Nations League matches already, so that would make sense.

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