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Berhalter and USMNT trying to make the most of a challenging international soccer landscape

It has been nine months since Gregg Berhalter last coached the U.S. Men’s National Team in an official match, and his next opportunity won’t come until November at the earliest because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s challenging, right? It’s like you become a coach in theory now, and not in reality,” Berhalter said when asked by SBI about how the break is influencing his coaching. “That’s the challenging part of it. But it’s about studying now I think. Watching trends of the game watching what teams are doing, We’re watching our players really carefully.

“You can still be productive,” said Berhalter, who even joked about playing the video game Football Manager to pass the time (he isn’t actually doing that). “It’s just we’re not getting the reps on the field and we’re not getting the game reps. But in terms of studying the game, you can still do that with plenty of video. I think the most important thing is keeping current on our player pool knowing exactly what they’ve been doing.”

The USMNT was drawn into a Gold Cup group with Canada and Martinique, and there is a good chance Haiti will be the fourth team in the group for the tournament, scheduled for July of 2021. That time period will be a very challenging one as Berhalter navigates the Nations League in June, potentially the Olympics in July and the Gold Cup, which will all come before the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, which is tentatively set to begin in the Fall of 2021.

“It’s going to be good communication (with clubs) and it’s going to be looking at a lot of different players, It’s going to be juggling some players in certain cases,” Berhalter said. “The next year, 2021, represents a chance to win two trophies with the Nation’s League and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. And then to get a really good start in qualifying. It looks like we’re going to be playing eight games in 2021 of qualifying. So that’s a big chunk of games that we can we can make a dent on starting to reach some of our goals and qualify for the World Cup.”

With Concacaf having already moved the start of the final round of World Cup qualifying to the Fall of 2021, the Gold Cup will be Berhalter’s final opportunity to look at his full squad before those crucial qualifiers begin. That said, the USMNT will also have games in June with the Nations League semifinals and potentially the final, which could leave Berhalter with a decision to make on just when to bring his full-strength team together.

“When you think about getting the whole group together, we’ll have an opportunity in March to do that. We’ll have an opportunity in June to do that. And then the Gold Cup could be an opportunity. Then it’s qualifiers,” Berhalter said. “Either way, it’s still looking at the players workload and the players schedule and we have to be mindful that. That’s really important in this whole process, but we certainly want to get our group together we want to get our group playing together before qualifying.”

The international calendar has become a moving target for the Concacaf region, with the original World Cup qualifying schedule scrapped shortly after it was unveiled. As much as Berhalter and the USMNT is planning for the current schedule, he knows full well that Concacaf may be forced into more adjustments.

“Part of the uncertainty is what we’re dealing with in our everyday lives, right? I mean, nothing feels certain anymore,” Berhalter said. “That’s just something we have to adapt to, we have to be flexible, and we have to make the best possible decisions with the information we have. And we have to plan. And then when we plan if something doesn’t go our way, we have to use an alternate plan and keep going.”

For now, Berhalter is using his time to scout his player pool and maintain communications with his players and their clubs. As much work as he is doing, he acknowledges there is no substitute for actual games and in-person training time.

“It is challenging for international managers right now, with the lack of playing time,” Berhalter said. “It’s great to see Europe back playing internationally. Hopefully, South America will get going again also. World Soccer has to restart again, and we need to look for ways to do that and we’re doing that now.

“We’d like to have the tension of preparing for an opponent of preparing the team to play picking a squad, but unfortunately, we don’t have that moment. So we have to make the best of it.”

Comments

  1. simon raises an interesting point. i have heard MLS teams were turning down world cup qualifier requests for players in other regions. i understand right now there are “no rules.” that the usual FIFA requirement for clubs to “play along” with NT call ups is not in effect due to speedy covid seasons. i understood they were trying to negotiate new ground rules. but we may be in a season where the tug of war and/or player refusal issues we have for january camp or olympics, are more broadly a problem even in quali. we may be back to the old ways when clubs could say no. the coach then needs to be more flexible and have a deeper sense of his pool.
    there is also, as noted below, the issue of players who might be technically available but face quarantine on return if selected. the team might not say “no” but they might grumble that they don’t want to lose player x for 14 days. or that they worry whether they will be allowed to come back through immigration at all. politics aside, the EU, Canada, and others bar Americans. perhaps a dual national get through, but not all have another passport. and if covid crashes and they close the borders, all bets are off. there could be no planes coming or going.
    anyhow, something to watch. but we’ll see if new covid selection ground rules are made.

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  2. Breaking down the competitions (NL, GC, Olympics, WCQ) and the the environment we’re dealing with it comes down to this…
    WCQ – The most important. Use best possible players available and a formation they’re comfortable with.
    Oly – You’re not getting our best players released from Europe. MLS & Liga MX players only who are age eligible.
    GC – A mix of Euro players & MLS’ers. Leave the A-Listers (Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Reyna, Brooks, Dest, etc…) with their clubs and use the Backups who aren’t club starters (Uli, Weah, Morales, Green, EPB, CCV, Yedlin) and mix in some of the MLS guys (Aaronson, Muller, Ferriera, Jozy, etc…).
    NL – No-One cares about this competition. Mix some of the MLS Olympic players with MLS Sr. NT players.

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    • The only area I disagree is the NL because of its better location in the calendar. Euro players will be fit as their seasons just ended. Maybe play one tune up and then two matches, giving the first team a practice run before qualifying. It would still allow them to have recovery time following the NL before their clubs restart in July or August.

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      • What you’re neglecting is players need rest and also may be called upon for qualifiers over the summer, including perhaps in June. players at the end of their season are not usually “fit,” they are “exhausted” or “beat up.” surely you played soccer. at the end of the club or college years i wanted to nurse my dings and put my feet up. they will have had a short summer break this year, a packed league schedule due to starting later, and then you’re like just keeo them going. haven’t you ever noticed how lousy pulisic looks in early summer?
        plus, even if i was cynical, they have not said that NL leads anywhere. it’s like winning GC then. we won GC and then missed Russia two months later. we missed the 12 London Olympics then made the knockuts in brazil. i looked at it at one point and very few euro or copa america winners go on to win the next world cup. spain is one of the few to do them in sequence. at some point y’all need to realize the competitions don’t relate. it’s an ego thing, not an objective basis for the NT doing better.

      • IV it’s kind of a no win though yes guys are tired in June but at least they are game fit, give them June off and then call them in for the GC and risk injury going hard directly after a lay off. I prefer just keep going since NL is two matches not six like the GC. I believe they’ve said there will not be qualifying during next Summer, so I don’t think they could add it unless either NL or GC are postponed.

  3. Here’s Berhalter’s best tactical approach. Sit down with Pulisic, Adams and McKennie. Ask them what type of system will suit them best and be most effective going forward? If 2 out of 3 of them agree… then you do that. Then pick your best players and fit them around the field. Chat with Dest, Brooks, Morris and Sargent and see what they are comfortable with.n That’s it- no bs system and fancy new strategies. No talking with Michael Bradley and figuring out who to fit around him. Listen to your core guys. There’s no point in trying to create some new, elaborate system to force players into, when there is no time to do it. Work with what you have and focus on picking the most talented 11 guys and scouting the opposition.

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    • All of those guys play a pretty similar style in their build out as Berhalter. The defensive philosophy varies as to where to apply pressure between RB, Chelsea, Juve, and the US but this idea that those guys aren’t playing complex possession based systems at their clubs is laughable.

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    • we are paying him the big money. he needs to look at the pool himself and see what system the talent on hand should be best suited towards. if he’s a real coach and not just a system pusher he should be able to construct a system that fits the parts lying around. to be blunt, i am skeptical because he never did that at columbus well enough to win a trophy; his fans make moneyball excuses and claimed with NT pool he would magically soar. he got the pool and did last year with it. so, no. but anyways, that’s his job. i get annoyed when it’s like, he should look at club minutes — this is another form of outside deference. what does the club coach think. i prefer the klinsi model where he is the adult in the room, anticipates talent before it is even first team approved in club, and puts in the system that maximizes his team, even if he wished something else would work. klinsi’s problem is he didn’t keep that approach going into the second cycle. he became a club snob for selection and kept pushing a defensive 433 even after most of his defensive mids retired. to me asking the players what they think is the same sort of outside validation problem. he should reach his own decision because that’s what he’s paid for. he might run it by key players at the end just to say, this is my plan and tell me if there are any holes in it, but the whole point here is the coach coaches. if he can’t figure something new out then it needs to be someone else. and given the qualifying tempo we need to be hair trigger. if even so much as a guatemala happens we need to move on.

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      • I think it is useful to consider the following: When Bradley became coach at LAFC and when Marsch was coach at Red Bull NY. each had successful seasons but they took different approaches. Bradley tried to assemble the best players he could sign and then find a system in which they could prosper. Marsch took the approach that he had a system and it was more important that the players bought into and executed his style of high-hard pressure than it was that they play “pretty” soccer. Both coaches benefited in having outstanding goal scorers in Vela and BWP. Both won supporter shields, neither won the MLS Cup. That is probably an over simplification of the differences, but at least I think it is broadly correct, and may shed some light on a possible path forward for the USMNT.

        I think Bradley’s approach has the higher ceiling and is the one that is most appropriate for a NT. However, it can be difficult to implement if the available players are simply not that good especially if a productive goal-scorer is not found. Look at Red Bull NY in 2019 with BWP mostly unavailable due to injury and LAFC without Vela this year (true LAFC now has BWP, but BWP is a much different kind of player than Vela; the system that worked well with Vela and Atuesta seems to have broken down with BWP. LAFC is only now starting to find its feet with games coming fast and furious with little training time. Is Atuesta really the key?) Further both teams have suffered through player turnover in the backline which has significantly weakened their defenses.

        I think all that implies that GB needs to deal with finding a defense back 4 (or3) that are good enough, are available and can stay healthy so that changes to the back line are not dictated by injury. That will allow them to play as a cohesive unit. He further needs to figure out how to deploy Adams, Pulisic, Reyna, Morris, and McKennie to the best effect. That might mean they rarely all see the field at the same time. Right now, in the USMNT pool, I do not really believe there is a goal-scorer capable of being a major concern for any of the top 30 international opponents. (Morris, Sargent, … prove me wrong, Please!) At defensive mid, I think we are still waiting for Adams and/or McKennie to improve tactically, they do not seem to be deployed as traditional central defensive mids at their clubs which may make that wait overly long, though both seem have to have the athleticism the US has lacked at that position for some time.

      • “We’re paying him big money” he barely makes more than an MLS manager, around 325,000. Arena made around 900,000 and JK was over 3 million a year. Tata makes over 2 million. Jill Ellis made more than Gregg which makes sense since she won the WC but given that player salaries aren’t equal. Did you read the part of the interview when he talked about the staffs weekly schedule. They are watching players every week analyzing performances for not only players already in the group but those who could potentially join. Your idea that he’s just following “club snobbery” is absolute bull and your idea that he should choose a player that scored a goal two years ago for the NT over a player whose playing every week now is pure insanity. Berhalter and his staff watch more of their players than any other USMNT staff in history. You throw out JK as this shining example how did Miguel Ibarra work out? Brandon Vincent? Jerome Keisewetter? Brek Shea? Rubio Rubin? Jordan Morris scored in his third match and didn’t score again for two years (and that was before his knee injury) he had 4g and 2a in his first 25 caps but 5g and 6a under Berhalter in 14 caps. Klinsmann would see a guy in one game and fall in love with something and they rarely panned out.

  4. I’ve heard Mexico has scheduled a couple friendlies in the latter part of 2020. What about the USMNT? One in Europe and another in the US to accommodate the Europe and MLS based players?

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    • The US said that there will not be any in October just couldn’t mnake it with travel restrictions and MLS season they were still hopeful for Europe in November but nothing finalized, with case increases in Europe I wouldn’t count on it.

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      • Many of the Euro players would have to quarantine If they traveled to the US upon their return to Europe so clubs wouldn’t let them go. MLS players would have to quarantine in Europe when they arrived and then when they got back from Europe per MLS guidelines so not feasible to mix the two groups together.

  5. Certainly it must be a coincidence that, during an extended period when the US Coach is unable to be involved in the development of US players, we are seeing a huge surge in the careers of US players.

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    • That is just silly. A national Team Coach’s job is not to develop talent, it is to recognize it and assemble a team that can play together effectively. Player development is really the realm of the club coaches and organizations. Sure a NT coach can offer some suggestions regarding development, such as finding a better team, or improving a weak foot, but whether or not that advice is (or can be) taken is largely up to the clubs.

      The last time a USMNT coach actually was in charge of player development was when Bora was with the majority of the 1994 team for months.

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  6. he contradicts himself. he chats up winning trophies. he talks about whether players need rest. he doesn’t seem to acknowledge those pursuits may be at cross purposes. the scouting talk also sounds nice but if you select to win when do your prospects play? the trophy talk concerns me most because with our busy schedule and need for fresh blood the lowest priority should be sending an “A” team to chase hardware. it should be qualifying, rest for “A” team leaders, and finding players that elevate our quality above splitting games with Canada. he’s not beating mexico and getting any trophies without improving the team that shows up for the tournaments.

    but then i kinda feel like berhalter knows the right things to say but in concrete terms runs out a team that looks bad and doesn’t win much. which is about doing as opposed to talking. and as discussed above i think when he talks if you listen long enough he starts basically contradicting himself. you cannot be all things to everyone. at a point you have to make choices. i don’t think the post-2014 “choice” where we obsess about winning games actually got us qualified or has led to real success.

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    • He said earlier qualifying is first priority, then Olympics then GC. Now the NL was added into that already crowded Summer so it sounds like the team of McBride, Berhalter, and Stewart still have to work out how to prioritize that, but as you’ve said IV there’s no guarantee that the schedule doesn’t completely change again so to Covid.
      ——————————
      Berhalter has had one of the better winning percentages in US manager history and actually games that they’ve experimented with young lineups like Venezuela and Jamaica or with practicing tactics over winning like the friendly with Mexico are the ones they’ve lost. So maybe you are contradicting yourself saying he needs to experiment but then criticizing him for losing when he experiments.
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      The manager has to contradict himself somewhat because if he comes out and says, we’re not trying to win this competition or that competition one the players don’t try as hard and clubs are reluctant to let players go and risk injury if the team isn’t trying to win. Plus you don’t get to that point in your career if you are ultra competitive so even though he may plan to bring an all MLS lineup to something he’s still trying to win even if it’s not the best lineup.

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      • misleading. most of the coaches on the list had a good period at the start and a bad period at the end before getting fired. that in sum nets out to career win %. you are trying to compare GB at probably peak “prowess” — without the period that gets him canned — with coaches who ran their full arc. i say “prowess” because all these other coaches will have WC qualification or GC wins on their resumes, which he doesn’t. i say “prowess” because Bradley’s first year he went undefeated for 10 straight games, and beat mexico, and that’s how he got rid of interim. arena in 16-17 tied in azteca and lost 2 games total — but the second was huge. he also presided over the quarterfinal 2002 team and a pile of trophies. so berhalter’s tepid peak effort doesn’t compare to theirs, and the period that gets him fired is not yet in his career arc and stats. for example, i think he should have been canned after canada game 1. at that point he would have been 10-2-3, roughly arena’s % without the hardware. and i would like to see what he would have done with sarachan’s schedule and not his creampuff. sarachan at least beat mexico and tied france.

      • the question is whether he is adaptable, whether he was “trying something on,” or whether the selection quirks and monomaniacal system obsession are simply what he is. an adaptable coach might redeem himself. a system nut with weird ideas on selecting players to scheme might be beyond repair. he would have one note he has already played. the results would be what they are. and while JR looks at vague % i look at we always play to rank, beat who we should, get beaten by the better team, split with tepid jamaica and canada, lost twice to mexico. what does that bode for qualifying? i am uncomfortable. i am also into objective results and not subjective hope. this should be the second best team in the region on personnel, rising towards first. if we look like anything else the coach is an anvil dragging behind you. i would have a short fuse because i am not interested in missing out again to chase the messianic dream of changing our playing style to appease snobs.

    • Jamaica when we actually played our best squad instead of guys who were left off the roster and played in our regular 4-3-3 formation we won easily.
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      Canada is currently fielding its best ever squad. Yes there were questionable roster selection in Toronto, but without Adams, Altidore, Brooks and Dest some of that was forced on Berhalter. Placing three of those in the lineup a month later and we had 3 goals in 30 mins even without our two best players.

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