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Berhalter’s USMNT “C team” made the C stand for champions


It didn’t matter much that we had known for months what Gregg Berhalter was planning to do with the rosters for the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup. The complaints still came when his experimental squad for the Gold Cup was unveiled.

The immediate complaint was that it made little sense to call in what was seen as a USMNT C team, especially with Mexico announcing a close to full-strength team, complete with European-based stars Hirving Lozano, Hector Herrera and Edson Alvarez.

Berhalter and the team never bought into the idea that this American team was a C team — with a B team presumably consisting of those European-based players who didn’t make the cut for Nations League and had their clubs balk at a Gold Cup call — but as it turns out it actually was a C team, only the C stands for champion.

Berhalter took a team loaded with players who had never competed in an international tournament and made them believers. He gave youngsters prominent roles and let them battle through adversity, and he convinced the veterans on the squad to buy into what he was doing.

The result was a tournament run few could have envisioned when that roster was first revealed, which was understandable because few could have seen so many players blowing away expectations.

Followers of MLS already knew Miles Robinson was a quality defender, but few were aware he had the talent to be a USMNT starter. Now they know.

Matt Turner had been the subject of plenty of buzz in MLS in recent years, but for non-MLS followers, the Gold Cup was the first chance to see a player some believe can challenge Zack Steffen for the first-choice goalkeeper role. That idea sounds far less crazy than it did a month ago.

Kellyn Acosta had already provided a tease of his impressive ability in the Nations League final, and carried that momentum into the Gold Cup, where he silenced any lingering questions about which player is the best option as Tyler Adams’ backup in the defensive midfield role.

Even fewer non-MLS followers were aware that James Sands was such a poised and technically-gifted central defender at the age of 20, and now they are aware that he is legit and a real threat to make the World Cup qualifying roster.

USMNT fans who follow Americans Abroad closely were already aware of Matthew Hoppe after his breakout season with Schalke, but the full fanbase hadn’t had a chance to see him up close, and now they know he is a legitimate and versatile attacking threat.

Those are just some of the players who fully embraced the opportunity presented by Berhalter, and rewarded him with tournaments that not only led to a trophy, and precious win against Mexico, but also leaves their coach feeling that much better about the depth of his player pool.

That as, after all, the main goal of the Gold Cup, because there is nothing more important to the USMNT program than ensuring a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, and Berhalter saw the tournament as a chance to identify and develop some new options.

That is where the ‘house money’ theme was born, because no matter what happened in Sunday’s final, Berhalter would be heading home with the knowledge he had found several players that had proven their mettle and worthiness to be included on the World Cup qualifying squad.

Berhalter wasn’t satisfied though. He believed his team had come together in a way that beating Mexico wasn’t impossible, and after leading a full-strength USMNT to a dramatic win over El Tri in June, Berhalter had detailed knowledge of Mexico’s strengths and weaknesses.

That is what led the USMNT to high-press Mexico at every opportunity, never letting El Tri get comfortable, and consistently testing Mexico’s own transition defense with consistently quick counterattacks.

Mexico still had its chances, and might have grabbed a first-half lead if not for Matt Turner’s heroics and the stellar play of Robinson and James Sands in central defense, and if not for some poor finishing by Mexico, but there was a feeling that when the halftime whistle blew one team looked rattled and one team looked energized.

Make no mistake, Mexico’s players felt the pressure of winning a final they were expected to win easily, and the pressure of doing so in a sold-out stadium where close to 90 percent of the fans in attendance were urging them on.

That it was the USMNT that kept pushing the issue late in the match and in extra time, and the Americans who finished strong despite facing a more accomplished collection of players, makes Sunday’s loss all the more bitter for Mexico and head coach Tata Martino, who has to deal with the ignominy of being the first El Tri coach to lose back-to-back finals to the United States.

While Martino suddenly finds himself no longer enjoying his honeymoon period as Mexico coach, Berhalter celebrated his birthday on Sunday with his second trophy of the summer, bragging rights over the coach some fans had wished was hired instead of him, and with another group of players riding the confidence boost that comes with winning an international trophy.

It’s a safe bet Berhalter and his team will enjoy celebrating their title in Las Vegas, before going back to their respective teams, while Berhalter prepares for his biggest challenge, qualifying for the World Cup.

Even with two trophies on the mantle, and two wins over Mexico, Berhalter knows that none of that will matter if he doesn’t lead the USMNT through a successful — and impressive — World Cup qualifying campaign.

After Sunday’s win, and after his work turning a “C team” into champions, there is a lot more reason to believe Berhalter is up to the task.


  1. Winning the GC with a C team is greater than winning the NL with an A team. 8 players for Mexico played in the NL final. This wasn’t a mediocre El Tri. I hope with 2 wins in meaningful matches. The conversation can shift back to the US players people want to see, instead of GBs shortcomings. He earned equity with me by killing the caveman formation 4-4-2. With 2 wins over El Tri, what does this mean for Mexican-American players US recruitment? I think the GC roster should have more 2nd and lower division US players in addition to MLS players. C stands for 4 Champs!

      • If there’s any truth to rumor, he was allegedly pissed that he didn’t play when Horvath started and played the whole match vs CR. US played in RSL stadium for those who need a friendly reminder. If he’s filed a switch, damn that was quick!!

      • Good god. The concern over David Ochoa is the product of pure FOMO. Dude very obviously has shown his preference for Mexico and why not? He won’t get a competitive game for 5+ years with us after Turner’s performance. Not to mention…. Who cares? Dude gave up a clown goal in a critical Olympics qualifying match and seems more concerned with teasing his “decision” on Instagram than anything else. Dude feels Mexican… so let him go rep Mexico. Will be fun when we put 5 past him in a few years.

    • Gomer: I think the concern is more over trend than the individual. Efra was his own situation because he left 5 years ago, but if Ochoa leaves and then you have Araujo flirting with leaving, Jonathan Gomez training with El Tri, people are afraid we will lose all of our Mexican-Americans. Stewart and McBride need to address the issue, because with the number of Mexican-Americans coming up we need to fix it if their is a problem not just individual decisions. I think restarting YNT is a first step so these guys feel valued and a part of the system.

  2. I will admit I did not expect us to win this game (or the Game against Jamaica), I was only hoping for a decent showing where the program wouldn’t lose momentum gained in defeating Mexico in the NL final. The players deserve a lot of credit for pressing Mexico and absorbing the Mexico atttack.
    I am still not a fan of Berhaulter or his player selections. I get that it was the start of the European pre-season, but as an A-Team (FIFA) tournament I would have preferred to see some more of the Fringe Euro players (DeLaTorre, Green, Aaronson, etc…) who are making strides towards being A-Team regulars. Since it was a FIFA Tournament USSF could have demanded their release…and they could have gained the experience/minutes ahead of WCQ in September.
    I still believe there lot of wasted roster selections (Lewis, Pines, Yueill, etc…) that were 100% on Gregg due to his player selections/decisions.

    Overall this tournament was a throw-back to the “High Work Rate” counter-attacking style we saw under BA in 2002 and BB’s first cycle in 2010. I think the “A-Team” has the same high work rate….but with greater technical ability and possession. WCQ isn’t going to be a cake walk, but if Gregg gets his player selections right it should be entertaining to watch.

      • Well I tend to agree since Dempsey is in the top 3 Americans of all time but at Hoppe’s current age Dempsey was playing for his high school. Holden’s comment was also about his attitude not his skill level or potential.

  3. Nothing like a win to make everyone soft and gooey. And it was a nice win. Nevertheless, had the US lost I am certain we would have seen angry accusations that Berhalter was using the equivalent of Bradley Ball 2.0 — athleticism, work rate and team work but not exactly beautiful soccer. And the critics would have been right. The US is now fully over the Klinsmann era and back to relying in its strengths.

    • I don’t disagree with all of that, but don’t you think personnel played a big factor? The drop of on-the-ball skill level from a six of Pulisic, Dest, Reyna, Aaronson, Adams, and McKennie to literally everyone on this gold cup roster is stark.

      I’ve been a massive critic of Berhalter, but the fact that we actually played a high press against Mexico last night with far inferior players was really gutsy in my opinion and sort of won me over.

      That said, when qualifying comes around, if he starts Zardes over Sargent, plays Acosta in the middle and puts Adams at the back, I’ll start losing my mind again.

      • Certainly the players chosen for the Gold Cup were unlikely to tempt anyone (other than Jurgen) to play pretty soccer. Nevertheless, the US lineup with its best “technical” players, whoever you think they are, is probably equally incapable of beating a good team by playing “pretty soccer.” Playing CONCACAF teams is one thing, but should the US get to the WC and face even the second echelon of European or South American teams, its best bet will be to use something like Bradley Ball.

    • @ Doctor Old Guy. First I love your name. But I’ll disagree and say some kind of mixture of styles and tactics to use throughout a game, a tournament, depending on what’s happening, looking for matchups to exploit or protect against game to game and how, including pressing hard throughout yet still stout in the defensive 3rd like last night, depending on personnel. But, to defend and counter, or BA or BB ball or whatever, with the right players is awesomely effective, so no problem with that anyway IF you have dangerous players in those positions. I think Soccering is Fun makes a good point about personnel, as you did. Another is there’s so much video on everything now, including opponents’ personnel and tactics, and it’s so fluid with info, the ability to scout all opponents in depth is so easy now it affects the chess matches going on with the personnel, right? speeds up the tactical cycles, the adjustments back and forth, and the players that are into that can more easily do it too, so it’s evolved since BA was doing this for the Nats in 2002. I think Berhalter is good at this, and even with the personnel misses (Pines, Yueill, etc) there were many hits too (Robinson, Shaq, Hoppe, Sands, that kid Busio, etc.), and the pool of players gives him more than just one option to play. we’ll see

    • Those are good points, Beachbum. To the ‘Bradley Ball’ and ‘pretty soccer’ critique, I’ll add one more point. Nothing against Bradley, but I vividly remember him losing a Gold Cup final against Mexico 5-0. Because of that, I sort of expected a similar result this time around. That’s why I was so surprised to watch our team press high, take the game to Mexico in spurts, and create quite a few good chances. In that very important sense — the sense of winning and winning well — this present victory was not Bradley Ball.

      It seems you’re a fan of Klinsmann, and I was as well, but let’s not forget the loss to Chile (wasn’t it Chile) in the Copa America as well as the unforgettable World Cup game against Belgium. Remember the Belgium game? I think Howard made like sixteen gut-busting saves on the day, and Klinsmann deployed Graham Zuzi of all people at full-back. I can’t think of a better illustration of ‘bunker ball’ than that Belgium game, but I’m sure I’m forgetting many others.

      Personally, I don’t think we’ve ever really had the players to play ‘pretty ball’ like I wish we did, but we’re getting there. Even my beloved Brazil who I grew up watching play ‘the beautiful way’ haven’t played pretty ball in quite some time. Yes, coaching is very important in terms of in-game tactics and man-management; but you have to have exceptional footballers on the field to play beautifully, in my opinion. And we haven’t quite crossed that threshold as a country yet.

  4. The US is becoming a more respectable soccer nation and Mexico is not getting closer to winning a World Cup. That said, ask yuorself, who’s closer to winning a World Cup, Christian Pulisic or Hirving Lozano? Results matter and both nations need more measureable results to become world champions.

  5. A couple things I noticed:
    The ref was far more consistent with whistling the US for fouls but he kept the game under control and used his whistle without giving a bunch of early cards to affect the game. The intensity on the field was still good but there was very little of the pushing and posturing we see in Mex/US matchups and definitely not the out of control match between Can/Mex. VAR also did a good job not making the ref constantly go to the monitor there were some calls that were close but nothing that came to clear and obvious.
    Under the new rules for a U21 player to be cap tied they must play at least one competitive match and four matches total. Efra had played in two friendlies before GC, then started against TnT. Meaning if he needed to play once more in any match to be tied to El Tri. Hmm, played 7 mins vs Guatemala and then never saw the field in the next 4 matches. It’s almost like he was played just enough to tie him and then he was buried just like Jona Gonzalez. Hopefully, Ochoa, Araujo, and Gomez are watching.
    Hector Herrera is favored by Concacaf, from his never getting red cards to his Golden Ball trophy. 1g and 2a over 562 minutes. Robinson had 2g as a CB in 570 minutes. I’m not sure the high boot was a red because Williamson wasn’t really in his line of vision when he went for it but it was definitely orange to go head high with your boot in that position on the field.

    • Yeah, given the way the ref tried to avoid being the center of attention all match I definitely understand the yellow for the boot to the head…but whoo, I’ve seen reds given for that before.

      • Let’s be real. The lack of a review on the Herrera high boot was a mistake (probably the only one) but this is a rare example of excellent and consistent CONCACAF refereeing in abig game. Guy made some annoying calls but he was very consistent and kept the hand completely in check. Can’t remember a US-Mexico showdown where the referees were less of a story. It’s a thankless job but I give that crew a solid “A-“

  6. I read these comments and the article and I really wonder what game people saw. Park the bus and win with a set piece. Gets you so far in a concacaf tournament but it’s 3 games and your out in a WC.. I don’t see what a team learns by parking the bus. Italy or Brazil or any team has a hard time beating a team that sits back playing defense praying for opportunity on a win on a set piece. It’s still a crappy team and you can win 1 out f 10 times.. If that makes people happy fine but it won’t get you anywhere in the WC which is the only thing that matters. Mexico will learn from this game by I think finding a way to score against mediocre teams that play to defend. We just made the stronger. Meanwhile the mex Olympic teams is the semifinals with half the players ready to go to Qatar. Wow that’s development. Meanwhile everyone is happy with this win and the way it was won??? Mediocrity is excellence in the eyes of mediocre people.

    • The possession wasn’t there, there is no doubt to that but characterizing it as park the bus just isn’t true. The US high pressured the entire game they weren’t just sitting back and absorbing. Given that our best technical players were given the tournament off to prepare for the upcoming season that is as good as we could expect. Typically in a game like that with Mexico having so much of the ball you would expect more and more chances as the game went on but instead it went the other way with very few good chances in the 2nd half and extra time. That was only the 2nd time we’ve ever beaten El Tri in a GC I think they said so people rightly should celebrate.

    • Another theory would be that Herrera from the La Liga Champs and Alvarez from the Eredivisie champs are pretty good at controlling a midfield especially against MLS CMs. That being said neither were really unable to unlock the US central midfield either. Must of the Mexico offense came from wide areas or from long balls played to Funes Mori.

  7. I think this game, despite the difference in possession, shows that the bottom line is that the US has better players and more good players than Mexico does. Another big thing is that the desire, grit, and never give up attitude that we had come to expect from the US team has returned after a spell of disappearance. These are good things. However, Canada has improved greatly and Jamaica was no pushover, so qualifying will not be easy. Still, the future looks very bright. Kudos to the players and coaches for a great tournament that was much better than I and many others expected.

  8. The team that made Alexi Lalas cry. He said it was one of the top five greatest games in program history. They definitely exceeded expectations in the final. The one constant throughout the tournament was they were scrappy and fought even when they weren’t looking all that great. I’d rather that than a group of great talents who consistently under perform.

    • “A group of great talents who consistently under perform” pretty much describes England over the last couple of decades.

    • Alexi (and Stu) getting emotional was great. I felt the same way, because it was a return to the type of determined hard working and team oriented performance the USMNT used to be known for. Alexi and guys like Heyduck, Tab, and Marcelo, were from an era when the USMNT was less talented but consistently punched above their weight due to that type of spirit. It’s something we can be proud of and it reflects the culture of our great country, the way many MNTs embody the culture of their countries. We lost that identity for a while, mostly under Klinsi. The trick is to keep that determined, gritty identity while our players become more technical and talented. Alexi getting emotional was a glimpse into the idea that there’s a tradition and history that goes with our MNT.

      • Preach G_DUB. What a fabulous performance. 2 Championships against our El Tri made this a great Summer of Soccer for the USMNT!

  9. The many who post on SoccerbyIves who said Berhalter was clueless and unable to coach at this level seem to have been proven wrong. They almost all seem to be quiet now failing to offer any mea culpas or praise for the man they maligned for months (or years).

    • Speaking for myself, my position was never that Berhalter was a bad coach, he was a good coach, but not as good as several other options available. I think he has improved greatly as a coach since he first took over. Best for me is that he has shown flexibility and a willingness to change to fit circumstances, within limits, and, maybe most importantly, gets the most out of the players he works with. I still have some questions about his player selection, but he seems to elevate the performance of those he does call in, with some exceptions, like Lewis.

    • Anyone saying GB is clueless is… clueless. I’ve seen some, but little of that extreme. It’s the internet. Mother Theresa would get the same. GB does lots right. As I’ve said in the past- he is a tireless worker, is obviously intelligent and detail oriented, does an outstanding job at team building- building a great atmosphere for players. Thats no small thing. All of this was critical to their success and to his growth. Big time credit to him. That said- we are looking to take a leap as a footballing nation. Accountability and criticism go with that and in spite of this success- some of it- criticism of selections/roster building and past slow tactical adjustments have been warranted… done better could have made a few of these matches easier. I suspect we’ll see a much diminished role for some. All a part of growth. Onward and upward we go…. with more hope and depth and hardware from this GC. This has all been fun to watch!

      • Agreed. Spot on. I believe not only did the players grow / improve throughout this tourney but GGG did as well. Great job as whole for this group.

  10. Not a big fan of Berhalter before the summer but no one can argue about the job he did in NL and GC.

    This “C” team did not win by parking the bus and waiting for a lucky bounce to get a win. They stood in the center of the ring and traded punches with Mexico for 120 minute something an undermanned team should never be able to do.

    It did remind me of the glory days of the last golden generation when they were always the less talented and less technical squad and still managed to win.

  11. Was reading the postgame thread at r/ligamx to get a feel for what El Tri fans are saying after the game. If you listen to them complain about their squad selections being mostly older established players some of whom are out of form and a few who play now in MLS on big contracts. It all reminded me a lot about our complaints on Bradley and Altidore and BA favoring certain established age iv players whose form had passed and adding a manager who has a past history of favoring experience over youth. I’m starting to think they could spiral downwards this cycle, not missing the WC but definitely they’ve got some similar problems to what we went thru last cycle. Two big differences is their pool is no where near as shallow as ours was last cycle and their media is brutal on any manager who loses.

    • A big difference between the USA from 5 years ago and Mexico now is that the aging stars for the USA were simply better than the younger players trying to displace them. Mexico has a much deeper pool of very good young players so it is much more a case that the coach (Tata) failed to bring in more of the younger players, when JK did that he found the younger players were simply not good enough. Tata did not even seem to try to test younger players.

    • To be fair to Tata they are trying to win the Olympics, that took away younger talents like Antuna, Lainez, and Alvarado. Also if Lozano isn’t injured in that first match that front line with Corona, Funes Mori, and Chucky is pretty darn good.

      • This. Mexico had an abundance of possession and scoring opportunities throughout the tournament but pooooor finishing. Add Lozano in the mix and things could well have been very different.

  12. Kudos to the USMNT! Long time since we “punched above our weight” and exceeded expectations. Fantastic defensive performance in this tournament, unless I’m mistaken the only goal scored against was the penalty in a 6-1 win. Mexico bossed possession in the first half and Turner made the one diving save, but from halftime on, the defenders blocked almost every shot from Mexico’s attacks. What a difference it makes when someone can play the 6 with speed skill and bite, and Acosta did this all 120 minutes, congrats to him! Congrats to Berhalter for his gameplan and his use of our superior depth. We wore teams down, and it showed, and it worked.

  13. …and I stand corrected, because in another thread, I said there was NO WAY we would get yet another win playing for 1-0 against Mexico.

    Shows what I know.

    Kudos to Berhalter, who did NOT seem to be Forrest Gump’ing it, and indeed seemed to be able to distinguish between Williamson and Lewis, (despite his coachspeak to the contrary!) and who increasingly seemed to lock down his tactics and personnel as the tournament went on.

    Bravo, Gregg. You outcoached Tata last night, and that ain’t easy to do. That was overall a really, really well-coached tournament, and you got it better and better the longer it went on…which is the sign of a good coach.

    This team really, really came together. Actually your last TWO teams have really, really come together. That’s starting to become a trend too. Maybe we should stop regarding that as an accident.

  14. Great win! It was a nail-biter but the result was amazing. Hoppe is the energizer bunny. He is everywhere on the field. Acosta plays like he’s on ice skates. He’s fast, smooth and has excellent anticipation. Robinson was a stud in the back. Finally, Turner has to have some octopus DNA in there somewhere. He’s covered the goal mouth like a blanket. A surprising result given the experience of this roster, but a great one. Anytime the USA can kick Mexico is a good day.

  15. It started like a throwback game for the USMNT from a decade ago, heavily-MLS based roster, fans heavily outnumbered in the stands, Mexico pouring on attacks by leveraging their huge possession edge but unable to put away any of the near-goal chances and USMNT eking out a few chances against the run of play. Back in the day, US won by converting one of those in the first half and then another in the second, for dos a cero.

    But this time, this team, actually took more of the possession in the second half and especially in overtime, more so than prior generations, and eventually found a well-deserved goal. It was coming. So many more dangerous chances created after half-time.

    Looks like the young legs helped a lot! Turner deserves a look as a potential #1 at some point, especially if Steffen sits for weeks at a time on the MC bench. Robinson looks like a solid backup option to Brooks, at least. I’d still favor Richards, if he plays every week in the Bundesliga, but looks like he’s earned a chance with compete with McKenzie and Miazga for sure. Acosta is a solid backup to Adams, though still a bit careless with the ball, like a lot of other enticing options that should be on the roster at some point for the Octagon- Hoppe, Williamson (so much poise on the ball, to retain at least a bit of possession, when Mexico was pouring on the attacks). Gioachinni also looks like a forward option, although he’s better off challenging Sargent than Pulisic/Reyna for a spot.

    What an awesome win for the program!

  16. Wasn’t a big fan of Berhalter. He seemed to harbor bad habits of Bob Bradley by calling in his favorites when he first started. I was impressed he gave more players a shot in this tournament. You could see it was adding competition to positions, which is what you need. He may have a selection problem of another kind now. That’s ok, I don’t think we have ever had this much depth.


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