On December 2, 2018, Earnie Stewart and USSoccer hired Gregg Berhalter as the new coach of the Men’s National Team ending the team’s year plus term of suspended animation and disappointing a large segment of the fan base that hoped for someone different, more exotic.
Instead, hiring Berhalter felt like the conclusion of a Romcom where the protagonist marries the guy/girl who was right there all along. It’s comfortable but the audience can only hope that the protagonist isn’t settling.
Now, finally, we get a hint into how it all will work out. We got a little taste when Berhalter debuted with a pair of friendly wins against Panama, 3-0 on January 27, and Costa Rica, 2-0 on February 2, with an all MLS group.
Today we found out who Berhalter rates when he has a full roster to choose from, and then the U.S. soccer press got to ask him about those selections in a conference call style press conference.
The big surprises/disappointments with the roster involved the omissions of 19-year-olds Josh Sargent and Tim Weah. Both youngsters are seeing sporadic playing time with their clubs, Sargent with Werder Bremen, and Weah, on loan to Glasgow Celtic from Paris Saint Germain.
Not surprisingly, Berhalter was asked why he left the talented duo out, saying: “when we looked at players that were U23 eligible and weren’t necessarily going to be in our starting group, we have to weigh is it more beneficial for them to play full international games at a level where they can gain confidence and potentially bring that back to their club and then get a boost in performance with their clubs?”
The coach added “I spoke to Josh and Tim specifically, and they’re young players with a lot of a lot of potential of what I would say about this is we’re looking at this from the from the big picture standpoint, the big picture is, you know, Tim and Josh have the opportunity of playing into the U23 level.”
Mention of the U23 team, which will be playing some as yet unannounced friendlies in preparation for CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers in October, naturally raised questions, given that the team is currently without a coach.
Berhalter handed that one over to team spokesman Michael Kammaran who said “we’re (USSoccer) still finalizing the details for the new U23 camp,” continuing to say, “in terms of the head coach, we’re also deep into the hiring process for that coach, and ideally, that person would be available for the camp.”
Berhalter has also sprinkled a few veteran players into the mix with Michael Bradley included again after his exile ended in January and the coach was quizzed about his decision to include veteran center backs Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez, neither of whom has been in the national team picture since the World Cup flameout of 2017.
The coach, a former center back himself, noted that “one thing we’ve looked at specifically is, you know, age based on position. And you know, it is common for center backs, central midfielders, goalkeepers to be older
and still be able to perform at high levels.” “And,” the coach emphasized, “if you look at the last World Cup there, there are many examples of that.”
The Ream and Gonzalez selections play into Berhalter’s intention to balance experience with his younger players, with the coach saying “we are looking at 2022,” when selecting players for this roster while conceding that “some of them will be pushing the limit and some of them may not make it just because of the physicality of it.”
Berhalter does, however value experience, going on to say “you know, we’re projecting this, we’re saying, okay, you can’t have all young players, that there could be guys, there could be three guys on the roster in 2022 that are in their mid-30s, that can happen especially when you’re trying to balance a young team.”
31-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach fullback Fabian Johnson has not been called in for this two-game set, clearly a victim of Berhalter’s “age-based position” philosophy. The new head man told the press corps that he met with Johnson on his recent trip to Germany, saying that Johnson “is a guy that’s still available” but Berhalter continued, “projecting towards 2022 he’s one that’s right on the borderline, and that’s tough. ”
This despite a backline that includes five center backs, though Ream can play left fullback, and Tyler Adams or even Weston McKennie can be used at one of the fullback spots.
Berhalter said that Adams, a midfielder who has made a recent, successful transition to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig from New York Red Bulls, is available in either role for the U.S.
In other positional intrigues, Berhalter revealed that “in this camp, we are going to look at him as a number 10, slanted to the left,” referring to Christian Pulisic. Berhalter explained “we played with two number 10s last camp, we’re going to do the same this camp, and within that structure, what you’ve seen is there is flexibility. When you look at last camp, there are times when there’s wingers going inside and 10s going wide. We want Christian to be flexible. We want to take advantage of his one on one but we also want to get him in front of goal.”
In June the U.S. will play in the Gold Cup, the first competitive matches of the Berhalter era and the first for the USMNT since the unforgettable night of October 10, 2017, that saw Trinidad and Tobago defeat the Americans and cause the U.S. to miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Berhalter was asked if this roster would strongly resemble the one selected to compete for the Gold Cup and the coach replied: “it is too early to tell.”
Up next for the USMNT: March 21 – 8pm et. USA v Ecuador at Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida
March 26 – 8pm et. USA v Chile at BBVA Stadium at Houston, Texas
U.S. Roster by Position (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge, BEL; 3/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 6/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 8/0)
DEFENDERS (8): John Brooks (Wolfsburg, GER; 36/3), Omar Gonzalez (Atlas, MEX; 48/3), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 2/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 4/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact; 2/0), Matt Miazga (Reading, ENG; 11/1), Tim Ream (Fulham, ENG; 26/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United, ENG; 57/0)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, GER; 9/1), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, CAN; 143/17), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 7/2), Weston McKennie (Schalke, GER; 7/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, GER; 23/9), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 7/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 13/0)
FORWARDS (6): Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 19/3), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 2/0), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; 2/0), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 25/5), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 2/1), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 42/6)