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USA hit reset with ‘Berhalter-ball’

Head coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States Men's National Soccer Team oversees training
© Getty Images
  • Gregg Berhalter named USA head coach in December 2018
  • Tasked with leading Stars and Stripes back to World Cup
  • First test: friendly v Panama on 27 January

Ever since 10 October 2017 when USA failed to qualify for a FIFA World Cup™ for the first time since the 1986 edition, US Soccer has been having somewhat of an existential crisis: Who are we? What do we stand for? Where do we go from here?

The powers that be at the top of the U.S. Soccer Federation took a long, hard look in the mirror before any next step was taken. After a prolonged season of reflection, they came to their decision, and they didn’t have to look far. Former Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter was appointed to the USA men’s national team role on 2 December 2018, 415 days after Bruce Arena stepped down from the role - Dave Sarachan was interim manager during that period. It was a sign that the decision was calculated, thorough and hugely significant for the trajectory of the men’s programme.

On the eve of Berhalter’s first match in charge on Sunday against Panama, a team that pipped the USMNT to qualify for Russia 2018, looks at three qualities you can expect in this new era for the Stars and Stripes.

United States Men's Soccer Introduces Gregg Berhalter
© Getty Images

Structured, possession-based style of play

In his five-year tenure with Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer (MLS), Berhalter’s teams were known for having a clear identity. A tactical philosophy developed from his playing days in the Netherlands, it is a system in which defenders build play from the back and the team uses possession and passing to disorganise opponents, breaking the lines with longer passes once opponents are caught playing a high line.

His teams use the width of the pitch with overlapping full-backs and wingers that have the freedom to cut inside, metronomic midfielders like Will Trapp, who will also be available to him with the USMNT, and defenders who are comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Where things may differ with the national team and how he approaches the game will be in how it defends. You can expect the team to press their opponents more aggressively immediately following any loss of possession.

Competitive and cohesive unit

Berhalter has brought in mostly domestic-based players for a January camp to build cohesion and relationships as a team on and off the pitch. The staff has given the players crossword puzzles to help each other with at breakfast time, the team have enjoyed barbecues and late night Fortnite and FIFA video game sessions.

This accountability and familiarity is an attribute of Berhalter's teams in the past. The Crew were known across MLS for being a resilient club that was continuously hard to beat and to play against. The Crew qualified for the play-offs four of the five seasons Berhalter was in charge.

Young European-based players shining

Failure to qualify for the World Cup has given USA the opportunity to give youth a chance and there is a core crop of players waiting in the wings to shine. To put that into perspective, Borussia Dortmund’s (and soon-to-be Chelsea-based) Christian Pulisic (20) is one of the more experienced players in the group.

Expect Schalke’s Weston McKennie (20), RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams (19), Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent (18) and Paris Saint-Germain’s (currently on loan at Celtic) Timothy Weah (18) to all be key players and to make significant strides under Berhalter’s leadership.

2019 is an important year for Berhalter to lay a successful foundation, with the CONCACAF Gold Cup, held from 15 June-7 July, highlighting the calendar year.

"Our job is to get the most out of the players and to give the public a reason to be excited," 45-year-old Berhalter told The Athletic. "I’m a fan also, and I can certainly understand the point of view of a fan who says, ‘Man, we are on a bad run with the men’s national team.’ And our job is to restore that faith."

Berhalter factfile

  • First American to coach in Europe
  • First Crystal Palace player to play in a World Cup match
  • Played as a defender and won 44 caps with USA
  • Spent majority of playing career in Europe (Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam, Cambuur Leeuwarden, Crystal Palace, Energie Cottbus, 1860 Munich)
  • Managed at Hammarby and Columbus Crew before taking national team job

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