Gregg Berhalter searches to instill a new DNA in U.S. national team at low ebb

Photo: Daniel Herlensky/Crew SC Communications

Gregg Berhalter
got the what-went-wrong question out of the way quickly.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about the failure of the past,” he said during his first address to the media in New York on Tuesday. “I’d like to talk about moving forward."

Every full-time U.S. men's national team coach for the last 30 years has taken at least one team to the World Cup, and it will be Berhalter's task to do that again with the thinnest and most inexperienced team since Bob Gansler took the USA to Italia '90. Never in the modern era has the national team ever been at such low ebb like it is now, the inevitable consequence of the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The team Berhalter inherits has more young players at big clubs in Europe than at any time in its history, but there's no guarantee how many of them will succeed. Many are currently stuck playing on second teams or not at all. The players of Berhalter's generation -- the Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena era -- might have played at smaller clubs -- he was at Dutch second division club Zwolle when he made his U.S. debut in 1994 -- but most were established pros, secure in their starting jobs.

"When I’m looking at this team, specifically in the last year, it was very hard to evaluate the big picture because I don’t think it was the complete team," he said. "But what I did see was a group of young, talented players with potential. I saw a group that needs development and direction. I’m excited to work with this group.”

Jurgen Klinsmann became known for advocating a more proactive style and more possession but at his introductory press conference, also in New York, seven years ago was careful not to commit to any style. Berhalter says he wants to build on his work with the Columbus Crew, developing a possession style. Given the current limitations in the team, that seems unrealistic.

U.S. possession (Fall 2018)
Brazil (0-2) 35.2%-64.8%
Mexico (1-0) 47.0%-53.0%
Colombia (2-4) 37.7%-62.3%
Peru (1-1) 31.6%-68.4%
England (0-3) 39.5%-60.5%
Italy (0-1) 26.5%-73.5%

“When I took over Columbus five years ago, if I would tell you the look of Columbus was going to be a possession-based team, you’d probably be asking similar questions,” Berhalter said. “My job, the job of the staff, is to work as hard as we can to give the players belief. We know they are quality players, and with direction and belief we can achieve our goals."

Given the lack of preparation time a national team has, Berhalter will face the challenge of getting his ideas across to his players.

“My job as a coach and our job as a staff is make it as simple as possible,” Berhalter said. “Our game is based on very simple principles, they’re not complicated principles. The training sessions are very straight forward. It’s easy for the players to pick up on it. To execute it at a high level does take some time, but it’s based on simple principles and I hope the group is able to appreciate that and I hope you’ll be able to see that when we play.”

Berhalter then set out how he wants the team to play.

“The idea is that we’re an attacking-based team that wants to create goal-scoring opportunities by disorganizing the opponent," he said. "We’ll do that in a number of different ways. Consistently over my time in Columbus we did it through build up, where we start the ball with the goalkeeper in the back, teams try to press us and we play it through them to create goal-scoring opportunities. We’re making the field big.

"Another way to do that is to use pressure. Whether we start in a mid-block or move into high pressure to force turnovers, win the ball and immediately create goal-scoring opportunities. The idea is that it’s a fluid style, the players are intent on breaking lines, playing through the opponent and creating goal-scoring opportunities.”

But Berhalter added that it can't be done in one manner.

"At times we could do a better job to change the tempo of the game instead of playing at such a high rhythm all the time," he said. "I think mixing that rhythm is going to be very important, especially at the international level and considering some of the climates you’re playing in. But we want to see ball circulation, breaking lines and goal-scoring opportunities. That should be the DNA of this team.”

No one should question Berhalter's lofty goals. Only time will tell how soon they can be implemented.

11 comments about "Gregg Berhalter searches to instill a new DNA in U.S. national team at low ebb".
  1. Wallace Wade, December 5, 2018 at 8:17 a.m.

    You got a Coach now, go win something. The last two friendlies were about the absolute worst performances for decades. Oh, and the optics on this hiring “process” are horrible! Good luck....

  2. Right Winger, December 5, 2018 at 9:20 a.m.

    I am with WW.

    However, this problem is not going to solved until the players being fed into the funnel have the proper coaching at the youth level and right into the younger national team levels.  I spent last week down in Florida watching the U17's in the Nike event.  Very dissappointed.  We have great athletes lacking soccer prowess.  Has to improve at these levels or the result will remain the same.

  3. frank schoon, December 5, 2018 at 9:27 a.m.

    Besides all the standard basic BS talk about we're going to do this and that. I would like to know who his assisstant coaches are and what his salary is..... 

  4. Bob Ashpole, December 5, 2018 at 11:04 a.m.

    Finally someone at USSF said something I can understand and feel good about. 

    Hurrah for looking forward instead of backward.

  5. Ben Myers, December 5, 2018 at 1:11 p.m.

    Right Winger is 100% correct.  Youth soccer needs competent coaching, and that is sorely lacking across the country, given the kinds of players who bubble up to the national level.  MLS is no help either, with its heavy reliance on players from other countries, offering few opportunities for US citizens to develop.  The best Berhalter can do is introduce the model of play he advocates (not much different than Klinsy wanted), then continue to recruit and train the men to fit that model.  It will not be easy, but there will be progress.  Right now, there is a large void at the center mid/playmaker position among USMNT candidates.

  6. Wooden Ships replied, December 5, 2018 at 6:07 p.m.

    Ben, it’s not so much the coaching that’s the problem (and MLS-single entity won’t fix it) it’s the youth not getting the skills with the ball at the young age. And, it’s not just playmaker mids, it’s all field players. It’s damn rare to witness quality players develop in their teen years. 

  7. Kent James, December 5, 2018 at 3:29 p.m.

    I think the possession statistics in the last year's game are misleading, in that we were playing some pretty strong teams while fielding very young, very inexperienced players.  So it should not be surprising that our opponents had more possession.

    For the future, I think one of the biggest challenges will be to blend the experience with the youth.  It seems like we have a lot of experienced guys 27 and up (Bradley, etc.) and a lot of potential talent 21 and younger (Pulisic), but we need a core of guys in that missing age bracket (22-26) to be the basis for the next world cup.  It's going to be a challenge.

  8. Wooden Ships, December 5, 2018 at 5:58 p.m.

    Our mainstream soccer players-pipeline lack the required skill. Get out of the pipeline and you might discover players that already have the game. It’s never been a question of athleticism. I’m again hearing from Gregg and many of the Sams Army, American Outlaws types about the wearing of the Jersey. The fighting spirit. Sounds code to me for continuing to exclude certain players. 

  9. frank schoon replied, December 5, 2018 at 6:18 p.m.

    Ships, I'm not optimistic....

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, December 6, 2018 at 6:09 a.m.

    I agree about the pipeline, WS. Loyalty to USSF is loyalty to the USSF.

    I suspect that the code words are meant to avoid blaming USSF and how it operates for the current state of the MNT pool.

    What we need to do is give players with multiple passports a reason to make playing for the USA their first choice. This is not how we do that.

    What I don't understand is how some people can think JK did a great job when we have such a big gap in players' ages in the MNT pool. I would think the intelligent thing to do would be to make a wider search for talent, not skip over 5 year groups of players.

    I can't help but think that some misguided loyalty to the losing U23 coach was prejudicing the selection process.  

  11. R2 Dad, December 6, 2018 at 4:13 p.m.

    " teams try to press us and we play it through them to create goal-scoring opportunities. We’re making the field big. Another way to do that is to use pressure. Whether we start in a mid-block or move into high pressure to force turnovers, win the ball and immediately create goal-scoring opportunities. The idea is that it’s a fluid style, the players are intent on breaking lines, playing through the opponent..." This all sounds... reasonable....but if you imagine the execution of this with the players we currently have, we're back to reactionary, pump-it-down-the-channels soccer. If he can get our team to play it on the ground to the attacking half, there is a chance. But this is international soccer. The recruiting is different. You have to go looking for the players you don't see rather than sifting through the ones you do. Good luck, GB.

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