USA-Costa Rica: Competition against Concacaf rivals intensifies -- as does competition for spots on U.S. team

New head coach Gregg Berhalter will have had the U.S. men's national team together for almost a month, and much of the attention has been on the style of play he has tried to introduce.

But there are two other pillars he has worked on:

-- Team-building (at the two-week camp in Chula Vista, California), and
-- A competition phase (with matches against Panama last Sunday and Costa Rica on Saturday afternoon).

"With the game against Panama," Berhalter said on Friday, "the week was more focused on a traditional cycle that we've experienced coming into a World Cup qualifier. Travel day, on-field re-gen day, three training days to game. We have a similar progression this week as well."

Panama is a team struggling to rebuild after finishing last at the 2018 World Cup and fell easily, 3-0. Costa Rica will be a tougher test though the Ticos are also rebuilding under a new coach. Gustavo Matosas was born in Argentina but played internationally for Uruguay and is on his 16th stop in a 16-year coaching career.

Matosas, who led Leon to back-to-back Liga MX titles in 2013 and 2014 and Club America to the 2015 Concacaf Champions League title, only started training the Ticos in January, and they are also young and inexperienced.

"It's clearly going to be an improved opponent and it will be a good test for this group," Berhalter said. "I'm really happy with the progression of the team so far and this is just another test for us. It's increased competition and a good test for this group at this time."

He has said he won't make a lot of lineup changes for the sake of rewarding everyone for their work in a long camp. The games against Panama and Costa Rica aren't just about competition against Concacaf rivals, they are about competition for spots on the team next month when the full team will be available.

Berhalter reiterated that he has had the full team in mind when he has worked on the new style of play in camp over the last four weeks -- even if many of his first-team players have not been available.

"When we're deciding about the specifics of our formation and our roles and responsibilities at each position," he said, "we had in mind the larger group. We had in mind the whole pool we are dealing with. That's how we imagined this formation. We took some of the higher-profile players already into account. Having said that, it was also important to fit this group into it. When we called players into camp, we were very specific about what roles we thought they could fit into this system, and that's why some players were called in over other players."

1 comment about "USA-Costa Rica: Competition against Concacaf rivals intensifies -- as does competition for spots on U.S. team".
  1. Bob Ashpole, February 2, 2019 at 8:38 a.m.

    Good interview Paul. Sounds like the Coach has a plan. Too bad he wasn't hired a year earlier.

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