Gregg Berhalter: 'We have obligation to fans to win games, play good soccer and entertain them'

With the final friendly of the year set for Tuesday against Uruguay, the USA's focus is on the Celeste, one of the most difficult teams in the world to play against, but a lot of the attention at Monday's press conference was on Friday's 3-0 loss to Mexico, its worst loss to its archrival in a decade.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter came in for lots of criticism after the game for his selection of players -- players like Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes and even Zack Steffen who played for him at the Columbus Crew had bad games -- and for his emphasis on trying to play the ball out of the back.

He says he understands the disappointment of fans.

"We are in this to win," he said. "Listen, let’s be fair to fans. That's why you play the game -- to win the game. There's no question about it. I wasn't pleased after the game. It wasn't like I was in the locker room opening champagne bottles after the game. Not at all. But we have to look at what we wanted to accomplish in that game and say, did we accomplish it? In some respects, we absolutely did; in others we failed. We need to analyze that. We have an obligation to the fans, the obligation is to win games, to play good soccer and entertain them. We’re trying our best.”

Problems playing out of the back cost the USA on the second Mexico goal and could have cost it a few others.

“First of all, I wouldn’t get caught up on playing from behind," Berhalter said. "We want to play, to be able to break lines, we want to open up and disorganize the opponent. It was a huge emphasis against Mexico in that game to show the guys they can do that, be brave against a high-pressing team like Mexico and you can succeed.”

He said the results were a mixed bag.

"In the Gold Cup [final]," he said, "we were too direct and in this game we were not direct enough. We need to find that mix to be able to draw them and hurt them when they are coming."

Berhalter expressed confidence in his players.

“The answer to do I believe the players have the ability is, yes, I think we do," he said. "I think we have a large group of talented players. They are intelligent players, technically good players, and we’re going to develop and we’re going to keep developing. Don't forget it is a very young team. We'll get there."

Berhalter said the players have bought into what the coaching staff is trying to work on with them.

"I think it's very clear to the players what we want to do," he said, "and now it's just continuing to work on that. When we have conversations with the guys, when we do video sessions with the guys, it's really impressive how tied in they are to what we are doing, how informed they are. The group's been great. We're come a long way since January."

Berhalter said it's easy to forget how young the team is.

"Don't forget, it's a very young team, and we'll get there," he said. "You're talking about a number of young players that could easily be the core of this team for the next eight years."

Uruguay game. Berhalter said Uruguay will present a huge challenge, different from Mexico.

"It's a physically aggressive team, a very compact team," he said. "The biggest challenge will be lack of space, how you have to process quickly, how you have to earn the space you get against them. In the penalty box, it is one of the best teams I've seen defending."

One young player who will get a start against Uruguay is San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Jackson Yueill: "He's a very clean technical player A player with good body shape. A good ability to cut through lines with his passing. Good long passing."

Likely to start in his hometown of St. Louis is 19-year-old forward Josh Sargent: "I like his movement off the ball. I really like his finishing. I think inside the box is where he really shines. He's able to process goal-scoring opportunities very quickly and able to make good contact with the ball on frame most times."
13 comments about "Gregg Berhalter: 'We have obligation to fans to win games, play good soccer and entertain them'".
  1. Bob Ashpole, September 10, 2019 at 5:53 a.m.

    There is a significant difference between playing out of the back and playing in the back.

    My view of "playing out of the back" is simply that it about moving the ball into the opponent's half with combination passing instead of a risky predictable keeper punt. In other words it is a rejection of what had become conventional in the US game decades ago.

  2. Philip Carragher, September 10, 2019 at 8:36 a.m.

    I don’t think GB is in a good situation. My best guess is that he doesn’t have the horses to keep up with a team like Mexico. I understand his apparent stubbornness in continuing to try to play out of the back, after all, if, as FS noted in another article, the NT coach provides a guiding light for all US youth soccer to follow and playing out of the back is what the best teams can do. So that seems like a worthy goal, yet, maybe the personnel we have at present will never be able to do it. Maybe they can. I’ve coached and watched games in which teams that initially appeared totally out of their league versus their opponents, somehow “learn” as the games progress and improve enough to at least compete with some degree of competence. These games I speak of almost exclusively feature teams with superior speed of play as their main advantage. Maybe GB is trying to help the US players learn to play at a higher speed? Is it reasonably probable that they’ll be able to do that? Isn’t there a practice regimen that can help them to increase their speed of play without subjecting them to the embarrassment we witnessed against Mexico? And how does GB think that type of performance is going to give US soccer increased respect from the US audience? What superior youth athlete witnessing the Mexico game will dream of being a USMNT player? Could a great coach take this personnel and mold them into a team that can compete competently during the WC qualifiers or can he find others to do so or does that coach need to convince everyone that better personnel is needed and player development will take time so be patient and forget the next WC? GB is in a tough spot.

  3. Wooden Ships, September 10, 2019 at 10:54 a.m.

    Bob and Phillip, good stuff. Teams need to be flexible or have the talent to change the pace of the game. In order for that to happen the technical skills are requisite. Speed of play and thought (especially off the ball where we struggle) can be enhanced marginally with specific training. But for most that have reached their late teens, very early twenties, it’s too late, IMO. Which is why our younger players need to be featured. Are there some potential exceptions with some of our young ones playing domestically, yes I believe there are. But, the ones training abroad are our bread and butter going forward. The whole manager fiasco with USSF (time wasting on selection, fluent in English, residing in Chicago) has hurt our current development. I’m very much in support of demanding our team evolve to a more possession based style. I like that about GB, but his selections are undermining his goal. Another real concern is the continuing divide amongst players, MLS-versus every one else. If I’m based in Europe my bewilderment is growing. 

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, September 10, 2019 at 12:40 p.m.

    As a coach my ideas about speed of play changed a great deal. As a player, I wasn't really paying attention to what I did. It really is a combination of everything that adds up to faster play. 

    If an older player is poor enough, you can do alot to help him speed up his play. The problem is that if an older player is that bad, it is a a bad sign because a lot of the tricks he (or she) should have learned already by doing and watching. 

    One of the simplest concepts of quicker play is being two-footed. Why oh why are we turning out one-footed players? In the fundamental stage it is no extra effort at all to work with both feet. This is perhaps the dumbest avoidable mistake we collectively make. 

  5. Philip Carragher replied, September 10, 2019 at 2:52 p.m.

    Yes, playing well with both feet. What an advantage. I take the time, with my 5th-8th grade players, to teach them how to kick well with both feet and start by having them use a chain link fence as a backstop (balls don't bounce too far away) and ask them to observe how they approach and kick with their good foot and incrementally re-create everything with their "bad" foot by mirroring what and how they do it with their good foot. My favorite piece of encouragement is to tell them that it's their plant foot that is the most important and difficult part of kicking well with their bad foot, and since their good foot is now their plant foot it makes the mirrored technique much easier. With time and proper attention to detail they too can kick well with both feet; unfortunately, not many are so motivated but once in awhile someone is.

  6. Nick Gabris, September 10, 2019 at 11:16 a.m.

    Solution: Replace GB, out of his element in international play. Forget about the coach needing to speak english, soccer is universal in all languages. 

  7. beautiful game, September 10, 2019 at 12:01 p.m.

    Amigos officianados; coach B is putting too much faith into mediocrity such as Zardes and Trapp et al. He will struggle with finding the right combination of core players because of his loyalty to some some of them. His staff needs to be more proactive in order to identify the core players and be more influential on the selection process. Game plan has to be KISS first with evaluating individual responsibilities and efficacy. So far it's like a fly by the seat of the pants operation. It needs organization and a drastic change in attitude and commitment.  

  8. Goal Goal, September 10, 2019 at 12:52 p.m.

    It took us more than a year without a coach and then get one and tread water.  Look at the last big blast to US Soccer the Latino fiasco from Woitella and Gardner.  This organization was a mess is a mess and will continue to be a mess unless they clean house.

    This organization has a tough time identifying quality players from the bottom up.  One of the first things I learned when I started playing this game was to be able to handle the ball and then be able to pass it.  THE MNT national team cant do that.  Look at the thrashing the U-17's took in their final game in Europe.  We can run the legs off a chetah but show me someone who can draw two or three defenders to them opening up the field of play for opportunity.  Other than Pulisic.  When Pulisic plays with talent he is talent when he plays with some of our players he looks just like another kicker out there.


  9. Alfred Randall, September 10, 2019 at 6:12 p.m.

    Over reaction can be the brother of bad decisions. None of the concerns I've read here could be construed as untrue but we're on the outside trying to look in. What is the time frame we should be looking to for good results? For apparent personal reasons Greg Berhalter delayed taking the job for a year. Tata Martino was not even contacted, the Spanish coach was ignored as ‘too late’ and Jay Berhalter was named as heir apparent to Dan Flynn. All of this was knowledge available a year ago. Now that Greg has finally taken the US Men’s National Team job we’re looking at an insignificant team in terms of on field results.  Canada actually looks to be better than the US and now the Central American nations are ready to take the US on as well. We have digressed and it is not on us as supporters, players, coaches or referees but is on the USSF.  The USSF are the people who let the lost year to rebuilding our national team happen and they engineered it to provide time for Greg Berhalter to finish his time with Columbus Crew.  No national team with ambition let’s their team go without a coach for a year as  merchandising and ticket sales are what USSF’s priorities seem to have become.  I have been a supporter of the USMNT since the days when they were ‘Team America’ in the old NASL and have made numerous cross country trips to support the USMNT. I refuse to support our MNT until both Jay and Greg have been fired! Over reaction NO! Too many facts to ignore anymore!

  10. R2 Dad, September 10, 2019 at 6:41 p.m.

    If I take a step back, I've got to ask myself, Why does USSF care more about developing MLS coaches and players than their obligation to staff the Nats with the best on offer? This is the MLS tail wagging the USSF dog.....

  11. Kent James, September 10, 2019 at 7:16 p.m.

    GB's analysis is accurate; the first game against Mexico we tried to play too directly, the 2nd game not directly enough.  Playing out of the back is a good thing, unless (as Mexico did in the 2nd game) they are being hyper aggressive with 7 players playing high pressure when we have the ball in our third.  Technically, we actually did reasonably well under some very intense pressure. We did not panic under pressure and give it away in the first pass or two.  We would string together 5 or 6 passes, and sometimes get it down the field and sometimes not.  So the problem there is that we are continuing to look for short passes in the back when, because of Mexico's pressure, nobody in the back was open. But if they're pressing that high, people down the field have to be open (or at least only covered by one person). And our mistake was not looking downfield. 

    A coach that loses will always be subject for criticism in terms of his player selection, and certainly the Columbus connections did not play well.  Zardes basically seemed to play defense all night, Trapp seemed to disappear, and Steffen did fine with his hands (playing the traditional GK role) but played most of the game with the ball at his feet, which is clearly not his strong suit. But GB is also trying new guys (for better or for worse), with Dest, Morales, and the continued experiment with Boyd.  Dest has promise, but was clearly at fault on the goal.  Was that GB's mistake?  I think those players are all worth considering; there is no magic formula, and now is when GB should be working things out (though you do hate to lose to Mexico...).

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, September 12, 2019 at 11:29 a.m.

    Dest is not the one to blame for the goal. He was beaten, yes but you expect markers to get beat occassionally. That is why there is cover. The real problem was the complete failure to properly mark Hernandez. If he was marked and still scored, good for him. The problem was he was wide open. That should never happen.

    I have yet to go back and look at the play, but my impression was that he split the CBs with a run off the right shoulder of the weak side CB. (That was a defensive error.) The strong side CB would be expected to move toward the ball. (That is defense working as intended.)

    My first thought was what was Trapp doing that too important for him to pick up Hernandez? Bradley catches a lot of criticism, but I expect he would have read the play and reacted. 

  13. R2 Dad, September 14, 2019 at 2:11 a.m.

    If Dest chooses Oranje over the US, this should be considered a big vote of no confidence on the GB experiment.

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