Gregg Berhalter: 'We just want to create an environment that players want to be in'

The second January camp under U.S. men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter features 11 players who attended his first camp a year ago in Chula Vista, California.

Many were fixtures on Berhalter's U.S. squads throughout 2019.

But what is different is the youth in this year's January camp. Of the 26 players who have been in camp, 15 are age-eligible for the Concacaf Olympic men's qualifying tournament that begins in March, and five are teenagers.

"For us, we want to use this camp as an opportunity to evaluate more players," Berhalter said. "It's purposeful that we have a younger roster and the guys have doing well."

The presence of some experienced players -- six played in the 2019 Gold Cup -- has helped the other players get up to speed on Berhalter's system.

"It's young guys, seven new players in camp," he said. "It's a little bit of the same. We have some guys who can help bring the younger guys along. You see some of the same signs, some of the young guys working through it a little bit. It's been good. They have a great attitude."

One of the youngest players in the camp is 18-year-old Ulysses Llanez, who is in his first season at German club Wolfsburg, where he finished with 10 goals in 11 games in the fall for its team in the U-19 Bundesliga. Berhalter played with Wolfsburg sporting director Marcel Schaefer at 1860 Munich.

"We're very close with that club," Berhalter said. "John Brooks is there. We have a close relationship with them. They were excited for him and for him to have this opportunity with the national team. They speak really highly of him, so that's why we are excited to have him in camp. He has grown since this camp has started in terms of his tenacity. We like how he creates but also how he works to try to win the ball back and be aggressive defensively. We have seen a lot of good things from him."

Llanez spent time earlier in his career in Mexico's youth national team program but was a late cut for the 2017 U.S. U-17 World Cup team and played for the 2019 U.S. U-20 World Cup team in qualifying and the finals in Poland.

"We want to create an environment that players want to be in," Berhalter said. "When it comes to dual nationals, they have to choose with their hearts, they have to choose which program puts them in the best possible position. Sometimes, it's going to be us. Sometimes it's going to be other countries. We just want to create an environment that players want to be in."

Berhalter cites the experiences Sergino Dest had with the U.S. youth teams as being instrumental in getting him to commit to the USA over the Netherlands at the senior level.

"Everyone talks about me and [U.S. Soccer sporting director] Earnie [Stewart] going over there and talking with him all the time," he said, "but you go to remember he was part of our U-17 and U-20 program. They laid the groundwork for that decision. Uly has been part of our U-20 program and our youth program, the U-17s. If we can create the environment from top to bottom that players want to be in, we'll see a lot of the players sticking around."

4 comments about "Gregg Berhalter: 'We just want to create an environment that players want to be in'".
  1. Arnold Ramirez, January 20, 2020 at 8:14 a.m.

    Gregg, I watched you grow as a young 8 year old to become a good professional player. Now that you are coaching the US National Team it is your job to qualify us for the next World Cup. You have many talented young players who are going to contribute to this team. You are the coach. Now you must produce.

  2. Donald Lee replied, January 20, 2020 at 11:31 a.m.

    Funny, GB doesn't actually get to defend, or score, or even step on the field. So he can't really produce anything but an environment that allows the players to do their best.  In the end it will be up to those players and to luck to produce the results. 

    The results only orientation of USMNT fans is a big part of the problem in US soccer.   Its a problem we share with other countries as well.

  3. Kent James replied, January 20, 2020 at 11:11 p.m.

    Donald, while I generally agree with your sentiment about the players being responsible and too much focus on results is unhealthy, qualifying for (and competing well in) the World Cup is what everything is geared for, so those results do matter.  Qualification is a bar we should clear.  Where it gets dicey is how much slack does GB get on the way to qualification.  I think the US has been generally pretty patient with USMNT coaches, which is a good thing.  One result should not result in dismissal.  On the other hand, if you wait too long to change coaches who are not working out, you run the risk of causing more harm than good.  I'm somewhat ambivalent about GB as the coach; I liked him as a player, I think he knows the game, relates well to the players and understands the game.  I want him to succeed.  

    Pretty much my only concern is if he is trying to force a system that is too much for the USMNT (focused on building from the back at all costs).  I understand his system is somewhat complicated and takes some getting used to, which may not work in an environment where you only see a constantly changing pool of players a few weeks a year.  But time will tell.  He does seem to be thinking of the long term (bringing in lots of young players) but as time goes on, he'll have more pressure to get resuts and finalize his team.  I'm looking forward to seeing that happen!

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, January 21, 2020 at 12:37 a.m.

    Donald, you point would have been more valid 50 years ago. Things changed. Coaches do much more than create positive enviroments. Substitutions and coaching from the sidelines are allowed. Most coaches, and GB is one of them, micro-manage play in addition to selecting the team, selecting the lineup and controlling substitutions. If players are not given freedom to deviate from the coaches instructions, then players are not free to make decisions and solve problems. 

    Conventional wisdom is that, while coaches do not win matches, they can lose them. The fact that the coach does not execute his instructions to the players does not relieve the coach of responsibility for the success of the team. 

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