Watching Americans break through at teams like
Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig and now Juventus and soon Barcelona, Gregg Berhalter can't help be impressed by how much times have changed.
In his 15-year European playing career, the U.S. national team coach played at Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam and Cambuur Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, Crystal Palace in England and Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich in Germany, not exactly the elite of European soccer.
But he was good enough to start the two knockout games for the USA on its run to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Key players on the 2002 U.S. team played on European teams -- Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), Brad Friedel (Blackburn Rovers), John O'Brien (Ajax) and Tony Sanneh (Nuremberg) -- but nothing like the current crop of young players.
“When we used to play, you line up against [superstars like Francesco] Totti or Ronaldo or Christian Vieri, you want their uniforms after the game,” Berhalter told SiriusXM FC this week. “Now we have guys playing with these guys. They go back to the same club as these guys. It’s a different level. Now our job is to bring these guys together and get the most out of them.”
What stands out for Berhalter is how players like Christian Pulisic at Chelsea and now Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund have stepped up at big clubs.
“You look at Christian, it’s become very clear within the last year how he can make the biggest impact. And I think Gio is in the same boat,” he said. “What I like about him is his ability to score goals, I like his physicality, he’s very fluid on the ball, good turning in the pockets. So there’s a lot of positive things to his performances. Now it’s about a couple things: can he continue that on and can he see this as an opportunity to just keep getting better instead of just maintaining status quo. Can he keep improving?”
Berhalter also pointed to Weston McKennie, who stepped right into the Juventus starting lineup after his transfer from Schalke 04 and had a big impact on the team in its season-opening 3-0 win over Sampdoria.
“Just the dynamic that he’s able to play with, even at that level," he told hosts Brian Dunseth and Tony Meola, "it looks like almost a different level to everyone else there in terms of his speed and his strength that he’s playing with."