Gregg Berhalter on what went wrong for USMNT against Japan and the return of Pulisic and Pepi against Saudi Arabia

The USA will play its final international game before the World Cup on Tuesday when it faces Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain.

The match follows the 2-0 loss to Japan that raised alarm bells about the state of the national team less than two months before the opening game against Wales in Qatar.

"We got our butts kicked and we're not proud of it," said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. "We should have played much better. We could have played much better and we didn't. We want to play better this game and I think it starts with the collective, us playing together, more cohesive. And if we do that, we'll be fine."

One of Berhalter's concerns about the U.S. performance is that he felt Japan did not pose problems that couldn't have been solved:

"It wasn't something that like we were carelessly trying to play through, you know, seven or eight guys of pressure and were unsuccessful and they're coming down our throat. It was just making some bad decisions. And having said that, we're not happy with that. We had an off game. I can't say it clearly enough. We played poorly. The coaching staff takes responsibility for that, and we move on to the next game and we try to have a better game."

He added that decision-making involves "identifying who the free man is, identifying where the pressure's coming from and then exploiting that."

The two players who didn't play against Japan but will start against the Saudis, according to Berhalter, are Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi.

Pulisic did not dress for the Japan game due to an injury picked up in training earlier last week.

"He does a great job of changing the game in moments," said Berhalter, "and that's all he needs to do. He doesn't need to do anything more than he has done in the past."

Pepi will start his first game for the USA in more than five months. After a difficult transition to German club Augsburg, Pepi needed a break, Berhalter has said, and was not called in for the four matches in the June window.

Pepi is one of four center forwards Berhalter appears to be focused on. Jesus Ferreira, Pepi's former FC Dallas teammate, and Josh Sargent played in the Japan game. The fourth striker is Jordan Pefok of Bundesliga leader Union Berlin. Berhalter has said he picked Pepi over Pefok as the third striker in camp because he needed to see how he is doing following his struggles at Augsburg that ended with a loan move to Dutch club Groningen.

"I don't need him to score five goals tomorrow," Berhalter said. "We need him to play like a forward in our system and hopefully he gets opportunities and hopefully he takes the opportunities well. It's stuff that he's done before for us and I am confident he can do tomorrow."

He added that he has been impressed with Pepi's confidence level.

"He has this brightness in his eyes," he said. "He's ready to perform and it's good to see that. I know that it hasn't been easy for Rico in the last months and it's good to see him have a different demeanor."

Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos

16 comments about "Gregg Berhalter on what went wrong for USMNT against Japan and the return of Pulisic and Pepi against Saudi Arabia".
  1. Bob Ashpole, September 26, 2022 at 7:09 p.m.

    "He added that decision-making involves 'identifying who the free man is, identifying where the pressure's coming from and then exploiting that.'"

    "[T]he free man"? Who hired this guy? 

  2. Ben Myers replied, September 26, 2022 at 9:09 p.m.

    Sounds like Berhalter needed to come up with some words to fill a space. Does not show off a brilliant mind.

  3. uffe gustafsson, September 26, 2022 at 9:30 p.m.

    They lost to a much better team.
    let's see tomorrow what they can do.
    my hopes are really not there.

  4. John Sabala replied, September 27, 2022 at 1:18 a.m.

    The US lost to the team that played better, not the more talented team.  That is the sad part of the whole situation.  The team is never going to get close to playing to its potential due to the limited ability of GB and the entire staff.  We just handicap ourselves instead of getting a winning pedigree international coach.  This type of discusstion went on for the entire WC qualification as we watched our team play far below their abliity time and again or GB's idiotic team selections or tactics used in each match.  This team's record shows we don't win away from home and out of CONCACAF.  How can USSF not see the writing on the wall.  They will stick with their picked crony of a coach. 

  5. John Sabala, September 27, 2022 at 1:10 a.m.

    Once again GB shows off his brilliant soccer IQ with this interview.  Nothing is going to change about the US and its ability to prepare and win games due the ineptitude of the coaching staff.  Once again Sargent gets no love from this guy. He is going to start Pepi.  JS has been rolling this season and he only gets to come off the bench and no chance to prove his worth except as a sub.  It is like I said a few articles back that GB would not afford JS the chance to win a spot.  Brought him in chasing the game, and he played well for those who know what to look for in the #9 despite not getting any chances to shoot on goal.  Pepi will not help us is Saudi Arabia plays a low block.  He is not creative on the ball and cannot work in tight spaces.  It will be interesting to see if Saudi Arabia takes the same approach Japan did against us.  I think I would try it for one half.  I don't think he will bring JS to Qatar.  

  6. Philip Carragher replied, September 27, 2022 at 10:52 a.m.

    John, I don't think our team can be successful without having a 9 that can play defensively and also effectively in the midfield. Sargent can do both of these well, and can score. He also looks physically strong and able to take on the physical toll of the games.

  7. frank schoon, September 27, 2022 at 7:58 a.m.

    This is so typical of how soccer is discussed, by coaches, players, and by journalists, in America, lot  is said but nothing is said.... After reading this interview there was totally nothing as far as why we got beat, how we got beat, what did we do wrong and what does the opposition do that we can't do or aren't good enough in...I"m used to the dutch way of talking about soccer, for example, what went exactly wrong, who screwed up, who should have played to improve the situation, the why's and how's....This is never brought up in the discussions here, which ,to me, is one of reason the American soccer fan stop doesn't get educated on the various aspects of soccer to improve his understanding, which ,adding to this, our youth coaches and players really dont' learn anything deeper about the game.....

    Here is another example of the superficial quality of soccer journalism. This is not meant as an insult to the 'soccer journalist' who wrote about Sam Vine in SA. Stating his name is not important for he represent the gest of the typical American soccer journalist.... I won't post it here but in Sam Vine article...

    Here are some of GB's statements, "'we got our butts beat',' we should have played much better', ' it starts with the collective...'more cohesion...and if we did that we'll be fine', we played poorly', 'we made bad decisions'". About CP, " He does a great job of changing the game in moments and that is all he needs to do,he doesn't have to do anything more than what he's done in the past".

    I've mentioned how bad I think American soccer journalism with respect to being more informative about the game and its superficial reporting, but here I give an example of what the GB states. Whether it is soccer coming from journalists or from soccer coaches, the info  is we too general, non-descriptive, and non-eductational for the American soccer fan to learn..They all talk about soccer on the same level and nothing beyond resulting in nothing really being said....
                                                            NEXT POST...

  8. frank schoon, September 27, 2022 at 8:36 a.m.

    Here's  another one, "Decision-making involves identifying who the free man is, identifying where the pressure's coming from and exploiting that". This all sounds so esoteric but is a way to try and show that you really understand the game. Or, for example, how about this juicy one, ''we lack balance at midfield today"(GB didn't mention this) Sounds very erudite, but that's a way of the coach trying to show he knows the game, but in fact he doesn't really the more intricate details of why the midfield played bad.

    Let me explain, in this situation, I would have said, all three midfielders, let us say, had a habit of showing to the ball with their backs facing downfield, and prefer receiving the ball to the feet and that meant there was no depth in our midfield attack, creating no linkage and therefore the tempo of attack was slowed down.. I could go on a little more deeper with the various permutations involved but this is enough, to show what the reader doesn't get in order to become more educated about the game.

    In other words, all what GB states is so general and nothing specific, to look at deeper details of the game which he doesn't understands or miss. He states about the 'free-man', obviously ,he's been influenced by Dutch soccer, since he played 3rd division ball there, for the 'free-man' concept is the kingpin of building up from the back. The important aspect is to look for the open man, 'free-man' or you CREATE the open man at midfield. That's the secret of gaining midfield control whereby the opponent is forced to choose to leave his man in order to pickup the open man...

    GB, can talk all he wants about the 'open' or free-man, but he doesn't have players with the brains to do that...Unfortunately GB doesn't realize that fact...

    And for you coaches, this is how Cruyff with the Barcelona Dream Team created the open man at midfield. As soon as the opponent's leftwing is committed on the attack to the goal and the goalie retrieves the ball, then he should throw it quicky to his open rightback, before the leftwing comes back on defense. The right back then quickly runs up to midfield with the ball, meaning we have one more midfielder than the opponents. This creates a dilemna for the opponents have to make a choice who is going to leave his man to pick up the free man..... 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, September 27, 2022 at 10:11 a.m.

    Your comment has given me the opening to comment on what GB's tells me about how he sees the game. He thinks about attacking tactics the same way he thought about defending tactics. On defense he keyed his actions on the attacking opponent's "free man". Pick up the runners--make sure everyone is marked. So now he is saying that in attackiing players should key on your "free man". It is reactive thinking. Makes for a very predictable slow attack.

    In contrast I think about soccer in terms of space. Creating, controlling, denying and using space to advantage. You don't look for where players are now, but anticipate where players and the ball will be going. That is what kids learn from rondos.

  10. Philip Carragher replied, September 27, 2022 at 11:01 a.m.

    And I'll take this opportunity to espouse my view on how to use Pulisic best. I think Lampard had it right with Pulisic. He'd stage CP about 30-35 yards from goal on the left side of the field, isolate and get him the ball, and let him take on whoever was covering him. CP seemed to always get around the first guy and cause an imbalance (space) by doing so. I thought Chelsea looked dangerous when they did this and positioned CP well. His upside looked promising, especially when he showed up with quicker feet. Too bad for him Lampard left.

  11. humble 1 replied, September 29, 2022 at 11:14 a.m.

    all so true what you write Frank, but, there is more than finding the open man, was there really an open man?  was the movement off the ball optimal?  Sometimes, in the moment there really is no option, because the pressure is excuted properly with players covering with shadows, etc, and maybe the off ball movement is not optimal, then the player with the ball has to be able to shield it to hold for moment to create the space for a solution or to create the solution him/herself, this part we always struggle. The work in tight spaces with the ball.  I am not an expert on the Barca/Cruyff system, seems like it works to provide and A option and B option, but, for sure, you are the C option.  If it's C, you have to keep the ball with 1,2 or 3 players coming at you.  In the moment, are you up to it?  

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, September 29, 2022 at 1:12 p.m.

    Humble, it is the same for all soccer. Every player ought to be able to be open when the player on the ball needs support.

    But what is "open" depends on the skills of the player. In adult amatuer there are players that can thread balls over, under, around, and through opponents and place the ball on the best foot of the team mate. It doesn't take much space if players have skills. Just the right space at the right time.

    This is where dribbling a touch helps. You get an opponent leaning and his foot is planted making a passing opportunity. 

    So if some players can't pass accurately and others can't close control the ball, then nobody is ever "open". Then coaches praise "vertical" passes so players can chase down inaccurate passes and don't have to control them. That is a bit over-simplified, but it makes the point.

  13. Nick Gabris, September 27, 2022 at 11:25 a.m.

    J. Klinsman??

  14. Kevin Leahy replied, September 27, 2022 at 6:27 p.m.


  15. Wooden Ships, September 27, 2022 at 2:07 p.m.

    From an old schooler and a "Cold War" retiree, the word "Collective" is so freely used by our younger soccer culture, it grates me. 

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, September 27, 2022 at 4:48 p.m.

    The Declaration of Independence includes the right to private ownership of property as a birth right of all people. The US Constitution also guarantees a Republican form of government for all states. In other words a type of democracy in which citizens control the government with their right to vote and government power is limited to protect the rights of the minority from tyranny of the majority.

    I am with you WS. 

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