USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter: “The guys feel good right now.”
The film sessions entail the usual elements of scouting — United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff diagnosing the ills, highlighting the productive moments and analyzing the more complex parts of a game. But given he is only six months on the job, Berhalter has added a component to the exercise.
In the process to implement his own playing style at the national team level, Berhalter, the former Columbus Crew boss, emphasizes particular elements within every match. And then he counts the team’s success rate.
“When we analyze the game, we’re looking to see if we can repeat concepts we’ve been teaching over and over again,” Berhalter said. “We’re always measuring to see how we’re stacking up to what we should be doing.”
A recent example: U.S. coaches stressed the ability to run behind an opponent’s back line and create subsequent opportunities from it. So as they watched film, they counted exactly how many times the players followed through.
These are the measurements of growth. Of adjustment. And in some cases, of practicing patience.
Yes, even in the team’s biggest tournament of 2019. The Americans face Panama at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Children’s Mercy Park to close out group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. They’re unbeaten in their initial two games.
But in the early stages of a new tenure, it’s about more than the victories and defeats. There’s already an eye toward qualifying for the 2022 World Cup after a historic whiff in 2018. That means using matches — even tournament games such as this one — to forward the long-term model.
“We want to keep developing this group. We see it as a good step for this group to keep progressing to play in a tournament format and have to go through the rigors of a tournament format,” Berhalter said. “But we still want to progress our style of play. I think in both games so far, we were able to emphasize the way we want to play and (were) able to execute it as well.”
The best proof of the long-term factor arrived in the roster selections. The U.S. called in some of the usual veterans, but there’s a mixture of younger players whose futures are being evaluated. How do they fit in? Could they be a factor in World Cup qualifying? How about the World Cup itself?
There are teams in this region and others who have gone full-bore with prioritizing winning, and rightfully so in valued tournaments. The U.S., on the other hand, is still in the development stage as it lands in Kansas City this week for the first time in three years.
“We thought it was very important to give young guys tournament experience as we develop toward 2022,” Berhalter said. “We chose to go with guys that we can develop for the future.”
There seems to be some momentum building in the back, for example. The center-back paring of Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long have produced four of the team’s five shutouts this year.
While recognizing there will be growing pains of the development, you want to see the fruits of the labor — beyond a sheet of paper full of tally marks.
“We like what we have going so far,” Zimmerman said, adding, “Our goal is to win the group. We aren’t just satisfied advancing through. We set a goal beforehand to win the group. That’s certainly going to be on our mind.”