Berhalter Getting Started
Now that we’ve hit January, the first training camp for the US Men’s National Team is underway. January camp is an opportunity for some of the youngsters and less experienced players in the system to show their potential. This year they’ll be showing it to recently appointed manager Gregg Berhalter. Berhalter was handed the helm on December 2nd. He is eager to hit the ground running, and is doing so by taking the time to build relationships with his players. And not just the domestic names who are in training with him in Chula Vista, California.
Berhalter spent some time in December traveling around Europe, visiting with a number of US Nationals one on one. His goal, it seems, is to get their perspective on the past, where they think the program is heading, and where they think the program should be heading. Most notably, he made his way to Germany to have his first sit down with Christian Pulisic, who recently announced he would be moving to London in the summer. Allowing the team itself to shape some of its direction could be a great move with such a young squad.
What to expect
A good chunk of the regular squad is still playing in Europe. Others, who may have been out of favor under previous management, or are breaking into the team for the first time, have the opportunity to make an impression. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, breaks out of this camp. The USMNT will play friendlies against Panama (January 27th) and Costa Rica (February 2nd). These matches will give a little insight into the depth Berhalter will have to work with leading into World Cup 2022 qualifying. It won’t be anything groundbreaking, but if it helps shape some squad depth it will have been a success.
It’s important for the team to gel in camp. And for them to build a strong culture. With so many new faces hitting the pitch in the past year, and the loss of players like Clint Dempsey, an identity needs to take shape. That starts, pretty obviously, with Berhalter laying a foundation for which the younger players can grasp and the more seasoned players can help implement and build upon.
While I’m genuinely against the MLS-first approach taken by coaches like Bruce Arena, I think it’s important that these players have a place in the squad. MLS doesn’t have the flare of La Liga, the grit of the Bundasliga, nor the intensity of the Premier league. It is, however, on the rise. It’s important to mix and match players who know how to handle different styles of play. Who have varied experiences and can help teach each other.
Planning for the future
Stoking the flame for a new culture is going to take some work. But with Berhalter bringing in eight new players to camp, we’re seeing a new wave start to form already. Many are academy products of MLS sides. This is exactly the role MLS needs to play. If club academies are churning out quality talent, then we are going to start seeing higher quality on a more consistent basis.
I don’t expect things to change overnight. Dave Sarachan started to give youth a chance during his time as caretaker. That was a great first step. I’m hoping those kids grow and flourish under Berhalter. It could be exciting times for the national team, and I’m here for it all the way.