There are plenty of different coaching philosophies around the world. One of the more general ones is molding a system to your players’ characteristics in an effort to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Another approach is to have a preferred style of play in mind, and choosing players that best fit that idea in order to execute the desired gameplan.
Gregg Berhalter has opted for the latter ever since his appointment as U.S. Men’s National Team head coach nearly a year ago, and he does not seem inclined to reverse course.
A 26-man roster for the USMNT‘s upcoming camp was announced on Wednesday morning, and Berhalter held a conference call shortly after in which he defended his insistence on implementing a possession-based system that will require time and patience to install and perfect.
The USMNT head coach was asked whether he believed he had sufficient time to implement his ideas, especially given how few times a national team gets together over the course of a calendar year, and much less time Berhalter has to work with the group compared to the time he had to implement a similar system with the Columbus Crew.
Berhalter disagreed with the suggestion that the time it took to successfully install his system in Columbus is evidence of it being an impossible task with the USMNT.
“I think the first thing is you’re assuming that we’re doing it exactly the way we did (with the Columbus Crew) and I think that starting point is incorrect,” said Berhalter. “We have changed a little bit of what we’ve been doing. The second thing is, whatever type of challenge it is, we’re willing to take that on.
“If that means that we have to be smarter and we have to work differently and we have to work with the guys outside of camp and we have to work with their clubs, we’re willing to do all of that because I think it’s something that’s worth doing. I believe, and I’ve said this before, we have the players that are able to do it and now it’s just about continuing to get better.”
Recent results and performances in Berhalter’s possession-based system have led to plenty of discussion as to whether the USMNT is actually making enough progress ahead of the start of World Cup Qualifying next year. The Americans most recently tied Uruguay, 1-1, in September but suffered a 3-0 loss to Mexico just days earlier. The USMNT also lost to El Tri in the Concacaf Gold Cup final in July.
Those results have led to some concern among USMNT fans that the team is struggling to make progress, a notion Berhalter isn’t buying.
“I’d completely disagree,” said Berhalter. “To say we didn’t make progress in the last camp I think is a disservice to the team, I think it’s a disservice to the fans and I completely disagree with it. I think we have to look at expectations. I’m not sure what the expectations (from the outside) are but we had very clear objectives for the game against Mexico, and it was to be able to attempt to play out under extreme high pressure.
“We know there’s not many teams in the world that press the way Mexico presses and we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity. As far as I’m concerned, we made progress in that game. I’m not happy with the scoreline, I’m not happy with how we gave up the second and third goals, but as far as progress, I think we made progress.”
The USMNT head coach, who will soon begin preparing his side for the start of the Concacaf Nations League later this month, similarly thought that there were positive developments on display in the stalemate with Uruguay.
Berhalter was pleased with the strides he saw his players make in his preferred style of play in that encounter, even though the team produced just one goal, an opportunistic finish by Jordan Morris.
“When you talk about Uruguay, it’s the fifth-ranked team in the world and we should take that into consideration,” said Berhalter. “They’re missing two of their top players, we’re missing five of our top players. We made progress in that game. When I think about a very physical opponent, when I think about being able to disorganize them and create goal-scoring opportunities, we did that in that game.
“I’m proud of the way the guys responded. I think they showed bravery, particularly after not coming out of that Mexico game in the way we wanted to with the result and they stuck to it and I think we played a good game. It does take time. I think we’ve been making progress and we’re happy with it.”