Berhalter aiming for both distinct style, flexibility for US national team

Gregg Berhalter - Crew SC - close up

NEW YORK — Under Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew SC had a clear identity as a possession-based team that played an attacking, attractive brand of soccer. 

Will the same be true for the US national team now that Berhalter has been named their head coach? 

In his formal introduction Monday at a press conference in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, Berhalter gave some hints about what he expects from the USMNT tactically under his watch. 

“The idea is that we're an attacking-based team that wants to create goal-scoring opportunities by disorganizing the opponent,” he said. “We’ll do that in a number of different ways.”

In five years with Crew SC, Berhalter said, that plan was executed by possessing the ball out of the back and by utilizing high pressure. 

“We’ve done it through buildup where we start the ball with the goalie in the back and when teams try to press us, we play through them to create goal-scoring opportunities, we’re making the field big,” Berhalter said. “Another way to do that is to use pressure, whether we start in a mid block or move into high pressure to force turnovers, win the ball and immediate create goal-scoring opportunities.

"The idea is it’s a fluid style that the players are intent on breaking lines, playing through the opponent and creating goal-scoring opportunities.”

When closely watching the young USMNT this year, under interim manager Dave Sarachan, Berhalter said he saw potential, but also a team that “needs development, needs direction.”

And it’s a team, he said, that will need some tactical flexibility based on the opponent and game conditions. 

“At times we can do a better job to change the tempo of the game instead of playing at such a high rhythm all the time,” Berhaler said. “I think mixing that rhythm is going to be important, especially at the international level, especially considering some of the climates you’re playing in. But we want to see ball circulation, breaking lines, creating goal-scoring opportunities. That should be the DNA of this team.”

Berhalter said the distribution of that philosophy begins with initial calls to MLS players before going to MLS Cup and a trip abroad to meet European-based players face-to-face. 

Then comes the critical January camp. While it was too soon to talk possible invitees, Berhalter said the camp will be his first chance to truly place his stamp on the expectations for the team. 

“Setting the stage in January, setting the stage for team expectations, team culture and style of play,” he said. “We can get a head start by working with the group in an intensive period in January, and then integrate the European players into the squad in March.”

And while Berhalter said there will be take-home work for players in his camp, likely utilizing “supplemental materials” like video libraries and webinars to continue to stress his messaging, the work, and improvement at each camp will be vital. But the principles, he said, will not be hard to comprehend. 

“My job as a coach, and our job as a staff, is make it as simple as possible,” Berhalter said. “Our game is based on very simple principles, they're not complicated principles. The training sessions are very straightforward. I think it's easy for the players to pick up on it. I think to execute it a really high level does take some time, but it's based on simple principles. I hope the group will be able to appreciate that.”