Gregg Berhalter believes that the US men’s national team roster he announced on Thursday is capable of winning the Concacaf Gold Cup, and he asserted as much in a subsequent media call.
But his selections are every bit as much about thriving in the intense World Cup qualifying grind ahead and bolstering the overall strength of the player pool, too.
That includes the big names left at home – some of whom, like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, need rest above all, and others, like Bryan Reynolds and Johnny Cardoso, who face key preseasons at their clubs.
“The major European players were going to get time off after [Concacaf] Nations League to prepare for their season,” said the coach on Thursday morning. “Some other players that are in critical situations in Europe, we felt that it was more important for them to be in preseason with their team, and give them a good chance of making a positive impact with their new coaching staff and with their club, rather than to be in Gold Cup.
“I talked about being able to affect a larger player pool, being able to have really good information on a broader pool based on the congestion of World Cup qualifying,” he later added. “We get to work on another group, we get to solidify this pool [so] that when we go into qualifying, we know where everyone stands.”
That was one observation among many shared by Berhalter, who delved into significant details about many aspects of the 23-player squad over a half-hour conversation with reporters.
He offered warm praise for MLS starlets James Sands and Gianluca Busio, who were left out of the spring’s failed Olympic qualifying effort but now sound guaranteed of significant minutes this month.
“I've been really impressed with the way he's been playing, mostly at the No. 6 but also, we see him also being able to play an attacking midfield position. So, again, it's about timing, it's about form and his time has come,” said Berhalter of Busio. “He will play in games, you guys will see him on the field.
“He is still a young player, but that doesn't matter. We have a lot of young players in the program. Look at Gio Reyna in the Nations League, what he did; same age, same year of birth … He's a really talented player, really calm player for his age, and I think he can make a big impact with us.”
He hinted that New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner’s Cinderella story will continue at the Gold Cup.
“I think that the national team is always about capitalizing on moments of player success. Matt’s an example of this being a good moment for him. He’s played really well at the start of the league,” said Berhalter. “And this is a moment for him now to take that next step and show that he can do it on an international level, because the games are different. The margin for error is different. And these games are highly competitive.”
He added to the already-loud chorus of Daryl Dike tributes, suggesting that the in-form Orlando City man may become his first-choice striker, not just for this tournament but across the entire player pool.
“He's developed really nicely over this last year, worked himself into the team, put himself in the equation to be a starter on his team – when everyone's around – and to me it's been a really strong, strong year for Daryl,” said Berhalter. “We're looking forward to getting him into camp again and seeing what he can do at this level of competitive games.”
The USMNT boss also underlined his faith in the more familiar faces on this roster, most of them MLS-based or MLS-reared – specifically Kellyn Acosta, Jackson Yueill, Sebastian Lletget and Reggie Cannon.
“We're showing our dependence on Sebastian again, and how good of a player he is,” cracked Berhalter. “I think this is a positive sign, when you look at Kellyn, Jackson, Sebastian, Reggie, holdovers from the Nations League, I think it shows you how much we value them and how important they are to this group.
“I can't imagine our roster right now without those three or four players, if we had to go deeper in the depth chart. So these guys are going to help us compete to win the Gold Cup. You add Walker [Zimmerman] to that as well, veterans that have been around: Brad Guzan, Gyasi [Zardes], Daryl, guys that have been around, they're going to be the backbone of this team that helps us compete to win.”
Julian Araujo reaction
Berhalter also explained many of his omissions. He revealed that Caden Clark’s recent appendectomy fell at just the wrong time for his Gold Cup prospects, that the FC Dallas trio of Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi were considered but fell just short, and that dual-national fullback Julian Araujo was not prepared to don a US jersey at the moment as he continues to consider Mexico as a long-term option.
“In terms of Julian, it's a case of him being a dual national and not fully ready to commit to the team,” said the coach. “And he knew that the Gold Cup would lock him in permanently, and he wasn't ready to make that step. I don't want to speak for him but I can imagine when he looks at the depth of the right back position, he sees a logjam there, and he doesn't maybe fully see his pathway to being a starter in the next World Cup. What I can tell you is, we really value Julian and we think he's an outstanding player, and we think he can make a run at being a starter on this team.”