SAN JOSE, Calif. – If you tune into Gregg Berhalter’s second game as the US men’s national team coach expecting a drastically changed squad from the side that posted a 3-0 victory over Panama on Sunday, you may be in for a shock.
As Berhalter finishes a near month-long stint with a group of young players lacking international experience, the former Columbus Crew SC boss does not feel a pressing need to get everyone some playing time against Costa Rica on Saturday afternoon at Avaya Stadium (3:30 pm ET | FS1).
“We’ll mix guys in where appropriate,” Berhalter said Tuesday after his squad finished its first training session at the San Jose Earthquakes’ home. “I think our job is to continue to fine tune and continue to work on and develop our style of play. We may make some changes; we’ll see where everyone is physically.”
To some extent, given that only four players came into camp with more than a half-dozen caps, anybody Berhalter puts on the field will be gaining invaluable experience. He gave action to seven debutants against Panama, starting five to match a modern era US record in previously set in 1992. That leaves D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse, Colorado Rapids right back Keegan Rosenberry and Philadelphia Union defenders Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty still in search of their first caps.
The aim is greater, however, than simply working in new blood in the wake of a disastrously failed 2018 World Cup qualification campaign. Berhalter is trying to lay the tactical groundwork the USMNT for years to come – which involves plenty of change for players coming into the system cold.
“He’s definitely asking a lot, and there’s a lot of new things, new components [to] the way he wants us playing,” said US midfielder Corey Baird, one of the newcomers versus Panama. “I think everyone’s starting to understand the system more and more as we go.”
That style included a new role given to right back Nick Lima, who pushed into central midfield when the US was on the attack, along with high-and-wide posts for wingers, to name two examples cited by Baird.
“Those little tweaks that [Berhalter] has to try to open up space and open up gaps for different players in different areas of the field,” Baird said. “I think when everyone’s on the same page there, it can come off and work really well. It’s just about understanding your role and movements off the other guys behind you.”
For Berhalter, growing that knowledge base is possibly the best thing he’s getting out of his first camp.
“What we needed to see was progress,” Berhalter said. “We talked before the game. We said, ‘You’re not going to see a finished product from this game. But you should be able to see ideas. You should be able to see the beginning.’ That’s all we’ve asked from the players, the whole time. . . . And guys have been so open, the guys have progressed virtually every day. We’ve gotten better, and that’s been good to see.”