National Writer: Charles Boehm

USMNT anticipate "completely different" challenge vs. Oman 

USMNT 9.12.23 preview

National team coaches almost always have thousands to millions of compatriots who think they can do a better job at the helm. As he begins his second stint in charge of the US men, Gregg Berhalter is no exception – far from it.

Advice can come from any and all directions, and so it was when Berhalter welcomed Jordan Dickey of the two-time world champion US Power Soccer National Team to his matchday-1 press conference ahead of Tuesday’s friendly vs. Oman at Minnesota United FC’s Allianz Field (8:30 pm ET | TNT, Universo).

The USMNT and USPSNT linked up when the former visited the Twin Cities for an icy World Cup qualifier vs. Honduras in February of last year, and this time around they’re getting together to celebrate the latter before they jet to Australia next month for the FIPFA Powerchair Football World Cup.

“First of all, I'm a little disappointed with [a lack of] tactical questions, because I'm a pretty good manager on Football Manager video game,” deadpanned Dickey after Berhalter playfully goaded a reporter to ask the power soccer standout a question.

“How would you break down a 5-4-1?” replied Berhalter, a reference to his own previous discussion of Oman’s game model compared to Uzbekistan, Friday’s opponent in St. Louis, who forced the Yanks into “not even close to a top performance,” in the words of veteran defender Tim Ream to ESPNFC despite a 3-0 victory.

“The gegenpress, 4-2-3-1 gegenpress, probably,” came Dickey’s quick reply. “Put a little pressure on them.”

Changes coming?

It’s probably just a coincidence vocal segments of the USMNT fanbase have been crying out for that very formation, which interim bosses Anthony Hudson and B.J. Callaghan used to good effect in the half-year in which Berhalter was out of contract and in limbo amid U.S. Soccer’s investigations and hiring decisions after the stormy end to the 2022 cycle.

What, if any, influence the online managerial maestros have on the decisions of “Three Gs” remains to be seen. He did suggest Tuesday’s lineup will look similar to Friday’s, albeit with a new goalkeeper in Ethan Horvath replacing Matt Turner, who has returned to Nottingham Forest, and possibly a replacement for Luca de la Torre if the Celta de Vigo midfielder’s freshly broken nose sidelines him. And perhaps more minutes for Malik Tillman, who impressed in a brief substitute appearance vs. Uzbekistan, as well as a chance of a senior debut for the Inter Miami CF duo of Benjamin Cremaschi and Drake Callender.

“He fits in really well, Benja,” said Berhalter of Cremaschi. “He's a great kid, he learns really quickly, adapting well to the speed of the game, and it's been great having him in camp. He's not going to start the game. We'd love to get him a debut. We just have to see how the substitutions work. You have six subs in the game, so it becomes challenging to get everybody on the field, even though you'd like to.

“Drake, similar situation,” he added. “I think he's having a great season. It's been fun watching him. He's been dominant in goal, especially early on, when he was forced into a lot of action, but he’s having a really good season.”

Berhalter also seemed to drop a hint to other MLSers when asked about the general pecking order behind Turner, with the former New England Revolution star now looking like the well-established No. 1 in goal.

“We also have some young MLS goalies that are doing really well,” said the coach, “and basically it's about performance, right? Matt, I think is a serious enough guy that he realizes he has got a good position now, but it's about him performing week in and week out with this club, and doing the best he can, and then us evaluating the competition.

“So we're constantly doing that with the entire player pool, not only the goalkeeper position, watching all their games and taking stock with how they're doing and how they fit into our group in the attempt to make a good decision of who to bring in.”

New test

This month’s two opponents, both of whom are facing the USMNT for the first time ever, hail from the Asian Football Confederation and sit together at 73rd and 74th in the current FIFA World Rankings. Berhalter predicted a different sort of tactical challenge from Oman, however, pointing to the difficulties their counterattack posed for Germany in a 1-0 Die Mannschaft friendly win last autumn.

“So Oman is completely different than Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan was a 5-4-1, at times 5-2-3, but very difficult block to break down, defending with four players on the wing, very compact,” said the coach. “Oman has played a 4-4-2 diamond, and they have a very, very dynamic counterattack.

“Part of the emphasis in this camp is finishing attacks against the low block in Uzbekistan. And now preventing transitions against Oman. So it's going to be a great test for us. We watched the game against Germany where Germany won 1-0, but they absolutely battered Germany with the transition moments, they were all over them in that game. So it’s going to be important for us.”