The Philadelphia Union’s historic capture of the 2020 Supporters’ Shield, a feat clinched with Sunday’s 2-0 win over New England, didn't escape the notice of Gregg Berhalter, even with the US men’s national team coach immersed in the work of his squad’s European-based November camp.
Berhalter paid effusive praise to the Union’s achievement, particularly the influence of longtime coach Jim Curtin, on a Monday video call with reporters as he and his staff prepare for Thursday’s friendly vs. Wales (2:45 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, TUDN).
“It's great. I have a lot of respect for Jim Curtin,” said the former Columbus Crew SC boss. “He's a guy I'm really fond of. I think he's a great coach, a really good human being. I think he's patient with players, and it's great to see that get rewarded. I think it's been a process when you talk about from when he took over to now, it's great to see them get results from that process, because it is something they believed in.”
Union celebrate the Supporters' Shield
Philadelphia Union celebrate with the Supporters' Shield
A project nearly a decade in the making, Philly’s youth-driven, value-conscious model has earned the admiration of many across MLS. It also stands to generate knock-on benefits for the USMNT as it churns out an assembly line of aspiring prospects like midfielder Brenden Aaronson and center back Mark McKenzie.
“When I think about the organization, I think about the academy and what they invested in the academy, and to have now have those players performing on the field, it's special, it's a great feeling,” said Berhalter, who elected to call only one MLS-based player (LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget) in this COVID-shadowed international window in order to avoid any potential disruption to the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“I did watch the [Union-Revolution] game. I thought it was a good win by them and I'm excited to see what they do in the playoffs. But it is a good example of sticking to a process, believing in the process and then executing on it.”
Over his coaching career Berhalter has cultivated a playing philosophy with significant distinctions from Philadelphia’s, though it was notable to hear him laud the value of high pressing and hint at the USMNT increasing their use of the concept in the days ahead.
“It's about taking advantage of the quality that we have in the team. And what I mean is, are there times where we can be more aggressive [when] pressing?” Berhalter posed. “I think I was very comfortable in a mid-block 4-4-2 before; we've talked about the transition from that into more 4-3-3 defending, there's no secret on that. And it's basically based on the athletes that we have, and the quality that we have.
“[With] the caliber of athletes we have,” he added, “we can be aggressive. It won't change much in terms of us wanting to control the ball. It won't change much in terms of us wanting to use the ball to create goalscoring opportunities – and we have guys that can do it. So for me, it's just adding another layer to our group."