MARIETTA, Ga. — Talking to MLSsoccer’s Andrew Wiebe in an exclusive interview, newly minted US men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter said the message and goal for his team is simple: "We want to change the way the world views American soccer."
It’s a task that seems ambitious, daunting, and possibly intimidating. Berhalter will be happy to hear that players from 2018 MLS Cup finalists Atlanta United and Portland Timbers told reporters Thursday they’re jumping on board with his philosophy and, maybe most importantly, the style he plans to employ.
“With Gregg, you see that [style] with Columbus and the way they've played the last few years. It's exciting football that you can see from our side as well,” said Atlanta United’s Greg Garza, one of Berhalter’s potential options at left back. “That was probably the team we paid attention to the most and probably watched more of their video than we did of any other team in the league. That's all credit to Gregg.”
Challenging Garza for a position in Berhalter’s squad could be his opposing number in Saturday’s MLS Cup (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN, TVAS), Jorge Villafaña. Villafaña, who Garza calls “El Sueño” (The Dream) after he won the first Sueño MLS reality show competition, echoed Garza’s sentiments.
“I think it's really exciting, the way he worked with [Columbus], the style of play that they had,” said Villafaña. “When you have that kind of style, when you have the ball, when you open the field, you create more opportunities. I think the US more than anything needed a coach, and I think with Gregg, they've made a great hire and will be good for the US”
Of course, Berhalter’s words echo what most new managers say in the modern game. Fans want to see goals and attractive games, and new managers are typically happy to oblige in that rhetoric. But promises and reality sometimes don't quite match up. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said he knows that won’t be a problem this time around, and he even envisions a similar training regime to Gerardo "Tata" Martino in Atlanta.
“When you have a manager that has a real identity, a real idea of how he wants his team to play... real things can be accomplished,” said Guzan. “Clearly Columbus is a team that works on their style of play, how they want to build out of the back, how they want to keep the ball, how they want to create advantages on the field similar to what we do here.
“I think it's going to be good,” Guzan continued. “Gregg has it spot on on changing the idea of how U.S. Soccer is perceived around the world. When you try to change something, it's never easy. You have to put in the work, and he's a guy that clearly understands the game, works hard and his teams reflect the amount of preparation that he puts into it.”