Armchair Analyst: New era begins with Berhalter's first USMNT squad

This is basically where I'm at for the upcoming US men's national team camp, the first under new head coach Gregg Berhalter:

It's really not normal to be stoked on what happens every January. The squad that's called in is usually a B or C team, and the teams they line up against are usually B or C teams (which is why fans have long dubbed this "Camp Cupcake" – because the quality of the competition at the end of it is not great), and the games themselves almost always produce boring, chopping, low-scoring, out-of-season bleh. I can remember one January five years ago when the US played Canada to a scoreless draw that was so bad it nearly ended soccer in both countries.

And three years ago the group Jurgen Klinsmann called in was just brutal.

Berhalter has gone with a squad that's at the same time both younger and more proven, which is the sign of a player pool that's getting healthier. And chances are he won't do things like play Wil Trapp at left wingback.

So what are the things I want to see from this group? Let me make you a list:

1. How good is Sebastian Lletget, actually?

There's been a "Waiting for Godot" aspect to Lletget's career, as he's always seemed on the verge of breaking out, but has never quite managed it due to one reason (playing for Sam Allardyce) or another (playing out of position) or another (injuries). Lletget's played a bunch of spots over the course of his career, and has been pretty good-to-very good at most of them.

His best moments have mostly come as a central midfielder, a No. 8 who can sort of function as a No. 10 at times (the "8.5" position Kevin De Bruyne has talked about), a guy who's unafraid of getting on the ball in tough spots and has the touch/balance/game-sense to do something with it in those moments.

I suspect Berhalter will have his team playing in a 4-3-3 with dual 8s in front of a more pure 6. I hope Lletget is one of those 8s, and I hope he shows out. 

2. Can Russell Canouse do Wil Trapp/Michael Bradley-type stuff?

Canouse plays like a ball of fire, ranging all of central midfield to seek the ball, win the ball, and then do cool stuff with it. We broke it down a couple of months ago:

That is not how a No. 6 plays in Berhalter's system (watch the video at the top of the page to get a taste of that). Trapp's main responsibilities in Columbus over the past five years have been to protect the zone right in front of the center backs, and to spread the field with long diagonals to overlapping, playmaking fullbacks.

Can Canouse both circumscribe and expand his game to become that type of player? Can he become more Trapp- or Bradley-esque in terms of protecting zones and organizing the game?

It's an important question because early returns suggest Trapp will be in over his head, athletically speaking, against elite teams, and sound defensive system/structure can cover that up only so much. Canouse doesn't have the same kinds of physical limitations. If he can do the work Trapp does (and Bradley has done) while raising the level of individual defensive ability on the field, that's a big win.

3. The front line situation

I'm actually more OK with the depth chart at center forward than most folks are. Josh Sargent (really good) and Haji Wright (jury's still out) have both scored goals in the Bundesliga now. Jozy Altidore will get healthy soon enough. Bobby Wood's ceiling isn't high, but he's a Bundesliga regular. I'm still not remotely sold on Andrija Novakovich, but he keeps getting in the boxscore in the Netherlands.

We know what Gyasi Zardes is at the international level. I'm very interested in seeing what Christian Ramirez (a sniper/poacher who could do more linking play) and Jeremy Ebobisse (a target forward who needs to play more goal-hungry) bring to the table.

Winger, however, is a big question. Cristian Roldan played there a bunch, but is much more of a No. 8 or even, potentially, a No. 6. Lletget is, as I mentioned earlier, an 8.5. Paul Arriola is a mostly known quantity at the international level – a relentless worker bee who's smart off the ball but isn't going to break teams down with any sort of creativity.

Corey Baird has, I think, a little bit more than that. He is still mostly an off-the-ball player, but his runs are direct and goal-oriented, and he is not afraid to try $&%! once he gets into spots where that makes sense. He often has the technique to pull it off.

4. Which CB's distribution will stand out?

Berhalter has termed his overall approach to the game as one that – and I'm paraphrasing here – "uses the ball to disorganize the opposition" and "wants to break lines." That means picking a pass that cuts defenders out of the play and advances the ball to an advantageous spot.

Each of the center backs on the roster have been asked to do that, to one level or another, with their club teams. Berhalter will ask more of them. Any who distinguishes himself will have a leg up on the competition re: future call-ups.

Plus it's pretty to watch. I hope they play pretty soccer. That would be the best way to start this new USMNT era.

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