Berhalter focuses on "culture" as US national team gets back to basics

The Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center is a pretty quiet place, short on distractions and attractions – though as its name would suggest, packed to the gills with top-class modern sports facilities and technology.

That’s exactly why Gregg Berhalter selected it as the site of his first event in charge of the US national team, gathering his January camp squad to stay in spartan dormitories and immerse themselves in his new project 24/7.

“We mixed up the roommates on purpose so that the guys are getting to know other people; some of them are bunking four in a room. And that’s all part of it,” Berhalter explained to reporters on Monday, the first full day of this month’s workouts. “The most important thing we can focus on right now is building the group cohesion and our style of play, and working on that. And there’s no better place to do it than here.

“This is what we live for – I told the guys when we first got on the field, I said, ‘listen, no more talk, now we actually get to do it,’ and that’s the fun part, is getting on the field,” he added, professing himself “impressed” with the level of the first training session given the players’ long offseason break.

A more remote setting than this camp’s usual location at Dignity Health Sports Park in suburban Carson, California, the facility sits on the eastern outskirts of the San Diego metropolitan area, perched near the edge of Lower Otay Lake, at the foot of the sunny San Ysidro Mountains a short drive north of the US-Mexico border. There’s relatively little for the squad to do besides soccer as they come to grips with Berhalter’s methodical tactical approach.

“When you get to train with this type of weather, you have the mountains in the background, you look at the field, it’s perfect,” said the former Columbus Crew SC boss, who noted that he spent time in Chula Vista 21 years ago as he tried – unsuccessfully – to earn a spot on the USMNT’s 1998 World Cup roster.

“It’s a great environment to foster one of our main objectives of the camp, and that’s team-building. We’re here, we’re going to be together here, it’s an intensive period but it’s a focused period. I think we’re really going to get quality time together as a team.”

Said veteran midfielder Michael Bradley, the most experienced head in his month’s camp: “Gregg is into it. Gregg loves football. Gregg has real ideas about how he wants to work, how he wants his teams to play. There’s details, there’s a plan.”

Winger Paul Arriola hails from the area, and told reporters that this is his first stay in a dorm room since his stint at the federation’s since-shuttered Bradenton Residency Program for the Under-17 national team.

“But it’s great. As professionals, this is our job, this is what we’re here to do. We’re not here for vacation, we’re not here to go and sightsee,” said the D.C. United star, adding that “you’ve got to learn as much as you can, as quick as you can” as Berhalter introduces his new team to the pass-and-move approach that became Crew SC’s hallmark during his tenure.

“He’s obviously working on us, to build the culture, to build this new, fresh start for all of us, and I think it’s great,” added Arriola. “When you get a bunch of guys that have the right mentality, the right energy, and you put a purpose there for us and a way for us to go out onto the field and perform and believe in ourselves, we’re going to be successful.”

Berhalter sounded a similar note as he explained that this occasion is about more than just performance on the pitch.

“It was very important to tell the players how they’re going to be evaluated in this camp. It’s not only going to be what happens on the field, it’s how they fit in culturally to what we’re doing,” he said.

“I know after this month, we’re going to have a much better understanding of who fits in and what are the key qualities of the players and how they can help us.”


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