CHULA VISTA, Calif. – On his second day training his first batch of US national team players, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter followed his players off the pitch in the midday sun, a dozen or so miles from the mountains in the background on the Mexican border, soaking in the good weather and relaxed vibe among players.
“Right now this is the beauty of this camp,” Berhalter said. “I love this time. We get to work on stuff, we get to try things see if we should set up like this or like that. That’s the beauty of this training and that’s the beauty of the guys, they’ve got good attitudes.”
With the camp being the annual collection of players out of season, normally MLS players, this experimental phase for the coach and his current players offers clues into how future USMNT teams under Berhalter might look.
The new boss spoke to reporters on Tuesday of dipping into the player pool for this first look under his tenure.
“We looked at it in a number of different ways," he explained. "The first is, you identify players based on their profile and how they would fit into what we’re trying to do on the field. Second way we looked at it is what is their performance through the course of this year in Major League Soccer.”
Perhaps not surprising for a program that failed to reach the 2018 World Cup and went through a full year of experimental squads under interim manager Dave Sarachan with no competitive games, Berhalter has chosen a variety of profiles.
Of the 28 players in the squad, 13 are uncapped on a senior international level. Michael Bradley (142 caps), Gyasi Zardes (40 caps), and Kellyn Acosta (23 caps) are the most experienced USMNT players in the side, but Berhalter was quick to point out that neither previous caps nor age mattered in terms of being selected.
“Just like you won’t hesitate to bring someone young who’s good, we’re not going to hesitate to bring someone older who’s good. I said from the beginning when I was taking this job that it’s important to have the right mix of experience and youth. What we want to do is see what older guys will fit in; fit into the culture and fit into the playing style."
A quick look at the roster proves as much: goalkeepers in the side range from 23 to 29, defenders 20 to 27, midfielders 20 to 31, and strikers 21-27.
“We weren’t too concerned with [questions like] is he too young and doesn’t have enough experience?" Berhalter noted. "One thing we probably focused on was just balancing the positions, and we didn’t have only experienced players in one position. We wanted to bring some inexperienced players. We wanted to mix that up.”
One coming challenge for Berhalter will be mixing his MLS-based players with those playing their club soccer abroad.
“I appreciate competing in the MLS. I also appreciate competing abroad and I know what those things bring,” said the coach, who as a player spent time in Holland, England, and Germany before playing in MLS. “The way I’m looking at it is we want guys that are committed to the team culture, understand the style of play and can compete. And regardless of age, of where they’re playing, we’ll look at them if they can fulfill those two requirements.”
When a reporter asked whether German-American players from the Jurgen Klinsmann era were in consideration going forward, Berhalter was forthright in response.
“I wouldn’t even classify them as German. I just call them players. Any US-eligible players, we’re considering.”