CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- For 15 months — since Oct. 2017 and an infamous result at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago — the players, coaches, staff, supporters and media concerned with the US national team have pondered answers to two questions:
- What went wrong in failing to reach the 2018 World Cup?
- How can we make sure it never happens again?
Consensus about a definitive answer to the first question may be hard to reach, but a possible, near-term answer to the second question has emerged in the form of Gregg Berhalter.
In grabbing the helm of a USMNT coming off its worst period in the modern era, Berhalter has faced questions of his own, some of which he addressed early on in a sneak peek video with MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle and Bobby Warshaw, suggesting how his national side might look.
Now, almost a month later, he’s had a chance to introduce his style of play to actual US players. For the players, there was one word that kept coming up: detail.
“[I’m] just getting a feel for Gregg and his style of play, the system that he’s trying to incorporate, the culture that he’s trying to build,” said striker Christian Ramirez. “It’s been good getting to know Gregg and how detail-oriented he is.”
Ramirez's USMNT teammate Sebastian Lletget said earlier in the week he relished the opportunity to get into details and how it could help him master his position in the midfield — a chance he said he’s never had before.
“Gregg loves football,” said Michael Bradley, who played alongside Berhalter for the USMNT over a decade ago. “Gregg has real ideas about how he wants to work, how he wants his team to play. They’re detailed, there’s a plan.”
So what is Berhalter’s detailed system like to actually play in?
Zack Steffen worked under the system for several years in Columbus and described how he’s helping teammates cope with the amount of information the boss is delving out in the first week. That’s not to say the 'keeper hasn’t also noticed differences between what went on at the Crew and what he’s seen so far at January camp.
“I think he’s just trying to give the guys a style of play, give us a sense of direction, and give us principles of what our style should be. He’s trying to give us characteristics which is just competing, moving the ball fast, warranting the defense, breaking lines and being very attacking. It’s cool to compare from Columbus to what he’s been showing us now.”
Steffen’s club teammate Gyasi Zardes believes at least for strikers in the system, the detail part of the equation is in fact not complicated at all.
“[Berhalter] makes things simple. I know exactly what’s expected of me. If I’m playing up top, I know the runs I can make. I know where I should be. Simple things like that help out,” he said.
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller — who is appearing in his first senior USMNT camp — saw resemblances with his current club manager, another former national team coach.
“Honestly, I find a lot of similarities,” said Miller of Berhalter and LAFC's Bob Bradley. “They are very tactical and they want to set the standard. We’re in meetings [on] day two, we’re going over tactics, and our offensive principles and defensive principles. These are the set and default standards of what we want our team, our environment and culture to look like.
"So, from that side of the game, it’s very defined: ‘OK. This is how we’re going to play, these are the type of movements that I want you guys to have.’ It creates a fluid movement and chemistry within the team that I think a lot of guys have adapted and become accustomed to, and it’s just something that [Bradley] does as well.”
Though many players, including Miller, can point to positional details of how this system works — a proclivity for goalkeepers, for instance, who can play out of the back and are confident on the ball — the most important thing for the manager right now is simply a willingness on the part of the players to try his approach.
“They’re open to learning, open to figuring these different formations out,” said Berhalter, who stopped short of revealing any specifics of his detailed system and how it might differ from what he did at the Crew.
“If I told you exactly how they’re going to fit in or what the differences are, it’s too early to say that.”