There were reflections on the game itself Tuesday night – a 4-0 win over Cuba that saw the US men’s national team top Group A of the Concacaf Nations League – but comments on the first year of the Gregg Berhalter era were equally as ubiquitous.
In all, 2019 ended with a semifinal Nations League game against Honduras secured, a loss to Mexico in the Concacaf Gold Cup final and new players integrated by the former Columbus Crew SC manager. Berhalter’s USMNT record, so far, is 11-5-2.
There were certainly ups and downs, exemplified perhaps most by the historic 2-0 loss at Canada in October, but the players are optimistic about the future. Just ask forward Jordan Morris, who helped the Seattle Sounders raise an MLS Cup trophy earlier this month.
“We’re all really excited,” Morris said. “We think we’re moving in the right direction, the coaching staff we feel has done a really good job coming in and everyone internally is really excited. It’s a really close group. The feeling within the group is really high. We’re just excited for the future. Next year is going to be a big year, and we can’t wait.”
Morris is one of several players whose role has grown significantly, and New York Red Bulls center back Aaron Long is another. They, alongside MLS midfielder Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes) and Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC), are growing into preferred members of Berhalter’s XI.
They’re featuring alongside a young generation of European-based stars, including goalkeeper Zack Steffen (Fortuna Dusseldorf), right back Sergiño Dest (Ajax), midfielder Weston McKennie (Schalke) and attacker Christian Pulisic (Chelsea). Two of the most-promising youngsters, midfielder Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig) and Timothy Weah (Lille), have dealt with injuries.
As the pieces mold together, Berhalter likes what he sees.
“When I look back at 2019, I think the group has really come together nicely,” the manager said. “I think it’s a great group of guys, I know it’s a great group of guys who are enthusiastic and work extremely hard. We had a number of challenges this year that the group needed to respond to, and I think we responded well.”
Berhalter spelled out that the USMNT’s two big goals for 2019 were to win the Gold Cup and qualify for the semifinals of the Concacaf Nations League. Only the latter was accomplished, so he acknowledged they fell short in some areas.
There are also bigger challenges ahead, and the room for error will be small. Wounds from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup are still fresh in the fanbase, and Berhalter knows the gravity of the tasks at hand.
“As we move forward to 2020, it’s an exciting year,” Berhalter said. “We’re going to have some friendlies in Europe against high-level opponents, which is going to be a great test for this group. We move into Nations League semifinals and, hopefully, finals, and then we start World Cup qualifying. This group is really going to get tested in 2020, and we’re looking forward to the challenge."