What to expect ahead of Gregg Berhalter's first games as US Men's National Team head coach

It's the start of an exciting new era for the United States Men’s National Team who have been taking part in a January training camp under the guidance of new man at the helm, Gregg Berhalter.

They will round off their month's work with games against Panama (1/27) and Costa Rica (2/2), and with a squad made up solely of players based in North America, they will be hoping for a good showing to kick off 2019.

These are Berhalter’s first games since he took over as head coach of the USMNT, and they will begin to show us what style his team will play.

Twenty-eight players were involved in training camps in California and Phoenix ahead of the Panama game which takes place at the State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ.

“We’ve had a great two weeks in Chula Vista focusing on building team culture, style of play and competing every day,” said Berhalter.

“The entire group has worked hard and brought an excellent mindset, and we thank them for the consistent effort thus far. We look forward to continuing to build on these ideas in Phoenix and measure our progress in the game against Panama.”

When looking at Berhalter’s style of play at Columbus Crew, his appointment to the national team job immediately makes sense.

As pointed out in the video below, by Tifo, he favours the system over the players, which can come in handy in a league such as Major League Soccer which operates with a salary cap. There isn’t as much room for manoeuvre in the transfer market as there might be in other leagues around the world.

It’s all about doing the best with the hand you have been dealt – which is also the case in international soccer – and Berhalter has caught the eye with his work in Columbus.

Despite some recruitment restrictions, Berhalter created flexibility through his system and picked the right tools for the right jobs.

He will now have the entire national team pool from which to choose his new tools and his first selection from North America-based players only has been encouraging.

Berhalter will be helped by the fact he is able to pick a spine of players he has worked with at the Crew who can help pass on his methods to the rest of the team. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defensive midfielder Wil Trapp, and forward Gyasi Zardes are all in his first squad and will bring a welcome air of familiarity to proceedings.

Speaking to Matt Doyle and Bobby Warshaw, Berhalter described his tactical approach as “attack based” and one which “wants to create goal scoring opportunities by disorganising the opponent.”

His favoured 4-2-3-1 is very fluid in attack, with the former centre-back saying the team aims to create positional and numerical advantages by shifting players around.

It relies, to a certain extent, on the players being able to think on their feet and notice where the numerical overloads might happen, mid-game. It encourages players to think tactically for themselves, which is a good thing for the future of US Soccer.

The shape drops to a 4-4-2 formation in defence, which Berhalter prefers to describe as a 4-2-2-2 as the wingers operate in wide areas between the two forwards and the double pivot which sits in midfield.

READ MORE: Who is new USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter?

The US also have a good pool of young attacking full-backs at the moment, and these are key to Berhalter’s system as they are protected by the insurance policy provided by the most defensive player in the double pivot.

They can over underlap behind the wide players who act as inside forwards or wingers depending on their stronger foot – again offering a variety of options from the original framework.

The theory is good, but turning this into a working system on the pitch is another thing entirely, especially given the limited amount of time coaches get with their players at national team level.

It's for that reason this January camp is so important; these games will be the first testing ground for the new-look USMNT.

Because this is a squad made up solely of MLS players who are in the off-season, it's an opportunity for those whose place might normally be taken by one of the American stars currently playing in Europe.

A long list of players are in line to make their debuts, with the new coach having narrowed down his 28-man training camp group to a 23-man squad for the upcoming game.

Here are the players who will be looking to win their first cap:

Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Christian Ramirez (LAFC), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Russell Canouse (D.C. United), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire),  Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union).

The game against Panama kicks off at 8pm ET on Sunday, before the group move back to California where they will face Costa Rica the next Saturday, February 2, at 3.30pm ET.


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