Why U.S. Soccer fans should be confident in Gregg Berhalter 2.0

Gregg Berhalter’s second stint as coach of the USMNT began this month and so far the new rollout – let’s call it Berhalter 2.0 – looks very similar to the first version.

The team was successful, if unconvincing, defeating Uzbekistan and Oman 7-0 on aggregate. For the most part, the USA stuck to their standard 4-3-3 formation and built cautiously out of defense. It also seemed uninspired at times and seemed to downplay the competition – it led 1-0 in stoppage time against 85th-ranked Uzbekistan – which was also a hallmark of Berhalter’s first four years.

However, there are reasons to believe that this version will be better than the last.

First of all, it is deeper and younger. Folarin Balogun, whose goal against Oman was his second in four games with the USA, finally gives Berhalter the world-class striker he has been missing. Behind him, Ricardo Pepi continues to mature and improve, scoring six goals in his last six games, with four of those goals coming off the bench.

“You always want your strikers to score goals. “Our job as teammates and as coaches is to put them in a position to score goals,” Berhalter said. “From our perspective, the competition is twofold, right? It’s about what they do for their clubs every week and what they do for us when they’re in camp.”

None of the players are 23 years old yet, which also applies to four of the other nine starters against Oman. The core is young: Captain Christian Pulisic just turned 25 on Monday, the same age as Weston McKennie. Tyler Adams, the last World Cup captain, is 24. Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah are both 20. And Berhalter continues to expand the pool of young players among them; When teenager Ben Cermaschi and 20-year-old Kevin Paredes came on in the final 20 minutes, they became the 58th and 59th players to make their national team debut in his 62 games as manager.

The team is also becoming more continental.

Kristoffer Lund, a Danish-born dual citizen, played at full-back in both games in his first two internationals. Against Oman he had 85 touches of the ball in 90 minutes. More importantly, he was one of only five dual nationals – alongside Balogun, Malik Tillman, Musah and Sergiño Dest – to live and play in Europe for the majority of their lives. Berhalter, who prioritizes recruiting dual nationals, has drafted more than three dozen since taking over the USMNT in 2019.

All of these changes in the national team’s player pool now provide Berhalter with a unique opportunity to move from his predictable, ponderous attacking style to a faster, more aggressive style, with Balogun (or Pepi) as the target striker ahead of Pulisic and Tim Weah with Reyna the playmaker in the middle .

Behind, Adams, still recovering from a hamstring injury, is well-suited to playing as a space-consuming midfielder, while McKennie, probably the best player in September camp, plays box-to-box. This is what Berhalter 2.0 should look like: a dynamic 4-2-3-1.

“We are still trying to figure out how best to use Balo because we know he has high quality,” Berhalter said of Balogun, who was the only striker to score for club side Monaco at the weekend. “We want to put the strikers in a position where they can score.”

Of course there are obstacles on the way, most notably the return of the often injured Reyna. During Berhalter’s absence this summer, he played for interim coach BJ Callaghan and suffered a leg injury in the CONCACAF Nations League final. He recently returned to the field with Borussia Dortmund’s U-23 team, raising doubts about his suitability for a call-up for the USMNT’s friendlies in October.

First, however, Berhalter and Reyna have to meet to clarify things. The player’s immature sulking over playing time at last fall’s World Cup, some ill-advised comments from Berhalter and a lurid campaign by Reyna’s parents to tarnish the coach’s reputation put Berhalter’s future with the national team on hold for six months while US Soccer sorted things out.

As a coach, Berhalter must take the initiative to do everything right. It’s been two months since he was rehired; Why he hasn’t met Reyna yet is a mystery. The longer he waits, the more it remains a problem.

Rebuilding a relationship with Reyna could also help appease the part of the fan base that inexplicably sided with Reyna, who was such a distraction in Qatar that he was almost sent home.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, Berhalter remains extremely unpopular with supporters. Maybe that’s part of the job; Jürgen Klinsmann was also loathed, as was Bob Bradley before him. It certainly can’t be based on performance, as Berhalter (39-11-12) has the best win percentage in USMNT history of any coach who has worked more than seven games, while Klinsmann and Bradley trail only Bruce Arena in terms of wins lay.

More important, however, is the fact that players like Berhalter and want to play for him. The core of the young team emerged under him, believed in him and influenced the culture he inherited. This loyalty is rare, even if it doesn’t extend to the fan base, and it comes at the right time.

The next World Cup, which the United States will host alongside Mexico and Canada, will be the most important in the program’s history. More people will be watching and more sponsors will be spending money than ever before. To win that attention — and a lot of those dollars — the U.S. will need to field a competitive team capable of competing near the top of the tournament.

To achieve this, the team must continue to grow and develop and move away from a style of play that has become far too boring. The victories over Uzbekistan and Oman were not a real challenge for the USA; The October window of games against Germany and Ghana will give a much better indication of where the team stands as they look ahead to the Nations League quarter-finals in November and the Copa America next summer.

Berhalter 2.0 still has some bugs that need to be fixed, but the first test made Berhalter optimistic.

“I really liked the attitude of the boys and the intensity of the group,” said the coach. “Overall. I’m happy with the camp.”

You’ve read the latest edition of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and highlights unique stories. Listen to Baxter in this week’s episode Corner of the Galaxy Podcast.

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing emma@ustimespost.com.

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