USMNT in evaluation mode as June window enters Nations League portion

USMNT in evaluation mode as June window enters Nations League portion

AUSTIN, Texas – Gregg Berhalter and the US men’s national team constantly emphasize the unity and togetherness of their squad, often dropping terms like “brotherhood” and “family” on their road through World Cup qualifying and onwards towards Qatar 2022.

That’s laudable, and borne out by their generally solid and resilient performances on the pitch over the past year or so. It also does not remove the elephant in the room in this month’s camp: Gathering data towards the final roster decisions that must be made this fall before jetting off to the Persian Gulf in November.

“All of us are going to be sad when we have to tell a player that he’s not going to be part of this World Cup group,” said Berhalter in his pregame press conference on Thursday. “Right now what I see is the group is pulling together, they’re pulling in the same direction, they’re supporting each other and it’s been one of the best June trips we’ve had, or the best June trip we’ve had, since we’ve taken over the team.”

As defender Reggie Cannon posted earlier in the week: “We’re competing for a World Cup roster spot. But that doesn’t mean that the relationship has to deteriorate.”

All that said, as collective-oriented as players and coaches strive to be, everything that’s happening in and around the USMNT’s four June matches – and what Berhalter maintains are relatively limited minutes on the training ground in between them – is fodder for assessment.

That includes interpersonal interactions, the mental approach to an easily overlooked opponent like Caribbean underdogs Grenada, and even the adaptation to the fierce Texas heat that will keep the game-time heat index in the mid-90s for Friday night’s Concacaf Nations League match at Q2 Stadium (10 p.m. ET | ESPN+, UniMas, TUDN).

“If you talk about evaluation, this is a really easy game. Because we’re evaluating our mentality, we’re evaluating our intensity, the ability to play in warm conditions, overcome that mentally, and it’s about us,” said Berhalter. “That’s the important thing. That’s the important message to the group, is we’re defending fields of the Nations League and we want to get off to a good start, and it means beating Grenada tomorrow.”

Lineup rotations

Berhalter and his staff have been running the rule over not just individual players, but on-field relationships and tactical riffs, which was surely a factor in keeping seven players in the starting XI against both Morocco and Uruguay.

While the head coach refused to reveal any of his upcoming selection decisions, the US are widely expected to rotate the lineup significantly over two CNL matches in five days, with a trip to El Salvador on June 14 following the stint in central Texas.

“If you look at these four games as a whole, the idea was to improve our team and to evaluate some players, and to start the defense of the Nations League title. So we still have time to fit all those things into this trip,” said Berhalter. “We will use the next two games to evaluate players in different ways. So that’s going to be our focus of these next two games.

“Our idea in this camp is to evaluate every player. So we’re running out of game time to do that,” he acknowledged later in the call. “We’re going to have to use some players that we haven’t used yet and give them the opportunity to prove themselves, either in this game or the next.”

Roldan opportunity, Long defense

Asked about various players by reporters, the coach dropped a few breadcrumbs about what we may or may not see in the coming days.

Striker Haji Wright should get some more run after logging combined 74 minutes off the bench in the two friendlies, though Jesus Ferreira’s participation in Thursday’s availability could also be a sign that the FC Dallas homegrown will continue to feature up top.

Seattle’s Cristian Roldan sounds likely to get at least a modest chunk of game time to state his case for a place in Qatar; “I would like to get him on the field these next two games and we’ll see if we can do that,” said Berhalter. Somewhat ominously, however, considering how effective Roldan has been as a pressing right winger for the Sounders this year, the coach said minutes in that position would be “tough” for him to garner, “based on what we ask our wingers to do. ”

Berhalter also offered a full-blooded defense of New York Red Bulls standout Aaron Long, who started the past two matches after his spring return from a torn Achilles, calling the heavy criticism of the center back among some segments of the USMNT fan base “insane .”

“The guy was [2018] Defender of the Year in MLS, he’s coming back from an Achilles injury, and we’re purposely putting him in these games to keep pushing him, keep improving him,” said the coach. “He’s got a great character. He’s got tremendous speed, and he’s working his way back to this level, which is a different level. And I think he’s doing quite well, and pleased with his progress.”

Weah’s spot

One thing USMNT watchers should not expect to see is Tim Weah deployed at the No. 9 position, even though that spot remains an area of ​​concern amid a long stretch of limited scoring productivity from Ferreira, Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Pefok, Gyasi Zardes and the other options Berhalter has tried there .

“Regarding Timmy, most of the time when he plays as a striker [at French side Lille], there’s another guy up there next to him, he plays in a 4-4-2. For us, him playing as a high winger, threatening the backline, he’s arriving in the penalty box,” said the coach.

“So he’s getting chances like we think forwards do at times, so he’s valuable to us at that position on the wing. We really like the type of form he is in and what he’s bringing for us. We’ve considered him at striker I think only in special circumstances, situations where we need a certain quality.”

Next step: American coaches

Berhalter closed with a salute to the two US-born managers who led final-day relegation escapes from the English Premier League and German Bundesliga, respectively, in Leeds United’s Jesse Marsch and Stuttgart’s Pellegrino Matarazzo.

“That’s a great accomplishment for both Jesse and Pellegrino. I know them both well, and they’re both excellent coaches; excited to see how they build on that next year,” he said. “It’s great to see American coaches getting that opportunity because I certainly think that we’re capable. I know there’s a lot of top-quality coaches in MLS as well.

“And I think it’s a matter of time before European clubs start looking at our coaches. Right now they’re looking at our players; I think the next step is really looking at the coaches in America.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.