Berhalter: 'Diversity' key for USMNT's attack
CLEVELAND -- United States manager Gregg Berhalter praised his side's patience and the diversity of the Americans' attack Saturday in a 6-0 demolition of Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage of the 2019 Gold Cup.
The U.S. took a 1-0 lead into halftime thanks to Aaron Long's 41st-minute header, then exploded with five goals in the second half. Gyasi Zardes scored twice in a three-minute span starting in the 66th minute. Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola scored five minutes apart beginning in the 73rd before Long added his second on the night in the 90th minute. Pulisic and substitute Jordan Morris each had two assists. The victory clinched a spot in the quarterfinals, and the U.S. now needs to either beat or tie Panama in the group stage finale in order to claim top spot in Group D.
"I think the diversity in our game showed today," Berhalter said in his postmatch news conference.
"We hit a couple of good offensive transitions, we had some good buildup, so I liked that we played with that diversity which in a tournament is important."
Berhalter added that revenge wasn't on the minds of his players given that it was Trinidad and Tobago that eliminated the U.S. from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
"Our focus was prepare for this game, knowing that if we won, we go to the next round," he said.
"That was the focus of the group. Trinidad was in our way and we were focused on advancing to the next round of this tournament and we did that."
The U.S. looked a little sluggish in the first half, though that was due in part to the Soca Warriors setting up in a low block defensively, and challenging the home side to play through them. Long's goal, set up by Pulisic, gave the U.S. some momentum heading into halftime, at which point Berhalter encouraged his charges to keep playing the same way.
"We talked to the group about just being patient. We felt that over time we would get more breakthroughs," he said.
Berhalter added that a halftime adjustment also aided the U.S. attack.
"I think it was the first half set up the second half pretty nicely," he said. "We wanted to have a high tempo, we wanted to keep them moving.
"We felt that our fitness could have an effect on them. And then a slight adjustment that we made in the second half was dropping our right winger down into the space. Their man rotated into the midfield and we needed to create an extra man, and when we dropped the midfielder down it had a positive effect on match.
"We moved our right-back up to keep [Cordell] Cato from transitioning, and it pinned him back, but then it created space in the midfield."
Pulisic was the biggest beneficiary. He set up the second of Zardes goals and thrived in the additional space that came as Trinidad and Tobago were forced to take more risks.
"I think what we're doing is trying to put him in a position where he can [take a game over]," Berhalter said of Pulisic. "The structure around him accommodates him being flexible.
"He can go wide, he can come inside, he can create space for himself, we can use the striker to get him the ball bouncing it back to him. That's what we're trying to do and the reason we're trying to do that is he has these game-changing abilities.
"It's something that you see tonight; very fluid with his movement, dynamic, able to take players on, good ball security. And then today was great in that the final product was there also which is always important for attacking players."
It was also a big night for Zardes, who has come under plenty of criticism playing as the lone forward in the U.S. manager's setup, especially given the fact that Josh Sargent was left off the roster. But Berhalter, who coached Zardes when the two were with the Columbus Crew, was pleased to see the forward deliver.
"We work as a group, we support each other, and Gyasi is a guy that you know exactly what you're going to get from him," he said.
"I've said that all along. You need in your squad of 23 players, you need a majority of guys that can give what you're asking of them. Gyasi is a guy like that. So we're proud of him. We're proud of his effort.
"We know that he has good ability, he's a tremendous worker, and it's nice to have him in the squad."
Berhalter now has the luxury of resting some players in the Panama game Wednesday in Kansas City, Kansas, though he said he's not sure how exactly he'll approach the match.
"I don't have experience with that," he said about handling the final group-stage game. "This is the first time we're going through it, so we'll have to figure it out.
"We know that the tournament is a lot of games in a short time, so there will have to be some balancing, but part of it was getting some guys off today to give them some rest. But that's going to be an interesting problem that we're going to have to solve."