Gregg Berhalter talks Pulisic, January goals and setting the tone
U.S. men's national team manager Gregg Berhalter named the first roster of his tenure on Thursday, and as such, thoughts drifted to things like playing style, culture and how the players chosen would fit into his system.
But at the moment, Berhalter is juggling all manner of additional tasks. There is staff to hire and training sessions to plan, and most of all there are relationships with players to be established, including those senior players who will not take part in the upcoming training camp to be held in Chula Vista, California.
During a conference call with reporters, it was revealed that Berhalter has been in Europe for eight days and has spoken to 25 players, around half of those in person. He's also spoken to MLS players.
"I've been trying to get a sense of the past, but also the future, and what this group is looking for," said Berhalter. "I think we can use this training camp as an opportunity to start the process, and set the tone for what this group is going to be like."
Among the players that Berhalter spoke with was Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic. While Dortmund currently sit atop the Bundesliga, the season hasn't gone as planned for the U.S. team's best attacking player. He has been plagued by a variety of nagging muscle injuries, and has seen the bulk of his potential minutes go to Jadon Sancho instead. Pulisic also cut a frustrated figure in the two most recent friendlies, a pair of defeats to England and Italy.
Getting buy-in from Pulisic is a critical step for Berhalter.
"It's the first time I've really sat down and talked to [Pulisic] and heard his feelings about soccer and his ideas about the game," Berhalter said. "It was a very productive conversation. He's doing a fantastic job at Dortmund. At the moment, it hasn't been going the best for him, and that's when guys can really show their qualities, how they endure during times like this."
Soon the focus will shift to the players coming to camp, and as has been the case with recent rosters, plenty of focus has been placed on the veterans. Who got called in? Who didn't?
It's worth noting that the camp occurs outside of a FIFA international window, so clubs aren't required to release players, hence the emphasis on domestic names. Even performers who play in Scandinavia, who are outside their league seasons at the moment, were unavailable in some cases. Swedish side Malmo refused to release Romain Gall given that they have Europa league games coming up in February. All of this led Berhalter to caution against reading too much into the names included or excluded.
"This camp ... is a slice in time," he said. "It doesn't represent people's permanent positions. There's guys not in camp who could have been deserving of a call-ups. I've made calls not included in the camp explaining the reason why, explaining that we're going to keep monitoring all players, and opportunities will be given to other guys as well who weren't included in this camp."
Midfielder Michael Bradley occupies his usual spot as team lightning rod within the U.S. fan base. His game dropped a few notches last season with Toronto FC, although it's worth pointing out the entire team struggled. Berhalter stated that there is value in the presence of veterans, but his options were more limited than they might appear. Jozy Altidore is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and Berhalter decided that the Atlanta United duo of goalkeeper Brad Guzan and midfielder Darlington Nagbe needed rest as well as preparation time for the CONCACAF Champions League games in February. That leaves Bradley to provide veteran leadership.
"We talked about value of veterans being in the team, and I truly believe that," Berhalter said. "This is an opportunity for Michael to show his value to the group. So we're excited to see him and how he works through this training camp."
There will be plenty of eyes on the more youthful elements as well. Berhalter has continued the path started by ex-caretaker boss Dave Sarachan of calling up young players. Twelve of the 27 are uncapped, with seven gaining their first invite to a national team training camp at senior level.
"[We're going to] set the tone for what this group is going to be like," Berhalter said. "We're talking about building a culture within the team, instilling a style of play, and competing; competing in every single thing that we do."