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Berhalter 'disappointed' by MLS FIFA window games

Gregg Berhalter speaks highly of new USMNT first team members Sergino Dest and Paxton Pomykal, after naming his 26-player squad for upcoming friendlies.

United States manager Gregg Berhalter said he is "a little bit disappointed" at MLS teams that opted to play during the upcoming FIFA international window.

Berhalter announced his 26-player roster on Wednesday ahead of friendlies against Mexico on Sept. 6 and Uruguay four days later. During a conference call with reporters, he disclosed that MLS scheduling issues impacted his roster decisions.

In particular, the Toronto FC trio of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez remained with their club, in part, because TFC has road games against FC Cincinnati and New York City FC scheduled during the window.

MLS teams can opt out of playing league matches during international windows if they have the flexibility to schedule games on other dates. That means scheduling more midweek games, which can result in fixture congestion during other parts of the year, and are less desirable given that teams typically draw better on weekends.

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All of that can make the life problematic for the U.S. manager, a former MLS manager with Columbus Crew himself, even though FIFA requires that clubs release players during international windows.

"We're in a difficult position because we're only allowed to play games during a certain time of year," said Berhalter. "One thing I've been a little bit disappointed in is MLS teams opting to play in FIFA windows. I think it's [infringing] on the time we have with players.

"I understand their situation of not wanting to play midweek games during the year, but it also puts us in a difficult spot where we have to make decisions that are difficult for both the player and the club."

Toronto is currently in the seventh and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with the three teams in the chasing pack all within four points of the Reds. TFC also had three players get called into Canada's squad as it begins play in the CONCACAF Nations League, creating additional stress on its roster.

"With Michael, Jozy and Omar having two games with Toronto FC, we had to weigh that," said Berhalter. "Part of it was Toronto is in the position they're in, fighting for a playoff spot. We know that some of the other teams have games as well, like Seattle, San Jose, the Galaxy and LAFC and [NYCFC] during this time.

"But we felt that taking three players from one team would severely handicap them, and in this particular case, Michael, Jozy and Omar are some of the more veteran players that have been in games like this before and played in games like this before, and we thought that it would be a good opportunity to get other players involved."

In the current window, LAFC, the LA Galaxy, New York City FC, Real Salt Lake, the San Jose Earthquakes and the Seattle Sounders each had a player called up even though they have games scheduled during that period.

Berhalter has been on the other side of the tug-of-war as well during his six seasons with the Crew, but he admitted that there were instances where he had to insist on certain players being made available.

Berhalter said: "Having worked in MLS, we try to be somewhat accommodating to try to work together with the clubs, but sometimes there's not perfect solutions, and we have to say, 'Okay, this is the way it is.'"

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