USMNT’s Greg Berhalter talks about World Cup 2022 and 2026, MLS players head to Europe early

Spend an hour or so on a Zoom call with US men’s national soccer team coach Greg Berhalter as part of the Gab and Juls Meets podcast and you’ll learn a thing or two.

Some are trivial, like: What’s the deal with the three G’s in his name? His mother liked the name “Greg” but specifically did not want anyone to call her son “Gregory”. So she chose “Greg” because there was no one to call him “Gregory”. It just doesn’t work.

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Or any kitchen – French or Italian – would choose if they could only eat one for the rest of their lives. Berhalter, a foodie, is torn but full of Italian because it’s a better choice as a daily meal.

“I love the four-hour dinner, the delicious menu, but I just can’t do it every day,” he says. “I know you can enjoy simple French food every day like French toast, ham and cheese; I’ve never lived there nor felt any appreciation for it.”

Some queries are more meaty. Like the age-old question that landed one of its predecessors, Jürgen Klinsmann, many years ago in a small problem: Can Major League Soccer be counted on to produce and keep world-class players on a world-class level? Or are the most promising American talent better off going abroad? Klinsmann annoyed MLS owners when he suggested that Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley would struggle to maintain their level when they left Europe to return to MLS. Berhalter does not avoid the question.

“It’s a really simple answer,” he says. “You go as high as you can until you are not challenged anymore. And then you move on to the next level. If you keep doing that, you will be fine. The problem becomes when you are still challenged in one level and you move to a higher level, there will be problems.”

He adds: “I think it’s important to note that with some recent transfers from MLS… they came early. Think of Brian Reynolds, who went to Roma [and made just one appearance, before being loaned out to two different Belgian clubs]. Or George Bello [who moved from Atlanta United to Arminia Bielefeld in January and was relegated to the German second tier]There’s an argument he could make that he could have stayed in Major League Soccer, take over the league and then moved on. So there are a number of guys that I’m concerned about are leaving early.

“MLS is an opportunity for young players to be on the field. And that’s important. And when they’re dominant, when MLS is no longer a challenge, they can move on. It’s no different from Europe. If you’re in France and you’re killing the Ligue 1 you’ll go to the Premier League. This is normal, like the food chain, isn’t it?”

Berhalter acknowledges that money plays a role and the player must do what is right for them. If you make $150,000 a year and get a $1 million deal, that’s a different equation. And every case is different.

Ricardo Pepe moved from FC Dallas to Augsburg in the Bundesliga for a record $20 million in MLS, just days before his 19th birthday. In half a season with Augsburg, he managed to participate in only 11 matches, seven of them as a substitute, while he failed to score. The previous year, he was voted the NBA Most Valuable Young Player.

“When he moved, I told him that Augsburg is a stable club and stability would help; it’s not like Bayern Munich, where there is a lot of pressure,” Berhalter says of Pepe. “But now, he’s there and he’s either playing or not, because the reserve option is not very strong in Germany, as it is in the fourth division. So that’s a problem there, because he needs to look at how he will continue to develop if he is not on the field every day. “.

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Training a national team is different from working at a club level. Outside of the major tournaments, you see your players a few times a year – for only a few days at a time – and the focus is inevitably on matches, not training. Like most national team coaches, Berhalter had previously only worked with club teams, having daily interactions with his team.

“That was the biggest learning curve there,” he says. “When I took the job, I was intent on building a strong culture within the team. And people said you can’t do that. I don’t agree with that, but obviously, from a playstyle perspective, you have to go back to the basics and make everything really simple, because you don’t have Time to train. That was one of the biggest things I’ve learned since taking office.”

Berhalter developed his own tricks to help him do this. His crew shares a Google Doc with all the games that American players — and potential American gamers — take part in every weekend, sometimes as many as 50 (his last team alone had players plying their trade in 11 different countries). Each employee is assigned games—usually six or seven per person—and by Monday night, they have a report.

“We go through videos with the players from their matches and see what they do with their clubs and whether it can be combined with the national team,” says Berhalter. “Let’s say, for example, that Eric Palmer Brown in Troy plays in three defenses and makes certain types of passes in the crowd, and see how that fits in with us. So [we’re] Kind of preparing for them when they come to camp.”

Berhalter faces another challenge that more established country coaches do not. Besides Mexico, the United States is a notable force in CONCACAF region football (although both teams finished second behind Canada in the most recent qualifiers). Being the best dog in your area means you have to impose yourself on opponents who often set up shop and are looking to hit you over the counter. But in the World Cup, the United States will face better teams, teams looking to take the game to the opponent. Conventional wisdom suggests that you should set up one way to get to the World Cup, and once you get there, set up a different way.

“First of all, even when we are the best, we still treat the game with great respect for our opponent,” he said. “But the main point for me is to get stronger in every game and keep playing the way we want to. That’s the key question: Are we still playing the same way? Are we still imposing ourselves on England, as we do with other opponents? That would be an interesting question. I haven’t exactly come up with the match plan for that match. But I do believe in the talent of our group. So why don’t they do the same in the World Cup?”

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1:28

The Futbol Americas crew gives credit to Gregg Berhalter and discusses how the USMNT finally plays its part.

The United States will likely be the youngest team in Qatar 2022, and more than ever, there is a host of young talents playing for the top European clubs: Christian Pulisic (23, Chelsea), Brenden Aaronson (21, Leeds United), Timothy Weah ( 22 Lille), Younes Musa (19, Valencia), Sergino Dest (21, Barcelona), Weston McKinney (23, Juventus), Tyler Adams (23, Leipzig). And then there’s 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reina whom Berhalter has known since birth thanks to his old travel buddy Claudio Reina. The list goes on and on, and you can’t help but look beyond 2022 to 2026, when the United States will host the tournament, along with Mexico and Canada, and many of these players will be in their prime or entering their prime. .

“It’s definitely preparation for 2026,” Berhalter says. “But like anything else, you need to focus on the next step you take; you can’t get ahead of yourself. So for us, there’s a deep focus on 2022. We want to stay in the moment and focus on the task ahead.”

The bigger picture – along with the year 2026 – is the question of what role sport should play in America and whether it can fully overcome the last major opposition in terms of mainstream acceptance. Because while there is a huge group of fans who follow the game, whether it’s the MLS, the European Leagues or Liga MX every week, there is an equally large constituency that only tunes in every four years and an important group that doesn’t know and simply doesn’t care.

“I think it is our duty as coaches and players for the national team to help develop the game in the United States,” Berhalter says. “And if we can create heroes for our players and we can inspire kids to play the game, then we have done our job. Even if it is the fans who are joining the game for the first time, that is valuable.

“You know, I was thinking about the 1994 World Cup. The kids who watched it are now parents, and their kids are going to watch it in 2026. And I think you kind of close the loop around this intergenerational connection being fans. Once you close that loop, you start creating a culture where parents are And the kids are fans. That’s how you keep growing. That’s how you really build sport in America.”

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