We’re back in USMNT Panic Mode.
Gregg Berhalter’s US, not long ago a beacon of optimism, have lost a pair of ugly friendlies and looked bad and unpromising in the process. The much-heralded System has taken a hit as Berhalter deals with a huge and largely unimpressive player pool. Faith in Berhalter among an exasperated and pessimistic fan base is eroding already.
Disastrous friendly results erodes confidence
The US capitulated against Venezuela in the final pre-Gold Cup friendly, and fell flat in a 1-0 loss to Jamaica’s B-team a few days prior. The 3-0 loss to Venezuela was arguably the ugliest of the entire post-Trinidad Dark Ages.
At this point, it’s hard to see the US making much of a dent at the upcoming Gold Cup. Berhalter’s tactical ideas, while well-thought-out, might not fit the player pool.
We’ve learned that implementing a complex system and tactical identity at the international level is nearly impossible, and only a few of the world’s best managers have accomplished it. For the US to rebound and win competitive games, Berhalter has to find a balance between his preferred identity (which is positive and smart!) and a certain pragmatism.
The System isn’t working
A troubling trend, though: The System hasn’t worked all that well yet. Clearly, it wasn’t enough to avoid a pair of terrible losses against teams the US should beat. Players look confused and passive. The personnel has been lacking — the Wil Trapp USMNT experience needs to end — and even the players who should be playing at this level (Paul Arriola, for example) haven’t played well. Berhalter pulled some Klinsmann-esque excuses out of his hat.
Berhalter asked if a result like this makes him consider changes both tactically and with personnel. He said, “We need to be calm.” Said that he’s still getting guys to where they need to be fitness-wise. #usmnt— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) June 9, 2019
Managers have to approach their jobs with an eye toward maximizing the players they have at their disposal. It’s fair to question, early in the process, whether Berhalter is doing that. We can’t be sure until we watch them in the Gold Cup (and maybe not even then), but perhaps the US isn’t built to play with high-volume possession, or re-press with the sort of energy Berhalter desires.
Venezuela and Jamaica controlled play and had little trouble infiltrating the US’s midield. Without ball-winners in midfield — in addition to the presence of Trapp, who can not defend at the international level — Berhalter’s team rarely won possession in good areas. The game in general looked difficult for overmatched US squads.
Those friendlies do not inspire much confidence. They indicate future issues with a tactical approach that may be too complex to be workable at the international level, especially for a player pool that has struggled with it.
Is it the System or the players?
Perhaps things will be different when Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley play. The US played an experimental lineup against Jamaica. We know already that Berhalter is a smart, cerebral coach who has a vision for this national team, and is unlikely to commit further Klinsmann sins. Calls for patience are not unwarranted.
It’s okay to still be optimistic that Berhalter will figure things out and put the US on the path he so clearly envisions. There are young players who will fill the many gaps of the Lost Generation (the effects of which plague the current team). Berhalter — we can hope — understands the flaws of his approach and will soften his emphasis on Guardiola tactics.
A balance has to be found. The Gold Cup approaches fast.