Assessing Berhalter’s 1st USMNT Roster


The USMNT’s January Camp is unique in international soccer. Since MLS has a summer schedule, the opposite of most leagues in Europe, the USMNT hosts a 3 week long camp which usually ends in a friendly or two. Only players from MLS or the Scandinavian leagues (who take a break in the winter) tend to be called-in to this camp. This will be Gregg Berhalter’s first camp with the team, so this year will be extra special. Additionally, the Gold Cup is this coming summer, meaning the USMNT will have significant games for the first time since 2017.

Berhalter called 28 players into this year’s camp, all from MLS. I am going to organize this roster differently than usual. Instead of naming players by position, I am going to name them under the reason why I think Berhalter wanted them in camp. My categories are: 1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” 2. “Players who earned it with their play this year” 3. “Players familiar with the USMNT” 4. “The Rest”.

For readers who are new to Berhalter, he is looking for players who are comfortable on the ball, good passers, have good vision, and players who can create (or already have) partnerships. These are attractive qualities because Berhalter plays a possession-based system where chemistry is key. Teams in MLS that play similar to this are NYCFC (more so under Viera), Philadelphia, and Atlanta (at times).

Player (Age/POSITION/Club Team)

1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” (Self-explanatory)

Wil Trapp (25/CDM/Columbus Crew), Gyasi Zardes (27/ST/Columbus Crew), Zac Steffen (23/GK/Columbus Crew)

Obviously these three players know Berhalter’s system as they all played under him in 2018. I don’t know if these three will be mainstays on Berhalter’s USMNT squad selections, but having them in this first camp to help introduce the system will undoubtedly be useful.

Sean Jonson (29/GK/New York City FC), Tyler Miller (25/GK/LAFC)

Berhalter want’s ‘keeper’s who can play with their feet in order to pass the ball out of the back. Jonson and Miller have shown an ability to do just that with NYCFC and LAFC respectively.

Michael Bradley (31/CDM/Toronto FC)

This is the best example of “everyone needs another chance under Berhalter”. The new head coach himself said that he is going to give many players opportunities to prove themselves (from Berhalter’s opening press conference which you can find here). Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, think about it: Any player who played for the US for the last 8 years has either 1. Not been given great instructions by their coach (Jurgen Klinsman) or 2. Has been playing for a interim coach (Arena/Sarachan). If a player played poorly (or didn’t get called-up) in those circumstances they might deserve a second look under a coach who has a well-defined system (Berhalter). As for Bradley specifically, I think he’s a better version of Wil Trapp. He’s a better passer, he’s better defensively, and he covers more ground. His endurance has definitely dipped recently but we shouldn’t want him playing the whole game anyway. Sub him off for his potential replacement, or sub him on as a “closer” when we have a lead and the clock is winding down.

Marky Delgado (23/CM/Toronto FC)

Delgado is a very clean passer on the ball and has great vision. He can ping a through ball pretty well which will definitely fit into Berhalter’s scheme. I think Delgado may be better suited playing further upfield or perhaps as a tucked-in winger under Berhalter. However he usually plays deeper in the midfield. Not to mention he’s been Bradley’s partner in Toronto for the last few years so there’s instant chemistry there.

Keegan Rosenberry (24/RB/Philadelphia Union)

Not gonna lie, I started looking at Philadelphia tape more so to look at their CBs and I noticed “wow Rosenberry is making similar movements in attack as Harrison Afful does for Columbus”. He’s not too old either so I’m not surprised that Berhalter selected him.

Cristian Roldan (23/CM/Seattle Sounders)

Roldan is pretty good at everything: he can defend, he can play on the wing, he has a nose for goal, he likes changing the field of play, etc. I think he’ll be a pretty good stand-in for Artur (The Crew’s box-to-box midfielder under Berhalter). Roldan may even be an upgrade from Artur.

Aaron Long (26/CB/New York Red Bulls)

The Red Bulls play a different system from Columbus. Long seems like a fine passer but he’s not put under a ton of pressure when passing while playing for RBNY. I will say, Berhalter likes to push his fullbacks high up the field which the Red Bulls also like to do, and so the CBs in both systems have to be comfortable snuffing out a counter-attack. Both Long (and Parker who didn’t get called in) are really good at that. In that way, I think Long will fit into Berhalter’s scheme well. Its also worth noting that Long was just voted Defender of the Year, so he earned it.

2. “Players who have earned it with their play this year” (These players may not fit Berhalter’s system, but they played well in MLS this year).

Jeremy Ebobisse (21/ST/Portland Timbers), Corey Baird (22/ST,RW/Real Salt Lake)

Corey Baird won rookie of the year, and Ebobisse helped propel the Timber to the MLS Cup Final. As far as striker’s go, I think anyone can be good in Berhalter’s system so Ebobisse should be fine. Baird is listed as a midfielder here even though he played out wide and up top this season.

Nick Lima (24/RB or LB/San Jose Earthquakes)

Lima was perhaps the best player on a bad San Jose team this year. He even trialed with some German teams this winter. Lima usually featured at RB for San Jose but feels comfortable playing either fullback position. That flexibility is really useful on a national team where roster sizes are often limited. I’m interested to see how he plays at a higher level.

Reggie Cannon (20/RB/FC Dallas)

Cannon is probably a better defender than Rosenberry but I think Rosenberry offers more going forward. Either way, Cannon had a stellar first season for Dallas and has already been called-up by Sarachan a few times.

Russell Canouse (23/CDM/DC United)

Canouse rejoined DC from injury the very same game that Wayne Rooney joined the team for the first time. Many attribute DC’s great second half of the year to Rooney, but Canouse definitely steadied their midfield, aiding them to the best half-season in MLS history.

Auston Trusty (20/CB/Philadelphia Union) Mark McKenzie (19/CB/Philadelphia Union)

Trusty played every minute of the Union’s season in 2018, McKenzie played half of them. The Union had a pretty middle-of the road defense this year but their back line was young. Both these guys still have a lot to learn, but I think they have potential to fit into Berhalter’s system.

Paul Arriola (23/RM/DC United)

Seems like Arriola may be getting transitioned to RB rather than RM. He also played as a CM for part of 2018, so I am not sure where Berhalter will play him. He’s a hard runner and he’s pretty good on the ball. I think he might fit into the Ethan Finlay role of Berhalter’s system but I wouldn’t put money on that.

Greg Garza (27/LB/FC Cincinnati)

Garza earned his spot despite his season where minutes were limited due to injury. He’s looked good when he’s on the field but you gotta stay on the field. However LB is a mess for the national team per usual so I don’t mind Garza getting this call up.

Djorde Mihailovic (20/CM/Chicago Fire)

Similar to Garza, Mihailovic had his minutes limited by injury this year. But he looks good when he’s on the field and he’s young. Still not sure whether he projects more as a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder but he’s got some time to be molded into either role.

3. “USMNT Regulars” (These are players who may not fit Berhalter’s system, and didn’t have particularly great years, but they have national team experience and are talented).

Sebastian Lletget (26/CM/LA Galaxy), Kellyn Acosta (23/CM/Colorado Rapids)

Both of these guys play as box-to-box midfielder but they both play that position differently. I think both of them are deserving of a call-up but I don’t think either of them fit Berhalter’s system better than the other. Part of my difficulty here is that the box-to-box player is the least defined role on the field in any system. It seems like Berhalter want’s this player to defend well, support the attack, but not get so involved in the attack to make the team open to counters. Both of these guys like to get involved in the attack.

Walker Zimmerman (25/CB/LAFC)

I’m not thrilled with Zimmerman. he’s pretty good at last minute tackles to save a play but I’d prefer to see him put out fires before that happens.

4. “The Rest”

Justen Glad (21/CB/Real Salt Lake), Alex Bono (24/GK/Toronto), Jonathan Lewis (21/RW/NYCFC), Christian Ramirez (27/ST/LAFC), Daniel Lovitz (27/LM or LB/Montreal Impact)

Glad was a starter for most of RSL’s season but was on the bench down the stretch in the playoffs. Bono, and the rest of Toronto, had a down year; if he returns to 2017 form than this call-up is fine. Lewis got very few minutes (219) on NYCFC this year despite looking good when he plays. Ramirez had a transitional year getting traded from Minnesota to LAFC. He looked good-ish for a bad Minnesota team and was a rotational player once he went to LAFC. Lastly, Lovitz was a surprise for me at first but he started most of Montreal’s game this year at LB, and LB is a mess, as always.

None of these guys are bad call-ups, that’s not why they are in this category. However, I *might* have preferred other players get called-in instead (Hamid for Bono, Parker for Glad, Mueller for Lewis, Jozy Altidore for Ramirez, and Herrera for Lovitz) but Berhalter is the mastermind here so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

Here’s what a starting XI might look like:

Steffen

Rosenberry – Trusty – Long – Garza

Bradley – Delgado

Arriola – Lletget – Baird

Ebobisse

Subs: Jonson, Glad, Lima, Canouse, Mihailovic, Roldan, Zardes

I tried to use some pre-existing partnerships to solidify the roster (Rosenberry-Trusty, and Bradley-Delgado). I also wouldn’t be shocked if Trapp and Zardes start the first game. Once we can add European players into this mix imagine Pulisic either on the right wing or playing centrally, Miazga and/or Brooks in central defense (both pretty good on the ball), and then probably Adams and/or McKennie in the midfield. I wouldn’t be shocked if one of Adams or McKennie doesn’t start regularly for Berhalter. I’m leaning more towards McKennie starting and Adams on the bench but we shall see. Plenty more to consider and digest as the national team moves forward.

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