MNT Conference Call: Berhalter Details First Jan. Camp Roster

Following the release of the January Camp roster, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter took part in a media teleconference to discuss his selections and his work since being named head coach in the beginning of December.

On the January Camp roster and how he has spent the last few weeks:

Gregg Berhalter: “I’m excited. This camp is the start of the process of building this group up. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to over 25 players in the last two weeks and trying to get a sense of the past and also the future and what this group is looking for. I think we can use this opportunity to start the process and set the tone for what this group is going to be like. Again, we’re talking about three things: building a culture within this team, instilling a style of play and competing in everything we do.

“One thing I’ll remind everyone of is that this camp is a slice in time. It doesn’t represent permanent positions – there are guys not called into camp that I think were deserving of call ups. I made some calls to guys not included in the camp to explain the reason why and explain that we’re going to keep monitoring all players. Opportunities will be given to other guys that were not included in this camp. With that, we’re excited and ready to move forward.”

On whether he made an effort to call-up any Scandinavian-based players, including Malmö attacker Romain Gall:

GB: “I’ve been in Europe for eight days now and we’ve reached out to a number of clubs to understand the situation of their players. In Romain’s case, his club has Europa League games in early February. They didn’t allow any of their players to go from any of the Scandinavian countries and they were resistant to releasing Romain for our camp as well. We understand, and I think that’s a great competition that Malmö is in and we’re excited to follow them as they work through it. I’ve had conversations with every Scandinavian-based player’s club. We’re all set and the camp is a reflection of the guys who were available.”

On what went into the decision to have Michael Bradley included in the camp, while other veterans like Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan and Darlington Nagbe were left off the roster:

GB: “We talked early on in the press conference when I was hired about the value of veterans being in and I truly believe that. This is an opportunity for Michael to show it, so we’re excited to see him and how he works through this training camp, meeting the team and also contributing to what we’re trying to do on the field.”

“Every situation with clubs is different, and we’re cognizant of their needs and player needs. Brad is an example of a guy who has played long into the MLS season and he needs rest. They’re going to have a new coach, Champions League games coming up, and I thought it was important for him to get rest at this time. The same thing goes for Darlington. He’s a guy that was injured for a large portion of the season and we feel like it would be more beneficial for him to first get some rest, get a good, solid preseason with his club and build up his strength so he can have another good MLS season.”

“Regarding Jozy, he’ll be in camp, just to come around and the environment for one or two days. He’s still injured and won’t be able to participate in training, so we’re obviously not going to include him in the full camp.”

On where he is with hiring a coaching staff:

GB: Regarding our staff, we’re in the process of finalizing who that’s going to be. What I will say about that is there are going to be a number of permanent fixtures and a couple open people. That’s for the reason that we want to take our time, evaluate and add as we see fit. We will have more on that towards the end of the year.”

On what his big takeaways were from the meetings and conversations with players, specifically his meeting with Christian Pulisic:

GB: “Just to clarify, I probably met a dozen players and had conversations with another dozen or dozen-and-a-half. The conversations have been great. I’ve got a lot of respect for all these guys and how they’ve been pushing through and achieving things in their careers. It’s great to get out and talk to some of the MLS guys, meet some of the European guys face-to-face at their clubs and explain what we’re trying to do and then listen - listen to their needs, some of their experiences and things they think can improve. I’ve had great interactions so far with the guys and it’s been interesting to talk about the style of play and the culture we want to create. I feel like there’s been some really good responses to that.”

“Regarding Christian, we did meet and it was good. It’s the first time I’ve really sat down and talked with him and heard his feelings on soccer and ideas about the game. It was a very productive conversation. He’s doing a fantastic job at Dortmund, but at the moment it hasn’t been going the best for him. I think that’s when guys can really show their qualities and how they endure through those times – we talked about that. Overall, I had really positive meetings with everyone.”

On what made him decide to call in some of the younger, uncapped players into January Camp:

GB: “Looking at the younger players that are starting to perform in Major League Soccer, we know it’s not an easy league to perform in and I think the younger guys like Auston Trusty and Djordje Mihailovic, who started playing again towards the end of the year when he got fit, are interesting. To be able to perform at that young of an age I think means you have quality. With Djordje in particular, we see a very versatile, creative midfield player who can create and score goals himself. I think that’s always a quality you’re looking for. With Trusty and Mark McKenzie, they’re two guys that have played a lot in very difficult MLS games – the Eastern Conference was very difficult this year and these guys were battling through those games. I think they have great futures ahead of them. It’s good to get our hands on them and start working with them to see how they can develop throughout this camp.”

On his assessment of Aaron Long’s recent development and the reasons he didn’t include Tim Parker on the roster:

GB: “I haven’t spoken to Tim yet, but I plan on reaching out to him. He’s a guy that was under strong consideration and one I thought had a good MLS season. The issue at center back is that we’re deep if you look across the board. In this particular case, we decided to go with some younger athletes.”

“With Aaron, he’s a guy that I think has done a great job of developing over the last few years. His rise is very fast and you like to see players that keep progressing at that rate and keep attaining every level that they go to. With Aaron, it was USL, he did very well there. Then MLS, he did very well there, then the National Team the last couple of camps. It’s been a pleasure watching him, and I see him continuing to develop in our system as we get him more tuned in with it.”

On how Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie’s experience with the U-20 MNT will translate and have them ready for the senior international level:

GB: “I think it’s all the experiences. I wouldn’t just highlight the Under-20s. What I would say is it’s the USL where they started, then it’s college for McKenzie for one, then it’s the MLS and international experience they got. All of it is shaping these players, and when I look at the center back pool – I mentioned the depth we have and the age they’re at – we start with Tim Ream and go all the way down to McKenzie, you’re talking about 31 to 19, so you have a good scope of players there. In this particular case, we chose the younger players to see how they can develop and see how they can get to the level when they’re around more experienced players. Both these guys have done a good job of taking the first step, and now it’s seeing if they can take the next step with senior international soccer.”

On calling in a 28th player to camp:

GB: “We’re working through it now on who exactly it could be, but it’s either going to be a central midfielder or a winger. We need 24 field players in the camp, so we’re going to add one of those two positions.”

On the importance of having players like Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp, who are very familiar with his tactics:

GB: “I think they’ll help facilitate the learning, but we’re all going to be in this together. We all have the responsibility of putting the group together. I firmly believe that the more we can work together as a group, obviously the more successful we can be. The teaching and the implementation is going to be everyone’s responsibility. Those guys being familiar with the system will be able to help out.”

Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes

Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes in January Camp action together in 2015.

On the mentality he is hoping to see from this group of defenders:

GB: “The defenders in our system are required to do a lot. First and foremost, we want them competing. We want them to be difficult to play against, we want them to be able to win their duels. That’s really important: play to our principles. Specifically, defending in the penalty box is a very important ask. With the ball, they need to start the attack. They need to be brave, they need to open up, they need to make the field big and dare to make passes, breaking lines - whether that’s dribbling through the first line or passing through the first line - we need them being aggressive with their passing and at a high speed. So for the center backs in particular it is a difficult job, but we’re confident that we can work with them and continue to reinforce the right message for them to get there.”

On San Jose Earthquakes defender Nick Lima:

GB: “I’ve admired him since he came into the league. I think he has a very good profile for an outside back. I think he’s aggressive defensively but also has the capacity to get up and down the field and make plays. He’s a good crosser of the ball in tight spaces. I’m looking forward to having him in camp and working with him.”

On how the current player pool compares to when he was a player and if there are any areas of concern:

GB: “I don’t think it’s an easy question to answer, to be honest, and I’m not really concerned with how it stacks up with other teams. I’m concerned with how much we can progress in this camp. I see some guys that have performed really well in MLS this year, I see some young players, I see some veterans, and for me it’s about how the group gels and how we can work together on the field to play the type of soccer that we want.”

On whether he plans to use two different groups of players for each game at the end of camp, or whether the lineup for the second game will depend on performances on the field from the first game:

GB: “My guess is that there will be some type of mixture in the group, but we also want to bring as many of the core players - so to speak - along as we can. If not, it’s going to be based on how the players perform in camp to actually play in these games, and then how they perform in the games themselves to see if they play in the next games.”

On whether the player that will be added to the roster is foreign-based:

GB: “There are a number of guys that are in consideration. We’ve spoken to some clubs and we’ll make it official when we have the right guy. We’re looking for a specific profile to execute, either in a wing position or as a central midfielder, and we just don’t have any more information than that at this time.”

On Real Salt Lake players Justen Glad and Corey Baird:

GB: “With Corey, I really like his foot speed. I really like his off-the-ball movement. I like his aggressiveness of attacking space. I think he had a very good year, and in our system we see him as a guy that can get behind the line, that can use his timing to set up other players. This is a player I’m looking forward to seeing how he takes off.

“With Justen, being a young player at center back is very difficult and he did it with intelligence. I think he’s calm, he’s composed, he’s not a physically dominating center-back like Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie but we want to see how he does with this group. I think he’s done enough this year, playing in 33 or 34 games, to get a chance. Another guy from RSL that was in consideration was Brooks Lennon. He had an excellent year.”

U.S. MNT - Sean Johnson
GK Sean Johnson

On what he sees in Sean Johnson and why he was called in:

GB: “I think it was more from me seeing his transformation and the place of his feet. We were able to play against him in Chicago a lot and we saw him not being that nimble with his feet and then when Patrick Viera took over in New York and brought him in, he really improved. It was that improvement that intrigued me. When you see a player at that age still able to improve in his game and make progress and develop, that’s exciting. I think that was the reason we brought him in. Having said that, there’s other goalies, when I talk about Bill Hamid and Tim Melia, those are guys that had very good years and will remain in consideration as well.”

On whether the number of new players in camp is because of the upcoming Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying tournaments, or whether it’s to see as many new players as possible:

GB: “I think when you’re looking at the evolution of this pool, I think there were some guys that didn’t get included just based on their age that I think that perhaps if you were picking the strongest group you could have made a case for. That wasn’t our intention. Our intention was to include some veterans, but then other guys we consider core players, and then finally developmental players. We know this is going to be a learning experience for the group, but we think that they’ve done enough throughout the season in Major League Soccer to make the case for getting an opportunity.”

On players that he called in who he thinks could do well in his system:

GB: “I think the whole roster was built around that. We have very clear profiles for what we are looking for in each position and we just filled in players based on our profile. This isn’t a random group of guys assembled. We looked at what we’re going to need to be successful and picked those guys. Names in particular that come to mind would be a guy like Corey Baird, who has the timing to get behind the back line, I think is interesting. Christian Ramirez as a striker who is very good inside the penalty box comes to mind. Then Daniel Lovitz from Montreal who has the attributes of an attacking left-back. Those are just some examples, but everyone was selected based off the profiles we have for our positions.”