When U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter unveiled his January Camp roster last month, he outlined the three pillars that would form the foundation of this first camp: building a team culture, instilling a style of play and competing in everything.
That last piece has manifested itself in daily training competitions during the month-long camp in Chula Vista, Calif. At the beginning of every session, Berhalter and his staff lay out the plan and point out which exercise will count for “competition points”.
Those exercises – chosen with the purpose of the players continuing to learn a new style of play - have ranged from 8v8 full-field matches, possession games and finishing drills, among others. Players are divided up differently every session and those on the winning team during the exercise gain points in the overall camp standings.
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“We want an element of training every single day where you can win,” Berhalter explained to ussoccer.com. “We divide the teams up and let them compete for victory on that given day. It’s a balance between having the tactical objectives of the training session but also letting them compete.”
A month-long camp that features multiple two-a-days is understandably tiring for players. While being a part of the National Team is incentive enough, the prevailing sentiment among the group is that the competition adds a little bit more motivation throughout the month.
“It keeps things a little more interesting and makes us want to compete and win more,” said MNT defender Reggie Cannon. “It’s more fun and enjoyable and I think that’s something that’s going to help not only with Gregg’s style of play, but training in general. We’re getting after it and training is more lively.”
On January 9, reigning MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long was on the winning team for the “three-gate” exercise, which tasked teams with connecting 15 passes to gain a point, or eight before passing through one of three gates set up on the field to score a goal.
“Points are being posted on the board every day. You want to be on the top of that board to prove it to yourself and to your teammates that you’re the player they want to play with,” Long said. “When teams get made every session, you want to be the guy who others want on their side.”
Updated standings get set around to the team every night, allowing players to keep track. While the ultimate purpose of the camp is to build the team for matches at the end of the month and going forward, Cannon thinks the competition component plays hand-in-hand with instilling the new style of play.
“Gregg’s style is one where you’re really playing – getting guys touches on the ball and pinging it around,” Cannon said. “The way it’s setting up, the competition aspect is going to help guys be more composed on the ball and give us more confidence when it comes to game situations.”
“It sets a certain mentality in that everything we do -- that there’s a result at the end of it,” Berhalter added. “We want to have a clear identity on the field and we want to have a great culture amongst the team, but in the end ultimately we need to compete. Getting that mindset right early is important.”