Upon naming his 24-player roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s March friendlies against Ecuador and Chile, head coach Gregg Berhalter sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss his decisions in the team’s last camp before the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
ussoccer.com: What were the considerations in putting together the March roster?
Gregg Berhalter: “We wanted to continue to develop our group and continue to evaluate players. That was the most important thing in this March camp. As we move towards the Gold Cup, we want to have a large pool of players evaluated.”
ussoccer.com: What are the main objectives of this camp?
GB: “Our goal is to keep making progress. Building on the themes of last camp, building on the style of play of last camp, but also now evaluating a new group of players. We made progress in the first camp and it’s now asking if we can take it to another level. When we are done with this camp, it’s important that we have a good idea of our strongest group of players heading into the Gold Cup.”
ussoccer.com: What have you and your staff done between camps to help get players up to speed?
GB: “We have laid a lot of ground work in preparation for this camp. It entailed meeting with the players, video conferences with the players, conversations with the players, evaluating their games … it’s a very important time period to keep working and be productive. We’ve used that time to meet the players and communicate what we’re looking to do in the next camp.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve brought 14 players from January Camp back for these games. What role did the short week have in that decision?
GB: “That was one of the reasons. We thought it was important to tie some of the themes of last camp into this next camp and to have some consistency in the personnel made a lot of sense. Again, we still think we’re able to evaluate a new group of players, and we think that is going to be valuable as we move into the Gold Cup.”
ussoccer.com: Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream return to the squad for the first time since 2017. Why did you feel now was the right time for the two veteran defenders to come back into the fold?
GB: “We have been saying all along that we thought it was important to have a veteran presence in the National Team. I think it’s really important when you talk about the history, the heritage and culture of what it means to play for the National Team. In Omar and Tim’s case, they’re both playing at a high level, they’re both playing every week and we thought this would be a good camp to evaluate their performance.”
ussoccer.com: After a year away recovering from an ACL injury, Jordan Morris is also back in camp. Could you speak about the road the 24-year-old has taken to get back on the field for Seattle Sounders FC and the MNT?
GB: “On the club stage is when you have small victories, when you see guys returning after long-term injury. On the National Team, it’s equally as gratifying to be able to call a player up after he has had a good preseason and a great start to this season. We’re excited for Jordan. He’s a player that we had contact with in January Camp and it will be great to see him live and in person on the field.”
ussoccer.com: While some players are returning, you also had to make some decisions on those that won’t join the team this camp. Could you talk about the difficulty and the thought process that went into it?
GB: “We had to make decisions for this camp and we looked at the players in a number of different buckets. For example, we have some younger guys that aren’t getting the game time that they would have expected and they’re still age-eligible for the Olympics, so we think it’s a great opportunity for them to play two international games with the U-23 team. We have other players that we have evaluated thoroughly in the January Camp and we’re going to bring back in the future, but not in this camp. That’s another group. Then we have some guys that are returning from injury and we thought now is not the right time to subject them to the intensity of international soccer and the National Team.
“Having to select a 23 or 24-man roster for a camp isn’t easy. All it does is reflect a slice of time. I’ve had a lot of conversations with players not included in the camp and the message is ‘Keep working hard. Keep playing. Keep trying to get on the field for your club and good things will happen.’ Overall, it’s not an easy decision and we were focused on how we get a strong group for this camp, knowing we have a short window and we wanted continuity.”
ussoccer.com: What do you expect from Ecuador and Chile?
GB: “We have been watching a lot of film on both those teams. They are very good, athletic and skillful teams. Chile has a very good high press which is going to be great for our group. Ecuador is very athletic and has a top group of players that are excellent. In the back, they’re very strong in the tackle and also have some man orientation to them that will make it interesting against us. Overall, we think they’re great challenges.”
ussoccer.com: What about playing in Orlando and Houston are you looking forward to?
GB: “Orlando is a special atmosphere. I was just over in Germany at Dortmund and you see the wall behind the goal. Orlando has the mini wall, which is great. It produces an amazing atmosphere in the stadium, so we’re hoping to have a packed stadium, have really good speed in our game and play attractive soccer.”
“I was in Houston last week as well where they had a really great crowd at midweek for their Champions League game. It’s another great soccer stadium. I think when the stadium is filled up, it will be a great atmosphere to play against a tough South American opponent.”