The target for the U.S. Men’s National Team this summer will be to lift a record-tying seventh Concacaf Gold Cup trophy.
And while that’s the main goal, the Men’s program is taking a longer-term approach this week in Annapolis with its Combined Preparation Camp. It’s a gathering that has brought 17 players in for their first look under MNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff, 13 of whom are also age-eligible for the U-23 MNT which will look to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics next year.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to begin integrating some of the younger players into the full National Team and for the coaching staff to get a good look at them and really start ingraining the style of play with both groups,” Berhalter said about the camp on Monday.
“The younger players are getting a good understanding of what the full National Team is about, and at the same time, the older players get to meet the younger players. I think it’s really important for us to be connected to the younger age groups in a number of ways.”
As has long been the case, players often crossover between the two teams, and so breeding familiarity and aligning the groups is important. To that end, the integration goes beyond just the players, as U-23 MNT head coach Jason Kreis is also assisting the MNT staff before holding a dedicated camp for the U-23s from June 10-16 in Salt Lake City.
A prolific striker in Major League Soccer and a manager that led Real Salt Lake to the MLS Cup title in 2009, Kreis currently serves on the technical staff of expansion side Inter Miami FC, in addition to his duties with the U-23 MNT. While he’s worked closely with Berhalter and his staff since taking the U-23 job in March, he’s also seizing the opportunity to align himself with the MNT’s direction.
“It’s a terrific opportunity for the U-23 players and also for myself,” he said. “It’s about getting a real clear identification of what Gregg is looking for from a playing style point of view. Listening to the messages that Gregg is giving to the players and what he’s looking for from a philosophical point of view, from a playing style and principle point of view. I think it’s important for all of us to be immersed in this situation and it’s a great opportunity that we’re all taking advantage of.”
One of the players eligible for the U-23 MNT is midfielder Keaton Parks. On loan to New York City FC from Portuguese side Benfica, Parks made his MNT debut a year ago this week, coming off the bench in a 3-0 victory against Bolivia. While he’s took that experience, the towering 21-year-old is firmly in the U-23 MNT pool, and took part in Kreis’ first camp with the group back in March.
While not part of the plans for the Gold Cup, Parks is seizing the chance to train with a quality group, while continuing to make his case for the U-23s.
“For all of us young guys, it’s really good to get a chance to train with Gregg and his staff, as well as Jason,” he said. “There’s a lot of quality in this group. A lot of top players here playing all over the world. It’s only been a day, but you can already tell there’s going to be quality and it’ll get better as the week goes on.”