After naming his final 23-player roster for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter spoke about the difficult decisions he had to make, who earned a spot during this camp, and the importance of veteran players as the USMNT aims to claim its seventh confederation title.
Difficult Decisions and Roster Maneuvering
While 23 players made the roster, six that were with the group in Annapolis during the past week have departed camp. Needing to account for depth and flexibility between positions in a tournament setting, Berhalter admitted that difficult decisions were made.
Specifically, the injury to midfielder Sebastian Lletget played a part in the thought process when deciding ultimately to leave striker Josh Sargent off the roster.
“This was the most difficult decision we had to make,” Berhalter said of Sargent. “We saw Sebastian Lletget as depth for both the central attacking midfield position and as a winger. When he got injured, it put a wrench in the plans a little bit, and we didn’t feel we could afford to carry three strikers on the roster anymore.”
While Sargent will not play a part in this year’s Gold Cup, Berhalter lent plenty of praise on what’s to come for the Werder Bremen striker with the National Team.
“We have to remember Josh is 19 years old and he has a bright future in front of him. When I talked to him and gave him the news, one thing I mentioned was that he’s going to be the striker for the national team in the future -- we’re sure of that. He’s got great skill sets, and unfortunately he didn’t carry that momentum from Werder Bremen into the second half of the season, he wasn’t able to play as much as he could have, and he lacked a little sharpness. But Josh is a top striker and he’s going to have a lot of opportunities in the future to show that.”
Earned a Spot
Berhalter went into Wednesday’s match against Jamaica indicating that only a few roster spots were left undecided, and with the injury to Lletget, a place in central midfield seemed open for the taking.
Enter Duane Holmes, who arrived to his first USMNT camp on the heels of Derby County’s run to the English League Championship’s Promotion Playoff Final last week. Coming in with a slight injury, Holmes was limited in the lead-up to the match, but provided a spark off the bench, creating two quality chances in his 24-minute cameo.
“We watched him extensively at Derby County, and we liked what we saw,” Berhalter said. “We liked his competitiveness and his technical ability, and he’s a guy that we certainly had on our radar to make the final roster. There were two concerns: one was his health, and how he was going to manage through the game and understand what we asked of him from a positional responsibility. He did well with all those things in the limited time that we were able to see.”
With an average age of 25 years, 150 days and 24 caps, a mix of experience and youth is ever-present on the USA’s Gold Cup roster.
On the young side, the likes of 20-year-olds Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic should give observers plenty to be excited about. The youth is balanced out with the experience of centurion cappers Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, along with Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream and Gyasi Zardes.
Though part of the squad during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign that saw the USA miss out on Russia, Berhalter dismissed the notion that the players – who have nearly 400 caps between them – have nothing left to give to the National Team.
“I don’t like that idea. I don’t like how you can define a player’s value based on one game. I don’t think that’s fair to them, I don’t think it’s fair to the team. If I saw things in them that I didn’t think would fit well with our team, they wouldn’t be around.
“What we do have with these guys, and I think that’s what you should be focusing on, is experience. We have a young group. We have an inexperienced group, and these guys together have played in 14 Gold Cups. We’re looking for these guys to show some of the younger players the way. Failures are part of a player’s career. If you ever get afraid to fail, you’re in trouble, and it’s about how you pick yourself up and how you respond. These guys in particular have done a good job of doing that.”
Plan for Venezuela
Berhalter’s biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s loss to Jamaica was that his squad is not fully fit, something that he expected with players at different stage of their season and offseason. As focus shifts to Sunday’s match against Venezuela in Cincinnati, the manager underlined the target date for getting his team fully up to speed.
“We still have guys that won’t be able to start the game, and that’s just the way it is. I’ve mentioned before that June 18 against Guyana is a marker where we want to get guys returning by. For the Venezuela game we’ll put together a team that will continue to try and progress in one way or another. I think that’s important.
“We’re taking something from every game that we’re in. A game like yesterday, we’re taking a lot from also. I thought the positioning was good, but the execution wasn’t great, and that’s something we need to continue to work on.”
Christian Pulisic’s arrival into Cincinnati on Thursday will bring the camp roster to 22 players, with Tyler Adams set to join the team in the Twin Cities on June 11.
Recognizing the varying levels of fitness his squad has at the moment, Berhalter and his staff are making the Gold Cup opener against Guyana on June 18 in St. Paul, Minn., the benchmark to be fully ready to begin the quest for another Gold Cup title.