On Wednesday, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter named a 26-player roster for the team’s opening Concacaf Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada.
ussoccer.com sat down with the USMNT head coach to get insight into his player selection and a view towards the team’s upcoming opponents.
ussoccer.com: As the team opens Concacaf Nations League play, there aren’t many surprises with this roster. Can you talk about how you landed on these 26 players?
Gregg Berhalter: “Entering this competitive phase, one thing that’s important is we continue some of the younger guys along, integrate some new players into camp, but also have a familiar base. Most of the guys have been in camp before, understand how we want to play, and we think that continuity will help in our performance.”
ussoccer.com: While the Nations League isn’t World Cup Qualifying, it is similar in nature to the old semifinal round. How do you think the upcoming matches are beneficial in preparing your team heading into the Hex next fall?
GB: “This is competitive soccer. For us, it’s playing away games and playing home games that leads to a result in a tournament format which is important. World Cup Qualifying is an absolutely crucial event, and these games will help prepare us. Any time there is a trophy on the line and in the inaugural Nations League tournament [there is], we want to put ourselves in a position to win.”
ussoccer.com: What are you expecting in the Nations League opener on Oct. 11 against Cuba?
GB: “We’ve watched their past games – whether that’s the Gold Cup or the Nations League games against Canada. We have a good body of work on Cuba. The roster has turnover due to some unusual circumstances, but that’s part of it. It’s an athletic team, they have a standard level of technical ability and they will present some challenges. For us it’s about speed of play, breaking them down and trying to get the ball in front of goal as quickly as possible.”
ussoccer.com: With Canada needing results in their matches against the USMNT to have a chance at making the Hex next year, could you talk about the added flavor that the Oct. 15 game in Toronto will have?
GB: “It’s not only the fact that they need results. I think Canada has a good team. They are strong at home, and for us it’s a great test. We want to be able to go on the road and perform well, and part of it is starting that journey of road games together. This is a great example of that. Canada to me is a good team with good players.”
ussoccer.com: While the team is still missing a few players through injury, you have to be encouraged by the returns of Matt Miazga and DeAndre Yedlin.
GB: “The health and status of our players is something we’re continually monitoring. We have some key players that have been out, but it’s nice to get them back into the fold. DeAndre’s last camp with us was in March, so it’ll be nice to see him again. Matt was in the Gold Cup, and missed the September camp, but he’s back and healthy.”
ussoccer.com: After making his USMNT debut last month, defender Sergiño Dest is not on the roster for the October matches. Can you give us an update on his situation?
GB: “I understand there is going to be a lot of attention surrounding the availability of Sergiño in this next camp. I’ve had conversations with Sergiño, the conversations were positive, and the content of these conversations is going to remain private.”
ussoccer.com: Eighteen-year-old midfielder Brenden Aaronson is the lone newbie in camp. What have you seen from him this year with the Philadelphia Union that makes this the right time to bring him in?
GB: “There are two things that standout about Brenden. The first thing is that he’s getting regular minutes, and the second is that he’s playing for a team that’s doing really well. We always look for that combination. He’s a very agile player, very aware between the lines, able to give solutions offensively and very secure on the ball. He’s another case of getting a younger guy into the program, getting our eyes on him and also letting him understand what it means to be in with the full Men’s National Team.
ussoccer.com: With all MLS games this weekend being played on Sunday and a number of European games also occurring that day, can you talk about how it affects the team’s preparation for the first match on Friday against Cuba?
GB: “The preparation window is shorter. With a majority of guys playing on Sunday, it’s a challenge, but it’s one we’re prepared for. It’s a challenge we embrace, because we can’t change it. We just deal with it, having to be more specific with our training times and the training content, but we’ll get to a good place to be able to perform on Friday.”
ussoccer.com: D.C. United winger Paul Arriola has been a near constant for the National Team this year. What have you seen in his growth for club and country in 2019?
GB: “Paul has had an excellent year. What comes to mind when I think of Paul is his relentless attacking. He just goes and goes and goes, and that has a cumulative effect on the opponent. We think with him being able to repeat his high-speed running puts us in positions to create goal scoring opportunities.
ussoccer.com: Veteran players Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley will have the unique possibility of playing for the U.S. in their home club stadium on Oct. 15 at Toronto’s BMO Field. Can you speak about what their veteran presence has meant for the team this year?
GB: “I think it’s very important to have veterans in the team; for them to share the heritage of what it means to be a United States Men’s National Team player. For them in particular to go back to Toronto and play a game of this magnitude is special. We know they will be familiar with their surroundings, we know they will be familiar with the opponent – playing with some of the Canadian guys at TFC – so we think it’s a great opportunity for them.
ussoccer.com: You’ve coached a number of games in Toronto, so what are you expecting with the atmosphere at BMO Field?
GB: “I really like the atmosphere at BMO Field. To me it’s one of the most European feels in terms of stadium, fans and atmosphere. We’re looking to a great crowd and a really good test. We think that being able to perform on the road is extremely important and this will be a great test for us.”