As the first competitive games the USMNT played without Gregg Berhalter as manager have finished, there was a noted difference in how the team performed under manager Anthony Hudson. While the sample size is minuscule and the opposition was not top class, the games did provide a factor that the team seemed to be lacking. Good ole American freedom.
Berhalter had a very specific idea of how he wanted the team to play and look. His hope was that this idea would change how the world looked at American soccer. It’s hard to say he achieved that. It seemed like he more fell into the same path that Jurgen Klinsmann took when he had similar aims and applied tactics that the team was not talented enough to play and that he wasn’t good enough to coach. It’s also a system that prioritized possession and specifies movement patterns at the expense of player expression and freedom.
It’s a really difficult system to play and even the best players in the world struggle with it. Manchester City has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get the top players to get it to work. City needs not only starters who can fill the role, but also depth players that can step in to get the best results. This may have cost the USA at the World Cup where there was little rotation and key players like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie looked like they were struggling for fitness by the final game against Holland. Not to mention that players were included in the roster who knew the system at the expense of more talented options.
In the end it’s up to the manager to get the best out of his players and put them in the best position to succeed not to set them up in some ideal system and then complain about lacking verticality when it doesn’t work. Berhalter’s system was idealistic to the point of being quixotic and the players were not suited to doing what he wished they could.
The USMNT has not had a manager that embraced chaos that the USMNT has shown can be a way to pull off upsets since Bob Bradley. Since Bradley there have been two idealists in Klinsmann and Berhalter and a manager who at his best can let the team loose and create chaos and at his worst not qualify for the World Cup in Bruce Arena.
Under Anthony Hudson the team showed glimpses of what it can do when given freedom and the ability to exploit chaos. While the USA was no doubt the favorite against Grenada, winning 7-1 was the unexpected result of a team that could flow with a game rather than follow a rigid pattern drilled into them. El Salvador may have been a different situation and outcome, but Gio Reyna being unleashed and playing well and Christian Pulisic being unleashed and playing poorly is a downside to chaosball. The defense and midfield were solid out of possession and chances for the opposition were limited. It was a successful if not rough example of how the chaos notion can work.
The next USMNT manager must embrace giving his players chances to express themselves and avoid a rigid system while ensuring the team doesn’t get too enthralled with exploiting chaos that they become a victim of it. The USMNT needs this, if it is going to beat a team like England, France, Argentina, and the rest it will be an upset. At nearly every position the players will be outmatched and it will be the unexpected, let’s call it chaos, that pushes the USA to victory.