This weekend, the United States Men’s National Team will father in Chile Vista, California to open up their annual January Camp. For new coach Gregg Berhalter, it’s his first chance to work with some of the players in person and evaluate some of the Major League Soccer talent. Some of them could be guys he can call upon over the next cycle to pair with the European-based players who won’t feature at this camp. Others may never sniff another national team camp. But, the Berhalter era truly begins with the opening of this camp, culminating with matches against Panama on January 27th and Costa Rica on February 2nd.
This is the first camp of many that Berhalter will preside over during the course of his contract. A program that has experienced World Cup qualifying failure and a lost year now seeks a rebuild and a return to some sort of relevance within the region and the world. So, what should Berhalter set as goals over the next 4 years? We break down some obvious ones and others that will be long term objectives that will have ramifications long after he’s done with his tenure as head coach.
Qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Duh. If there was only one goal for Berhalter and the USMNT allowed, we’d list this 10 times. The United States may be hosting the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico, but they need to return to the tournament field in Qatar in 2022. The failure to qualify in 2018 was the main reason why fans have been turned off to watching the USMNT and have demanded change in all areas of U.S. Soccer (change they’re not seeing). It’s time to get back to the World Cup. When qualifying begins, that is the primary focus for this team. We cannot have another World Cup that the USMNT are watching from home.
Win the 2019 Gold Cup, qualify for Confederations Cup.
While the long term objective is to qualify for the World Cup, Berhalter’s first test comes this summer in the Gold Cup. The USMNT won the 2017 edition of the tournament, but the 2019 tournament will mark 20 months since their last competitive match. If they win this year, they punch their ticket to the Confederations Cup (if FIFA still has it). A win will get fans back into the program and get them energized for the rest of the cycle. A loss, on the other hand, will only generate more apathy and anger towards the program and its direction. So, win the Gold Cup. The USMNT should be the best team in CONCACAF, and they should be winning each tournament it enters. This is the first major test for Berhalter’s team.
Win the CONCACAF Nations League.
The CONCACAF Nations League begins this fall, and the USMNT will be drawn into a group in League A with two other teams, and the winner of the group will qualify for the Nations League final four in June 2020. No one really knows how seriously teams will take this competition, but the USMNT should absolutely lead the pack in treating this like a major tournament that they are capable of winning. Gregg Berhalter should use this tournament as an opportunity to show the improvement of the program and the player pool, and they should set out with the goal of winning this inaugural tournament.
Establish a system of play.
This is a goal that has long eluded the USMNT program, but Berhalter has a few years to start instilling a system of play that guys can settle into and adapt. This includes the formation, the roles of everyone on the field, and how Berhalter prefers the team plays as a whole. The idea will be that everyone on the team is locked into what the game plan is for every match and is on the same page. It’s been the better part of 7 years since the team has had some sort of identity or, at minimum, a game plan that every player seems to understand and embrace. Berhalter should bring his philosophy to the program and set it so everyone who’s on the team knows what their role will be, so that if one player isn’t available, it’s next man up. More importantly, he should have every player in the pool understand what he needs from them with their clubs so that the development can continue in a way that both benefits the player’s career and the continued growth of the national team. With everyone on the same page, they’re better equipped to play as a cohesive unit and win some games.
Continue to develop talented youth.
The youth movement has been in full effect over the past year-plus, with older veterans making way for a wave of young talent that have sought to establish themselves as the new core of the team. Now, we have some budding stars on the team that can’t even drink legally from the Gold Cup should we win it this summer. Berhalter should continue to evaluate the talent we have on our youth teams that are starting to make inroads at some of the top clubs and leagues in Europe. Our player pool needs to continue to get younger and maintain the level of experience we have. That’s no easy task, but would be something that pays off dividends down the road.
Get fans excited again and bring them back.
This will be the most difficult task Gregg Berhalter has. You can argue its importance relative to the onfield business, but he has been put into a terrible position of being the front man for a federation’s ineptitude. That ineptitude has cost the program some dedicated fans. Winning is going to start to bring some of those fans back, but the pressure is on him to win now and gain some confidence in the heart of fans that he is the guy that can turn this whole thing around. There’s still going to be some doubters, some snark, and some disgust and disenchantment with the program that Berhalter now leads. Still, slowly but surely, he needs to generate some excitement in the fans that have become apathetic at best and angry at worst at the direction of the USMNT. Winning is the quick way, but this will be one goal that Berhalter may satisfy with slow progress. This rebuild of the fan base is to progress towards 2026, a pivotal moment for soccer in this country. Berhalter can lay the groundwork here, despite the federation putting him in a win-now situation.
What goals do you think Berhalter should have? Hit the comments and provide the items that you think should be on the checklist for the Gregg Berhalter era.