Since Gregg Berhalter was hired as U.S. men’s national team manager, he has been trying to make his tactical impact on the program.
In recent friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela, Berhalter’s tactical decisions proved to be wrong and he failed to get the best out of his players.
Now the pressure cranks up a few more notches in his first international tournament as head coach of a program that has taken a significant dip over the last few years.
Berhalter is expected to employ his primary formation with a pair of No. 10s in midfield for most of the tournament, but as we saw against the Reggae Boyz, he is willing to make some tactical tweaks.
Below is a look at a few of the difficult tactical decisions Berhalter will have to make in order for the USMNT to defend its Gold Cup crown.
How does Berhalter make up for Tyler Adams’ absence
The loss of Tyler Adams to injury right before the Gold Cup could end up being the biggest blow suffered by a squad riddled by injuries.
Adams was slated to start at right back in a role that was carved out for him by Berhalter in an attempt to get his best 11 players on the field.
The ability of the RB Leipzig player to get forward and defend in 1-v-1 situations will be missed, and there is a significant drop off in international caliber fullbacks on the current roster.
It will be interesting to see how the selection of Cannon or Lima affect Berhalter’s decision-making when it comes to his defensive shape.
The USMNT could still line up in a three-man back line with Cannon or Lima acting as a wing back, but neither get forward as effectively as Adams.
If Berhalter had to choose between the two right now, Lima would likely get the edge because he’s performed well in his few international appearances, but Cannon should get a chance to prove his worth during the group stage.
How is Christian Pulisic managed in midfield?
Christian Pulisic is going to start the Gold Cup in the No. 10 role for the USMNT, but an argument can be made that he is much more effective on the wing.
Pulisic is the most dangerous playmaker the USMNT has on its roster, but if it fails to create chances on the wings, there is a Plan B that Berhalter can fall back on.
Berhalter can slide Weston McKennie up the field into No. 10 with one of the forwards on the roster dropping beneath Jozy Altidore in order to shift Pulisic out to the flank.
Any changes to the midfield setup will be dictated by the performance of Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, Tyler Boyd, Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes, all of whom can be sent outside from more central roles.
If the USMNT had a healthy Sebastian Lletget in the fold, Berhalter’s job would be much easier, but if he gets ineffective performances out of his wingers, he may be forced to send Pulisic outside and hope his collection of central midfielders can get the job done and attract attention in the middle of the park.
Which combination of center backs play in which formation?
Center back is another position the USMNT is being forced to scramble at with John Brooks, one of the most important components of the depth chart, out with an injury.
Omar Gonzalez, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Miazga, Aaron Long and Tim Ream are the central defenders Berhalter has to choose from at the Gold Cup.
Gonzalez would appear to have an edge to earn starting minutes based on his experience, while Long has established a place in the starting lineup since his arrival on the international stage.
Miazga should have an edge over Zimmerman on the depth chart because of his international experience, while Ream is one of a few Swiss Army knife players on the roster.
If Berhalter opts to go to three at the back, Ream has a better chance of receiving a start because of his time as a fullback.
But the three-man back line system could depend on how much Berhalter trusts the fullbacks moving forward. If they can’t operate as wing backs, Berhalter may be forced to go with a traditional four-man defensive system for most of the tournament.
What makes Berhalter’s defensive decision-making so difficult is none of the center backs used in the two pre-Gold Cup friendlies stood out, and it is hampered even more by Long working his way back to 100 percent health ahead of the tournament.
Berhalter has to get his defensive decisions right from the start since the USMNT face a pair of tricky foes in Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage.
If the defense is not performing at its best, and Berhalter can’t fix it with a better combination, the USMNT might face the worst-case scenario fate of finishing second in Group D.