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Michael Parkhurst: ‘It takes time’ to learn Gregg Berhalter’s tactics

The USMNT manager is installing a ‘very detailed system,’ per one of his former players.

Apr 5, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA;Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter talks to defender Michael Parkhurst (4) in the second half against the Toronto FC at Crew Stadium. Toronto FC won 2-0. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Apr 5, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA;Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter talks to defender Michael Parkhurst (4) in the second half against the Toronto FC at Crew Stadium. Toronto FC won 2-0. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst spent three seasons playing under Gregg Berhalter with the Columbus Crew, so he knows the difficult task at hand for the US men’s national team.

“It’s a very detailed system [that Berhalter is installing as USMNT manager],” Parkhurst said Monday at the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground. “You know, with Columbus, we had every day of the year to work on it and fine-tune things, and a lot of games to look over film and learn. Even for us and some guys, it was difficult to pick up.

“It took a while, and so for these guys that are in camp a week at a time here and there — some guys, their first camp, some guys’ first time playing together within the system, it’s difficult. It takes time.”

Parkhurst played for Berhalter from 2014 to 2016. The center back appeared in 107 games, starting 106. Columbus made the MLS Cup playoffs in two of those three seasons and lost the final to the Portland Timbers in 2016. 

Current North Carolina FC manager Dave Sarachan led the national team on an interim basis for more than a year, from Bruce Arena’s resignation in October 2017 until Berhalter’s hiring in December 2018

The Americans enter the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup coming off two poor performances in tune-up friendlies. The USMNT fell 1-0 to Jamaica and 3-0 to Venezuela. Berhalter, who compiled a 74-69-60 record over five years in Columbus, said he still is “getting guys where they need to be.”

Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams, perhaps the team’s best players, were missing from last week’s losses, but limping into the tournament is in contrast with rival Mexico. El Tri are thriving under former Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino despite some key personnel absences of their own. Last week, Mexico defeated Venezuela 3-1 and Ecuador 3-2.

Some fans and pundits are beginning to question Berhalter’s hiring and whether the roster can execute his ideas.

“Fans, in general, are impatient,” Parkhurst said. “I understand it. You want to win every game you play, and so does Gregg and the staff, I’m sure. More importantly, it’s getting guys to understand their roles and responsibilities within his system.”

“I think that any player can find a spot within the system,” the 35-year-old continued. “Gregg has adapted the system to certain players as well. You have to find players’ strengths and adapt things here and there to fit their skill set. Coaches have to adapt, players have to adapt.

“But players do need to learn a certain way of playing and runs that need to be made and where to find guys and how he wants to build up out of the back and pressing defensively. And he wants a right back to play as a No. 6 sometimes and move things around and switch formations and stuff. That’s difficult, even for the highest level of professionals.”

The USMNT open its Gold Cup against Guyana next Tuesday at Allianz Field. Its remaining group-stage games come against Trinidad & Tobago yes, the opponent that bounced the Americans from 2018 World Cup qualifying and Panama. 

“You want to get results, especially after coming off the disappointment of not qualifying, but I’m not surprised it’s taking time,” Parkhurst said. “It’s going to take time. That said, of course you hope they can get results in the Gold Cup while fine-tuning things, but it takes time to perfect his system, for sure.”

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