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American MLS Cup participants weigh in on USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter hire

ATLANTA — When Atlanta United broke down video throughout the Major League Soccer season, the team spent the most time studying the Columbus Crew. 

That film, analyzed by players such as Atlanta’s Greg Garza and Brad Guzan, can now be used differently, as they get a feel for how former Crew coach Gregg Berhalter will approach his new job with the United States men’s national team. The same possession-based style endlessly looked at by the Five Stripes will be implemented into the USMNT by Berhalter in the coming weeks. 

“It’s an exciting football that you can see,” said Garza, a fullback for Atlanta and the U.S. “Especially from our side, that was probably the team that we paid attention most to and watched more video on them than we have with any other team in the league — and that’s all credit to Gregg. Hopefully he can transfer that over to the national team.”

Longtime U.S. goalkeeper Guzan echoed Garza’s comments, and went more in depth on how committing to a certain playing style will benefit the USMNT in the long run. 

“When you have a manager that has a real identity, a real idea of how he wants his team to play and goes about it in a way that Monday to Friday — talking about practice and training — you’re working on that, then real things can be accomplished,” Guzan said. “Clearly Columbus is a team that worked on their style of play, how they want to build out of the back, how they want to keep the ball, how they want to create advantages on the field, similar to what we do here in terms of 11-v-11.”

The 34-year-old reinforced that a full commitment to a specific style of play will eventually reap rewards similar to what he’s experienced in Atlanta and what Berhalter achieved in Columbus. 

“I know some of the other guys have done interviews before where they’ve talked about doing training here, it’s about being repetitive and going through situations, going through scenarios that happen in a game that, ultimately, you feel comfortable when being pressed, when playing out of tight situations,” Guzan said. “I think Gregg has got it spot on in terms of changing the idea of U.S. Soccer and how we are perceived around the rest of the world. Of course, when you try to change something, it’s never easy and you have to be willing to put in hard work, and I think he’s someone who clearly understands the game. He works hard and his team reflects the amount of preparation they put into it.” 

Portland Timbers left back Jorge Villafana, who could be in direct competition with Garza for a spot on the USMNT depth chart, approved of the hiring as well. 

“I’ve seen the way he worked with the team in Columbus and the style of play that they had,” Villafana said. “I like it. When you have that kind of style, when you have the ball, when you open the field, you create more opportunities and I think the U.S. right now more than anything needed a coach like Gregg. It’s a great hiring and I think he’s going to do great moving forward.” 

While the future looks bright for the USMNT, the full focus of the players in Atlanta is on MLS Cup before they go about impressing the new international manager. 

“Every player has to adapt to the way the coach wants you to play,” Villafana said. “It all depends on what he wants to do and what you’re going to do on the pitch. Right now, I’d be happy if I get called back. I’m just focusing on doing my job with Portland and my game. When the time comes, I’ll be more than happy to represent my country.” 

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