NEW YORK — It starts with a phone call.
Just a few days after being announced as the U.S. men’s national team coach, Gregg Berhalter was formally introduced at a media conference in the Meatpacking District Tuesday morning.
The now former Columbus Crew SC coach laid out his plan, not only for the short-term, but for what it will likely take to accomplish the goal of reaching the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“My job, and the job of the staff, is to work as hard as we can to give the players belief,” Berhalter said. “We know they’re quality players. And I think with direction and belief we can achieve our goals. And then it’s just about being smart.”
He begins that journey on the phone, reaching out to the MLS-based players who have been regulars in the USMNT camp. He’ll do the same at MLS Cup on Saturday and then its off to Europe for face-to-face meetings with those players.
“What I’m focused on is how can we do more, how can we do more outside of camp, what communication can we get to the player to prepare them for the learning that’s going to take place in camp,” Berhalter said.
Berhalter’s first chance to get his team together will be the annual January camp with the first competitive game an international friendly against Panama in Glendale, Ariz. at the end of that month before facing Costa Rica in San Jose on Feb. 2.
It will be the most important January camp in years considering it is the first chance Berhalter will have to lay the groundwork for what they hope is a successful run to, and in, Qatar, in 2022.
“Setting the stage for team expectations, team culture and style of play,” Berhalter said are his goals in January camp. “We can get a head start by working with the group in an intensive period in January, and then integrate the European players into the squad in March.”
The first true test for Berhalter will come at the 2019 Gold Cup. The USMNT’s first match there is June 18 at Allianz Field. It’s still six months away, but in actuality its a short period of time to establish new ideas and a culture amongst the group.
But Berhalter said that work doesn’t just end when each camp is over. The process, he said, needs to be accelerated with important games right around the corner.
“That’s the teaching part that we need to be progressive with, talking about supplemental materials, taking about video libraries, talking about sending webinars to players, as much as we can to push the envelope on this we need to try to do,” Berhalter said.
Berhalter said he watched the USMNT closely last year. However without the integration of veteran players, he said, the evaluation was incomplete. But he saw a group of young players, many of whom earned their first caps, getting an important experience against difficult opposition.
“What I did see was a group of young talented players. I did see a group with potential,” Berhalter said. “I did see a group that needs development, needs direction and I’m excited to work with this group.”
Under Berhalter, Columbus Crew SC played a very specific way. They were a possession-based team that created scoring chances by keeping the ball, but also by pressing.
Berhalter said to expect similarities with his U.S. national teams, but he also wants teams that can have tactical flexibility based on the opponent and, especially important in Concacaf qualifiers, the location and climate.
“At times we can do a better job to change the tempo of the game instead of playing at such a high rhythm all the time,” Berhalter said. “I think mixing that rhythm is going to be important, especially at the international level, especially considering some of the climates you’re playing in. But we want to see ball circulation, breaking lines, creating goal-scoring opportunities. That should be the DNA of this team.”
There was a time Berhalter thought he wasn’t ready for the biggest soccer coaching job in the United States. It was immediately after the failed qualification bid for the 2018 World Cup.
But as Berhalter grew as a coach, first in the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs and then throughout the 2018 season, the idea grew on him.
“As time passed, and as we’re still working with the team and dealing with adversity in Columbus and pulling these guys together, it was something that in my mind I thought that I’m ready for this,” Berhalter said. “I’m ready for this challenge.”
Then, in late August, USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart first reached out to Berhalter with the idea.
It all started with a phone call.