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Gregg Berhalter hoping for more ‘material to evaluate’ when USMNT faces Ecuador

U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter is eager to see how players execute during a friendly against Ecuador Thursday night at Orlando City Stadium. (Jordan Culver-Pro Soccer USA)

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s evaluation time for new U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter.

Berhalter said it will take time to mold the USMNT. This camp is Berhalter’s first opportunity to work with his players competing for clubs abroad and he’s had a mountain of information to share with them.

Now he will see how the group executes Thursday when the U.S. plays Ecuador at 8 p.m. at Orlando City Stadium during the first of two March friendlies.

“We hope [against Ecuador] to see some of the things that we’re talking about, but we also know that it’s not going to be perfect,” Berhalter said. “We will lack fluidity at times. It’s natural.

“The players, we’ve been giving them a lot of information the last couple days. Actually, trying to pull back on some of it. I think that all in all, we want material to evaluate. I think that’s really important. As we can give the players better definition and they can actually feel it and experience it in the games, I think then you’re going to start to see real improvements.”

The USMNT had its first training session of this camp on Monday and three players missed the workout. Berhalter said he could tell some of the players didn’t grasp everything being asked of them. He said there were times when players executed perfectly and times during which things weren’t where they needed to be.

“Part of the evaluation period for the guys this camp is going to be based on how they’re able to retain information,” Berhalter said. “How they’re able to progress with this information. It is observing. It’s watching them in real game-like situations that we produce in training, and then recapping and talking about it again.”

Key young players Chirstian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are getting getting their first experience playing for Berhalter. All three are 20 years old and considered the future of the U.S. men’s national team. Still, there’s a veteran presence in camp.

Midfielder Michael Bradley, 31, was hesitant to name any of the team’s younger players as leaders.

He said the leaders will emerge naturally as the players get more time with the national team under their belt.

“Let these guys play,” Bradley said. “Let these guys start to understand what it means to play game in and game out for the national team. Let them play. We’ll all give them the opportunity to show their personality, to show the qualities they have, to show everybody who are the ones that are going to be able to be counted on in the biggest moments. Let’s give them all time and see how it comes together. I think if we do that, we’ll all be pretty pleased with it.”

Defender Tim Ream, 31, said Berhalter is focused on implementing a system, which is a “breath of fresh air.”

“Before, it was, ‘Let’s qualify by any means necessary,’” Ream said. “Chopping and changing, switching things up, whatever it took, and you know, like said, [Berhalter] is focused on playing a certain way and sticking to it.”

He added, “America’s known as a run-and-gun, solid mentality, work very hard [team], but you can do those things and still play a good, possession-based style. I hope a year from now that people look at the squad and look at the team and see us play games and they think, ‘Wow. They move the ball really well. You know, they create chances through possession and through making teams disorganized defensively.’”

Like Berhalter, Bradley said Wednesday’s friendly is just one step in a long process.

“Everything needs time,” Bradley said Wednesday afternoon. “Nothing’s happening tomorrow night. Tomorrow night is a step along the way for everybody. For individuals just getting, still getting some of their first opportunities. For Gregg and the staff. For the team as a whole.

“Sure, there’s positive signs every single day. There’s a lot to feel good about. There’s a lot to be excited about. Nobody’s going to snap their fingers have this all come together overnight. The process of building a real team, a team that can hold up in the toughest moments, that takes time.”

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