Focusing on the group’s opening game, he was fine-tuning tactics, speeding up the fitness levels of those who didn’t score the regular minutes for their clubs and allowing the injured to run on their own again. He will even have the flexibility to announce the list even after he has taken a final look at the candidates.
But the timing of this World Cup changed the natural planning of Berhalter and the other 31 coaches.
To avoid the harsh summer in the Middle East, the tournament was moved to winter – a smack in the middle of most leagues around the world. With a tight time frame, the runway to the start of the World Cup is just one week away.
Anthony Robinson, Berhalter’s first-choice left-back from Premier League club Fulham, is a prime example of the compressed calendar awaiting. He is scheduled to play on November 13 against Manchester United and, eight days later, start against Wales in the opening match of Group B at Al Rayyan Stadium.
Qatar’s relentless schedule is why the US camp that opened here Monday morning carries more weight than the regular rally in the months leading up to the main competition.
Berhalter and his young team will be together for nine days, most notably the friendly matches on Friday against Japan in neighboring Dusseldorf and next Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain. All that remains before the squad is re-formed in Qatar on November 14 – five days after the 26-man squad was announced and seven days before the Wales Test.
“It would be different if we had a month earlier and had three warm-up games and could say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter what kind of form this guy is in because we’ll have time to take them to where he is,” Berhalter said. “If no player ever plays between now and the World Cup, it will be a challenge for us.”
Instead of another American camp, Berhalter said he would keep in regular contact with clubs that hire American players – “to understand what their training load is, sometimes to supplement their training load if they don’t play matches and to really understand where the player is from a fitness point of view”.
Fitness will be an issue for players with MLS teams that fail to make the playoffs. With the regular season ending on October 9, Berhalter said he will be doing home training next month.
For this camp, players arrived in Cologne from clubs across Europe, from MLS, as well as one late substitute from Brazil.
Borussia Dortmund striker Gio Reina met Moenchengladbach right-back Joe Scully after their Bundesliga matches on Saturday and rode 30 minutes together the following day to the US team’s hotel. Left-back Sam Vines has had a flight of over two hours from his home in Antwerp, Belgium.
Because of club schedules and personality, though, only half of the 26 call-ups took part in training Monday on the grounds of the German soccer club in Cologne, where the club’s mascot, Henness the goat, adorns walls and banners in a woodland setting.
All but three (players, not Billy Goats) are scheduled to practice on Tuesday, and the whole group is scheduled to be on the field on Wednesday.
Because of the games, logistical details, and a rest day, Berhalter will only have four sessions with everyone.
The growth of the squad’s core together since Berhalter’s appointment in late 2018 has allayed internal concerns about the lack of preparation time just before the World Cup.
“What I would like to see in this camp is the continued building and understanding that Greg has been able to achieve with this group,” said Brian McBride, the former US World Cup striker who is now the team’s general manager. “The players understand his ideas clearly – Greg is very detailed throughout the process – and they all get it very quickly. They know what to expect and what Greg to expect.”
Just as he was preparing to do in the run-up to the World Cup, Berhalter had to make roster changes before camp opened here. Since the list It was revealed last WednesdayMidfielder Younes Moussa, full back Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers withdrew due to injuries. (Robinson, goalkeeper Zach Stephen, midfielder Christian Roldan and striker Tim Weh have been removed from the preliminary list due to illnesses.)
These changes opened up new openings – and new opportunities to make a belated impression. Midfielder Johnny Cardoso of Brazil’s Internacional and defenders Mark McKenzie and Eric Palmer-Brown of Belgium’s Genk and France’s Troyes have been called up respectively.
The players say that what remains constant, regardless of the individuals, is the camaraderie that Berhalter and the team leaders foster.
“To come here, you feel a kind of brotherly love,” said Vines, whose previous recall was last November. “We are fighting for places on the list, but at the same time, we are all on our way to achieving one goal, which is to win the World Cup.”
“Even though we’re not in the States, it’s like a small part of home,” Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner said.
“We don’t get sick from each other,” Rina said. “We all have a great time hanging out together.”
Personal feelings gave way to hard work. Berhalter has not yet settled on the starting goalkeeper. Turner works for the most famous club, making only one appearance since his move from New England Revolution to MLS this summer. Ethan Horvath (Luton Town, England) and Shawn Johnson (New York City FC) play regularly, and if he’s healthy, Stephen will compete for the job.
Based on his high goalscoring form with FC Dallas and the national team’s performance last year, Jesus Ferreira is the primary striker. But for the first time in a while, Berhalter also called up Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepe.
They came at the expense of Jordan Pivok, who got off to a rocky start with the Bundesliga leader Union Berlin. Berhalter reiterated last week that Bivok is still in the mix and that he needs a chance to take a closer look at Sargent and Pepe.
“The good thing is that Greg has had a large core of this group over a longer period of time,” McBride said. “There is a good understanding of his principles and how he wants to play. Without a camp right before the World Cup, it is definitely different. There are some challenges, but there is a good dynamic with this team.”