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News analysis

Berhalter speaks to the media, CCL blues, and the end of a rough week

It's been a busy week and United States national team boss Gregg Berhalter took the time to speak with the media in Houston and touch on several important topics. Elsewhere, it was a tough week for most players both abroad and in the CONCACAF Champions League where the same movie is stuck on repeat.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 06, 2019
2:00 PM
UNITED STATES national team head coach Gregg Berhalter addressed the media on Wednesday in Houston ahead of the United States national team’s friendly against Chile later this month and he touched on several key topics. Meanwhile, it’s been a pretty tough week for American players both abroad and domestic.

Here is a breakdown of several of the top stories.

Berhalter addresses the media

United States national team head coach Gregg Berhalter was in Houston on Wednesday and took questions from the media. He said a lot of interesting things.

With regards to LA Galaxy playmaker Efrain Alvarez, Berhalter was specific and said that he is considering all players who are eligible to represent the United States. The New Jersey native clearly emphasized that dual nationals certainly part of the equation.

But Alvarez, 16, is still new to the game after only making his MLS debut on Saturday. Alvarez made an immediate impact with the winning assist. Born in the United States to Mexican parents, Alvarez once represented the United States but is now playing for the youth teams of Mexico.

“Regarding Efrain, for us it's been interesting to watch from the background because he's a guy that has taken a pathway that you would call it a somewhat normal pathway although it's accelerated because of his age,” Berhalter said. “He started out in the academy of the LA Galaxy, he played for the LA Galaxy, he went to the second team of the LA Galaxy and he did really well with the second team. Now he's making an impact with the first team. That's exactly what we want to see continue. It would be great that he continues to chip away and get playing time and now can be a consistent performer for one of the top clubs in MLS. We'll be there watching the whole thing. When he's doing what we're expecting him to do, they'll be an opportunity for him with the U.S. national team.

“Regarding a potential choice for him, is we want to create an environment that players want to be in. We want to create a team spirt that players want to be a part of. If we do, we're confident we can get players like that and keep players like that in our program.”

This is the right approach. Alvarez is clearly not ready for the full men’s national team right now. The only reason why he is being mentioned is because he is eligible for Mexico and some hope that a call-up to the senior team would swing his allegiance – or even cap tie him to the full national team.

But calling up players to the full national team just to cap-tie (when they otherwise wouldn’t be called up) is bad precedent and it hurts the program in the long run. Call-ups are a finite resource and it doesn’t help a locker room when some players are being pushed aside to make room for others just because of their nationality. If Alvarez really wanted to play for the United States right now, he would be on the U-17 or U-20 team. But right now, he prefers Mexico.

The same could be said for other dual nationals like Kik Pierie (the Dutch youth international defender at Heerenveen who was born in the US to Dutch parents and raised in Holland) or Arsenal’s Folarin Balogun who was born in New York but raised in England.

But Berhalter is right in that a winning program is the best solution. That is what attracts players and I’m convinced the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup is what opened the door for Jonathan Gonzalez to defect.

There are always top American dual national prospects at the youth levels of good clubs. But making the U.S. program a winning team is what will attract players. Despite the 2018 World Cup setback, the U.S. really isn’t that far off. The U.S. U-20 teams have been outperforming Mexico for most of the past four years and that will narrow the gap over time.

Expect a Euro-heavy roster

For the March friendlies, Berhalter hinted that this roster could be very different from the January camp roster. He was quick to point out that he was pleased with the January camp but with this coming in the March window, Berhalter now has European-based players at his disposal to evaluate.

With a European-heavy roster, he could take the results from this upcoming camp and combine them with the January camp. Then he could use that to figure out his March roster.

Said Berhalter: “If you could imagine the January Camp helping us look at a certain number of players and this next camp helping us look at another certain number of players, by the time we get to May, we should have a good idea of these two number groups and we should be able to get a roster that we think can compete in the Gold Cup.”

This doesn’t mean that the roster will entirely European based. There likely will be some domestic-based players. But the Gold Cup will likely be a blend.

The U-20 roster overlap

Although it is stating the obvious, Berhalter said that “Tyler Adams will not be playing in the U-20 World Cup” this summer. This points to the fact that Adams is now at a point in his development where he is playing with the full national team.

What Berhalter did not mention, however, is the potential makeup of an Olympic roster. If clubs are willing to cooperate, would Berhalter, Stewart, and U.S. Soccer send Adams, Pulisic, McKennie, and others to the Olympics with the U-23 team? It is an interesting question.

Berhalter also said that "there are not that many overlapping players, believe it or not" between the full national team and the U-20 team. With Adams now out of the mix with the U-20 team, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah are the only other two realistic options. Top youth players like Alex Mendez, Serginio Dest are not there yet and Mark Mckenzie, despite being called-up to January camp, is also behind others on the U.S. team’s depth chart.

Sargent and Weah’s cases are different. Weah has played well for Celtic when he has been on the field, but his minutes are still sporadic. He seems more U-20 ready than Sargent although Weah could face a potential conflict with his club if Celtic advances to the Scottish Cup final which takes place after the opening of the U-20 World Cup.

Saief and Corona come stateside

After this week Kenny Saief and Joe Corona will both be playing in the United States. Corona inked a deal with the LA Galaxy and Kenny Saief will join FC Cincinnati on loan from Anderlecht.

Corona will leave Mexico for the first time in his pro career after a successful career south of the boarder where he won two Liga MX titles, the first with Club Tijuana (where he is a club legend and scored the decisive goal help it earn promotion to the top flight for the first time ever) and also with Club America in December. This is a solid pickup for Corona who should fit well into the Latin-flavored Galaxy’s new approach under Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Kenny Saief, 25, meanwhile will join up with an FC Cincinnati team that looks like it needs a lot of work to build itself up in MLS. Saief will join Cincinnati on loan through the summer when the club can look for more reinforcements during the summer window. ASN understands there is an option for Cincinnati to purchase Saief but that it is also very high and would require tough negotiations to keep him in the league beyond that date.

Is Hines Ike next?

ASN has also learned that a few teams in MLS are looking to sign American central defender Brenden Hines-Ike on loan from Kortrijk in Belgium. The Colorado native moved to Belgium last season from Sweden where he was one of the best defenders in the league. While Hines-Ike played a lot ot start the season, his minutes have decreased following a coaching change. 

Two teams who have expressed interest are the Houston Dynamo and Orlando City SC. 

Green sees red, Amon MIA

Earlier this week, Jonathan Amon did not get off the bench for Nordsjaelland and his minutes have continued to dwindle after a strong start to the season. The South Carolina native is facing a test in his development. While talented, he was able to succeed in Denmark up to this point because he was so different and so unique. But he’s been found out by other teams in Denmark and needs to add more to his game – as well as improve his defense. He can do it, but this is a test all young players have to go through (and not all succeed).

Meanwhile, Julian Green received a red card earlier this week in Greuther Furth’s 1-0 loss to Hamburg. The red came after a second yellow card for a blatant dive in the box. If Greuther Fruth loses patience with Green, it is unclear what his next step will be.

CONCACAF Champions League Blues

The first leg of the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League was brutal for the remaining MLS teams as all are behind heading into the second leg.

Sporting Kansas City has the best chance after a slight 2-1 loss on the road to Independiente. The away goal is very valuable and Kansas City should be a tough venue for Independiente to make that result hold. The poor first leg was helped by the strange decision of Sporting coach Peter Vermes to start many of his key players for three games inside of a week – despite not being in midseason form.

The remain results came from the Red Bulls losing at home to Santos Laguna 2-0, Houston losing to Tigres 2-0 at home, and Atlanta United losing 3-0 on the road.

It’s a bitter story to see this year after year. While MLS is making headway against the mid and lower tier Liga MX teams, the top Liga MX teams remain a different level altogether. This year, three of the best teams in Mexico all made it to this stage of the tournament. If there is any solace, the best teams of Liga MX are at a high level and play some of the best soccer outside of the top leagues in Europe.

The Red Bulls was the toughest loss because the team played well for long stretches but couldn’t finish its chances. Then it lost focus briefly on defense.

Houston’s loss was hardly a surprise because Houston is not one of the top teams in the United States.

Atlanta United’s loss is more alarming for that club because the early signs on Frank DeBoer are not promising. The team has just not responded to him the way they did with Tata Martino and it raises a question as to why Atlanta didn’t try to find a coach who would build off of what Martino did as opposed to rebuilding something else entirely?

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