It has been nine months since Gregg Berhalter last coached the U.S. Men’s National Team in an official match, and his next opportunity won’t come until November at the earliest because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s challenging, right? It’s like you become a coach in theory now, and not in reality,” Berhalter said when asked by SBI about how the break is influencing his coaching. “That’s the challenging part of it. But it’s about studying now I think. Watching trends of the game watching what teams are doing, We’re watching our players really carefully.
“You can still be productive,” said Berhalter, who even joked about playing the video game Football Manager to pass the time (he isn’t actually doing that). “It’s just we’re not getting the reps on the field and we’re not getting the game reps. But in terms of studying the game, you can still do that with plenty of video. I think the most important thing is keeping current on our player pool knowing exactly what they’ve been doing.”
The USMNT was drawn into a Gold Cup group with Canada and Martinique, and there is a good chance Haiti will be the fourth team in the group for the tournament, scheduled for July of 2021. That time period will be a very challenging one as Berhalter navigates the Nations League in June, potentially the Olympics in July and the Gold Cup, which will all come before the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, which is tentatively set to begin in the Fall of 2021.
“It’s going to be good communication (with clubs) and it’s going to be looking at a lot of different players, It’s going to be juggling some players in certain cases,” Berhalter said. “The next year, 2021, represents a chance to win two trophies with the Nation’s League and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. And then to get a really good start in qualifying. It looks like we’re going to be playing eight games in 2021 of qualifying. So that’s a big chunk of games that we can we can make a dent on starting to reach some of our goals and qualify for the World Cup.”
With Concacaf having already moved the start of the final round of World Cup qualifying to the Fall of 2021, the Gold Cup will be Berhalter’s final opportunity to look at his full squad before those crucial qualifiers begin. That said, the USMNT will also have games in June with the Nations League semifinals and potentially the final, which could leave Berhalter with a decision to make on just when to bring his full-strength team together.
“When you think about getting the whole group together, we’ll have an opportunity in March to do that. We’ll have an opportunity in June to do that. And then the Gold Cup could be an opportunity. Then it’s qualifiers,” Berhalter said. “Either way, it’s still looking at the players workload and the players schedule and we have to be mindful that. That’s really important in this whole process, but we certainly want to get our group together we want to get our group playing together before qualifying.”
The international calendar has become a moving target for the Concacaf region, with the original World Cup qualifying schedule scrapped shortly after it was unveiled. As much as Berhalter and the USMNT is planning for the current schedule, he knows full well that Concacaf may be forced into more adjustments.
“Part of the uncertainty is what we’re dealing with in our everyday lives, right? I mean, nothing feels certain anymore,” Berhalter said. “That’s just something we have to adapt to, we have to be flexible, and we have to make the best possible decisions with the information we have. And we have to plan. And then when we plan if something doesn’t go our way, we have to use an alternate plan and keep going.”
For now, Berhalter is using his time to scout his player pool and maintain communications with his players and their clubs. As much work as he is doing, he acknowledges there is no substitute for actual games and in-person training time.
“It is challenging for international managers right now, with the lack of playing time,” Berhalter said. “It’s great to see Europe back playing internationally. Hopefully, South America will get going again also. World Soccer has to restart again, and we need to look for ways to do that and we’re doing that now.
“We’d like to have the tension of preparing for an opponent of preparing the team to play picking a squad, but unfortunately, we don’t have that moment. So we have to make the best of it.”