Infusion of youth and new tactics will be on display for US against Ecuador

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

ORLANDO, FLA. -- On his first day working with the full U.S. national team, Gregg Berhalter took his players out on a field behind their resort hotel outside Orlando and had them visualize some of the motions that are central to his style of play.

It didn't go well.

"I could tell the players didn't have the context to the movements that we were asking. Because they had never done it against an opponent," Berhalter said Wednesday. "So that was an interesting learning experience."

The biggest lesson, though, was one the coach already knew: the job of rebuilding the U.S. soccer team and teaching it to play the fast-paced, possession-oriented game he preaches is going to take time. So Thursday's first dress rehearsal, a friendly with Ecuador before a cozy crowd at Orlando City Stadium, figures to be rough at times. Yet, it's all part of the process.

"We've been together two days," Berhalter cautioned. "We hope to see some of the things we're talking about. But we also know it's not going to be perfect. We will lack fluidity at times. It's natural.

"The players, we've been giving them a lot of information the last couple of days. All we want is material to evaluate. That's really important."

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Thirteen of the 24 players Berhalter called into this month's 10-day training camp were introduced to his ideas in January. For the other 11, this week has been a crash course in a complicated system. And while many players have given the coaching staff high marks for organization and ambition, the amount of information they've been asked to process during video sessions and meetings has left their heads spinning.

"It's a challenge for all of us, especially for guys that are just hearing about it and learning and looking at the drawing board and seeing movements and fluidity and creativity," said Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, a holdover from the January camp. "You can't just switch off when you walk off the field. You've got to keep thinking about it and keep talking to your teammates and figure how can we make this work?"

Thursday's game could be the first in which the core of the team's future -- Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, who are all 20 -- start together. The three were on the field with one another for 14 minutes of a November game under interim coach Dave Sarachan, who used Adams as a midfielder, the position he plays for his club team in Germany.

In his first camp under Berhalter, Adams is playing right back with McKennie and Pulisic playing side-by-side in the midfield.


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