In a normal year, U.S. Men’s National Team coach is a strange job. Your players are scattered around the globe at different clubs playing different systems, and every couple months or so, you get 10 days together to try to make some progress as a team.
This being 2020, with the complexities COVID has heaped on the sports world, that strange job is suddenly a lot tougher. Just ask USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.
“It’s certainly taken a little bit of getting used to,” Berhalter told reporters on Monday. “I can imagine all that the guys have went through in the last 10 months, returning to play, returning to play in a safe environment, trying to foster relationships with social distancing, trying to hold meetings with social distancing. It’s all been a challenge. That’s something we’re getting used to. We’re all embracing the challenge as a staff. New things are popping up every single day.”
Training camp video courtesy U.S. Soccer/Veritone
Players have been arriving at the U.S. camp in Cardiff, Wales from their clubs around the world, and after undergoing testing, the team will train together Tuesday for the first time as a full group.
“The odd thing about it is we’ll be having a welcome meeting tomorrow, and we’ve been together for two-and-a-half days,” Berhalter said. “That’s the odd part of COVID that we’re all dealing with.”
When the U.S. faces Wales on Thursday (1:45 p.m. CT, FS1), it will mark the first time the USMNT has played in nine months. Some players, like Red Bull Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams, have been away from the national team much longer than that.
“It’s been very difficult,” Adams said of the start-stop nature of the sports world during the pandemic. “Obviously as a footballer you can’t really ever complain about your life or scheduling, but when something comes along of this circumstance, you don’t really understand how much it impacts you until it quite happens.”
Adams said the team is setting realistic expectations for what it can actually accomplish during this camp.
“For myself, with a lot of young guys, we’re gonna have to really take in as much information as possible,” Adams said. “If we can develop the right way in this first game, and continue to take another step forward in the Panama game, that’s all you can really ask for.”
In the Wales match, and the Nov. 16 game against Panama in Austria, Berhalter will have to decide how to balance playing time among the team’s core of established stars—like Adams, Weston McKinnie and Christian Pulisic (if he ends up being healthy)—with new faces, like Gio Reyna. He’ll also need to figure out how to work in the dual nationals testing the water with the U.S., like Valencia star Yunus Musah.
“When we have our core together, it’s a team that’s made progress,” Berhalter said. “I think now is a great time to look at some new players, to look at some of the younger guys who are doing a great job with their club teams. And, so that’s what we’re using this camp for. In this game, it’s gonna be probably six to seven guys on the field for the first time playing together. It will be a new experience.”