Berhalter excited by USMNT youngsters; talks Musah, Pulisic

Joe Prince-Wright
·7 min read

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter has called up an extremely young squad for friendlies against Wales and Panama this month, as the US men’s national team will be in action for the first time since February.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Quite simply, fans are pumped to see these new players, with 10 on the roster who have yet to play for the USMNT and all of them based outside the USA and Canada as Berhalter didn’t want to impact the 2020 MLS playoffs. The average age of this squad is 21 years and 300 days.

Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams will lead the young group, with USMNT fans particularly keen to see youngsters Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah, Konrad de la Fuente, Chris Richards, Richie Ledezma and Sebastian Soto all keen to make their debuts.

USMNT news

USMNT call-ups
USMNT call-ups

How could the (young) USMNT line up against Wales, Panama?
WATCH: Breaking down the USMNT call-ups
USMNT announce roster for Wales, Panama friendlies

USMNT roster breakdown
USMNT roster breakdown
USMNT roster
USMNT roster

The chance for head coach Gregg Berhalter to get a squad together for the first time in almost a year will be invaluable, as they play against the Welsh national team, then head to Austria to play a second game against Panama.

“It is a young group with a tremendous amount of talent. It gives you a lot of optimism, how they’ve been performing at such a young age. It will be great for us to get our hands on them and start forming the team and carrying on from where we were, integrating some of those young players,” Berhalter told journalists via a video conference call on Tuesday.

Johnny Cardoso, Konrad de la Fuente, Nicholas Gioacchini, Richie Ledezma, Yunus Musah, Chituru Odunze, Owen Otasowie, Gio Reyna, Chris Richards, Sebastian Soto are all looking for their first caps and the inclusion of 17-year-old Musah which grabbed a lot of attention.

Who is Yunus Musah?

Musah came up through Arsenal’s academy system but signed for Valencia in 2019 and scored his first goal in La Liga at the weekend after a year in Valencia’s B team.

The forward has played for the England youth national teams but will link up with the USMNT after being tracked for quite some time, even though he hasn’t committed his international future, long-term, to the USA.

He is also eligible to play for Ghana and Italy as well as England and the USMNT, and Berhalter said that although he hopes to encourage plenty of dual nationals to play for the USA, he also wants to see if they have a strong connection to the U.S. as a nation.

“We’ve been tracking Yunus for over year-and-a-half now. We have a good connection with Valencia. We’ve had a lot of good contact with him, spoken at length to his family. What we see from him is a player that’s hungry,” Berhalter said. “He’s hungry to make his impact. He has a connection with the United States and loves the direction the team is going in. He loves the young talent that he can be alongside. We see him as having a ton of potential. For us, it is about getting him on the field with us, letting him experience it and experience the staff and teammates and environment we are able to create. Then all we can do is hope in the end he choses us in the long-term. He’s chosen us now but there’s still a long-term implication that is yet to be decided.”

Positive update on Christian Pulisic

ProSoccerTalk asked Berhalter about Pulisic’s recent string of injuries and if it is concerning that their star man continues to miss time with Chelsea, because when he’s on the pitch he’s clearly a very important player for the Premier League giants.

“I’ve been in that spot myself, where you have an injury and you’re trying to shake it and trying to come back and there is a period where you come back and you are a little bit vulnerable,” Berhalter explained. “I know Chelsea is doing every single thing they can. I know he is doing every single thing he can and he is really focused and dedicated on staying fit. I believe he will get to this level of resistance where he stays fit. But building that up sometimes is challenging. That could be a phase he is in right now. I know they could use him. I know he’s a fantastic player and it is great to see what he’s been doing, but he’s in good hands with the club and they are doing everything they can to get him on the field.”

Frank Lampard said Pulisic could return from a hamstring injury this weekend, much quicker than expected, and Berhalter said that will dictated how much he plays for the national team over the international break.

At the age of 22, is he a bonafide leader of this USMNT team?

“Absolutely. He is one of the leaders on our team and we will rely on him to help guide this team. At such a young age he’s already played a ton of Champions League games, World Cup qualifiers, you name it he’s done it. He certainly is a leader on this team,” Berhalter said.

USMNT roster
USMNT roster

Star quartet ready to shine for USMNT

Even though there are plenty of uncapped youngsters to get excited about, watching the quartet of Weston McKennie (Juventus), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) and Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) play together for the first time in midfield and attacking midfield is a mouthwatering prospect.

“When you look at the skill sets of all four of those players, they are extremely different. Because of that they fit so well together,” Berhalter said. “Tyler is a controlling midfielder with a lot of range. Can easily play the number six position to give you that cover in transition but also the mobility to make good plays defensively and really put pressure on the opponents.

“Weston is a box-to-box midfielder who likes to arrive in the penalty box, a strong in tackling but has that extra offensive edge to him. Christian is a one-v-one phenomenon and can put guys on their back heels very easily. Gio is a different type of an attacking player, more of a straight-line player, a guy who can give a final pass and final cross. I think their skill sets work really well together when you talk about those four players.”

The World Cup journey starts here

What is the main plan to help develop this young USMNT side and their style of play ahead of crucial 2022 World Cup qualifiers coming up in 2021?

“We want to take advantage of our athleticism,” Berhalter said. “I want to see us be very aggressive on the defensive side of the ball, high-press teams, I think we have enough speed at the back to be able to play a higher line. I’d like our team to be nice and compact when we are pressing. Offensively we have a lot of skilled players. When you look at our outside backs (Barcelona’s Sergino Dest and Fulham’s Antonee Robinson stand out) we have a tremendous amount of skill, so too with our central midfielders, our wingers, we should be able to be very aggressive offensively, really get behind the opponent and put them on their heels. Those are things we need to work on. We haven’t been together with this group often. Tyler has played one game with us since I’ve taken over. It’s about getting them on the field together and getting them comfortable with each other.”

Berhalter pointed out that it is a ‘great’ and ‘exciting’ time for USMNT fans as they will finally see their young team, many of whom have been excelling for top clubs in Europe, back on the pitch together wearing the Stars and Stripes.

For the first time in a year the USMNT’s young stars will align.

Berhalter excited by USMNT youngsters; talks Musah, Pulisic originally appeared on NBCSports.com