Gregg Berhalter did not call in any MLS players, such as Michael Bradley, for the USMNT’s two games in Europe. (Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Not calling in one player from a Major League Soccer team for two friendlies in Europe later this month was a calculated move by U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter.
He did it because of the looming MLS Cup Playoffs and that he’ll probably need the help of several teams to put together a competitive team for next year’s competitions.
“We purposely didn’t call MLS players in because we didn’t want to jeopardize their eligibility [for] the playoffs,” Berhalter said during a Wednesday media conference call. “I think this is an important distinction we need to talk about. It’s another example of the United States Soccer Federation with MLS to benefit the clubs. I think that is important because other countries are not necessarily doing that. Io be honest, they’re not obligated to do that. They can call their players in and we opted not to call the players in because we didn’t want to jeopardize the playoffs.”
Berhalter said he made a sacrifice by not calling in U.S.-based players for the matches. The U.S. will be hosted by Wales Nov. 12 before playing Panama in Austria Nov. 16.
“There are some core players we’re leaving off this roster because of that,” he said, “but we felt we have enough depth in Europe right now to field a good roster and we’re looking forward working with these guys.”
The Tenafly, N.J. native has been on both sides of the coin. Berhalter guided Columbus Crew SC from 2014-18 before taking on the USMNT reins in 2019.
“Part of the way I looked at it, I was an MLS coach before and I understand that the end of the year is the time you invest all of the energy in the season to get to this end of the year at such a special time when you have the playoffs,” he said. “I know that for the owners’ standpoint, it’s been a tough year for everyone and to have your team going into the playoffs potentially shorthanded isn’t a great feeling.
“We considered all those things. We made this decision to benefit the MLS clubs knowing that next year will be a difficult year and hopefully some of the clubs will remember that. Hopefully, some of the clubs will say, ‘Ok, now when you need the guys a little bit early for the Nations League, we’ll let them come early because it is a give and take.’
“What I feel now is that we’ve given a lot this fall, we really have. And I don’t’ regret it. It was intentional. But there’s going to be times when we can’t be as flexible.”
Especially when World Cup qualifying begins in September 2021. The USMNT will need all the vital players it can use on its 23-man roster for matches.
“You talk about World Cup qualifiers, it’s your squad, it’s your best 23 players you want in camp. That’s going to be non-negotiable. Again, it was a difficult decision, but we thought it was in the best interest of the clubs and we were happy to accommodate at this time.”