Pulisic is clear that he will play for the USA against the Netherlands as Berhalter faces familiar foes USA
Louis van Gaal says he can’t remember the last time he faced Greg Berhalter in a competitive match.
Berhalter, whose United States team will play against Van Gaal The Netherlands on Saturday in the round of 16 of the World Championship, he doesn’t believe him for a second.
The date was May 4, 1997. Berhalter was a fresh-faced 23-year-old centre-back for mid-table Sparta Rotterdam. beat Van Gaal’s Ajax team – who played in the semi-finals of the Champions League just 11 days earlier – thanks to an 88th-minute winner.
“I think he remembers,” Berhalter said Friday with a smile. “Because he’s so competitive, he has to remember that game.”
Twenty-five years later, the American manager will once again assume the role of the underdog when the Americans meet a favored Dutch side yet to taste defeat in 18 matches. since Van Gaal took over after last year’s European Championship, conceding only 14 times in that period. If they reduce the odds against the Oranje, the Americans would advance to the round of 16 of the World Cup for the first time since 2002, when Berhalter’s left foot nearly sent the USA to the semifinals at Germany’s expense.
That the biggest game of his three-and-a-half-year tenure will come against the Netherlands has added meaning for Berhalter, who became the first man to play in and lead an American team in World Championship. After leaving the University of North Carolina after his junior season, he cut his teeth with a series of Dutch clubs at the start of a decade and a half playing career in Europe, signing with Zwolle in 1994, then Sparta in 1996 and Cambuur Leeuwarden in 1998.
Not surprisingly, Dutch football has deeply informed his coaching philosophy.
“I learned so much in Holland,” said Berhalter. “It’s almost like, what concepts I didn’t I took it from Dutch football? It was a great experience to be there.
“After every training session, you have a debate with your players about it. After every game you talk to people about the game. People love to talk about football and you really learn a lot.
“I went to Holland just after university, completely unprepared for professional football. If I hadn’t been in the Netherlands, I don’t think I would have had that background that really helped shape my ideas.”
Berhalter described how his experience in the Netherlands was an awakening to the nuances of the game that were not part of his development at home.
“Just spacing and positional play, third man, triangles,” he said. “There was a striker, an old striker that I played with when I first got there. His name was Remco Boere. He would yell at me for giving him the ball by spinning too much. He wanted balls that came straight at him and that I had to hit with the laces. And I wasn’t good enough at hitting the laces, so I had to practice, practice, practice to be able to play him the ball he wanted.
“If you ever dropped the ball to someone and put it on the wrong foot, they would start yelling at you. How sharp you play passes. There were a lot of details that I was missing that I learned in the Netherlands.”
Berhalter is not the only figure in the American camp with deep ties to the Netherlands. American football sports director Earnie Stewart, who was the captain of the national team in the famous victory over Portugal who launched his World Cup in 2002, was born in the southern Dutch town of Veghel.
Meanwhile, American right back Sergiño Dest, the son of a Dutch mother and Surinamese American father, grew up in Almere and came through Ajax’s vaunted youth academy. When he was deciding Should I represent the USA or the Netherlands? internationally, Berhalter’s connection with Dest helped tip the balance.
“As he progressed to the professional level, it caught the attention of the Dutch side and our side,” Berhalter said. “And basically, it was just me connecting with him, talking to him about what his role might be for us, what the plans are for this group over the next eight years, and then introducing him to his teammates and got him into our environment.”
Dest, 22, said: “It will be quite fun playing against the country I was born in. I know almost every guy there.”
The most pressing question in the American camp ahead of Saturday’s match was the fitness of Christian Pulisic, who suffered a pelvic contusion. while scoring the winner win or go home on Tuesday with Iran sealing the Americans’ progress to the knockouts for the fifth time since 1994.
The day after the Chelsea winger he said he takes it day by day with an injury before training in the Al Rayyan team session, but “doing everything in my power to be on the pitch on Saturday”, Berhalter offered a slightly rosier assessment.
“We will see him on the training pitch today,” said the manager. “I think he looks pretty good, so we’ll have to see him on the pitch today to confirm that.”
US Soccer later confirmed Pulisic received permission to play against the Dutch.
Berhalter was less optimistic about the availability of Josh Sargent, the Norwich City striker who left with a right ankle injury in the 77th minute of the Iran game.
“He’s another one we’re going to test in practice, see where he’s at,” Berhalter said. “He will test. At this stage, it’s time to go. If you can get through it, you will.”
The United States have done little to alleviate lingering concerns about their ability to score during their stay in Qatar, scoring just twice in three matches so far. But they are the only team to get through the group stage without conceding from open play – and Berhalter is confident that the tight-knit team play that has seen the Americans go this far will be enough to close the undeniable gap in individual skill.
“It’s hard,” he said. “[The Dutch] have talent. I see them playing with two strikers, one behind the striker. It could be any combination of who they play but they have some real top talent with Memphis Depay and [Cody] Gakpo and if [Steven] Bergwijn plays.
“But for us it’s about the collective. The back four did a great job. The goalkeeper did a great job. It’s about team defense, working as a unit, collective movement. And when we do that, we put the opponent in difficult positions where they can’t access the spaces they want to access. And I think that’s what we’ve been good at so far in this tournament.”
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