Gregg Berhalter has been hard at work across the last four years as USMNT head coach developing a culture within the national team. The influence of his efforts is palpable throughout the squad, as key players foster tight bonds on and off the pitch.
It’s why they’re able to constantly joke around in press conferences, mess with each other on trips, and celebrate goals with a vigor exclusive to foxhole comrades.
Yet the head coach can only control so much, and sometimes outside forces can come together to add that extra spice which builds an even tighter squad. In that regard, Berhalter couldn’t have asked for better circumstances at club level.
The 2023 summer transfer window witnessed a host of players move to the same European clubs, giving international teammates the chance to train together daily.
USMNT superstar Christian Pulisic moved to Italian club AC Milan, and Yunus Musah joined him a few weeks later. Weston McKennie returned from a loan at Leeds – then a Premier League side – to parent club Juventus just in time to welcome new transfer arrival Tim Weah.
Dutch club PSV suddenly became the biggest collector of American internationals as Sergino Dest, Ricardo Pepi, and Malik Tillman all moved to the Eredivisie team within the same month.
Add in Fulham, for whom Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream have been playing for some time, and there’s a strong European contingency within the USMNT squad.
Asked whether the situation helped the national side before the October friendly against Germany, Berhalter said: “I think it does – you can see these guys start to form relationships, form bonds that become even closer when they’re together every day. I definitely think it has some impact.
“Timmy and Weston are phenomenal together, you can see how good they are together in training. So for us, it’s a luxury piece… that helps the group when you have these connections being built.”
These players are now able to form everyday training chemistry while also lifting each other up off the pitch. They aren’t all of the same standing at their clubs, so having each other to lean on when some get game time while others don’t builds an atmosphere of support which carries over to the national team setup.
“Soccer’s a funny sport,” McKennie told US Soccer’s official channel about how, at various stages, each of Juve’s Americans have been regulars in the lineup.
“It’s one of those things that me and Tim have a great bond together on and off the field, we understand each other. Whether one’s starting or one’s not, we continue to push each other and are happy for each other.
“It’s definitely good that in the last game [against Torino on October 7] we were on the field at the same time to showcase the connection that we have. Hopefully we’ll see more of that in the future.”
The off-field connections have been just as important, such as the one Pulisic and Musah have crafted together at Milan. Pulisic admitted to CBS Sports that having Musah, who speaks four different languages, at the club has been immense as he learns Italian.
That personal relationship growth could prove vital as Musah looks to fill a role further forward for the USMNT, where he’ll no doubt link with Pulisic in the attacking third. That came to a head for Milan when Musah assisted Pulisic’s game-winning goal in the 87th minute against Genoa.
“I’ve just gotten to know Yunus so much better now,” said Pulisic of his new club teammate. “Every couple of months or once a month, you get to see them and spend a little time – but every day at club level is different.
“It’s been cool getting to see Yunus on and off the field day in and day out. We definitely feel that chemistry.”
“It’s definitely really nice to have someone like Christian at the club,” Yunus echoed, “It’s nice to see him week in and week out, seeing his quality, and being able to bond off the field is nice.”
While many of these players moved to their new homes at the same time and adapted to their new surroundings together, at Juventus, McKennie had been in Turin for several years when Weah arrived, helping the latter to acclimate.
Speaking to the media in the build-up to the game against Germany, Weah said the tactical setup at Juventus under Massimiliano Allegri is an element he is “still learning and adapting to”, adding that it’s “definitely easier” to have a teammate like McKennie there.
Berhalter, though, was sure to make it clear that while these partnerships are an added bonus, it’s not something the squad requires to be close. “Aside from that, the group is extremely tight as it is, and the group has worked really hard to build relationships with everyone,” he said. “They’ve become a really strong team together.”
Every advantage is massive in the fine margins of international football. The USMNT will look to take full advantage of their unity and understanding against the Uefa Euro 2024 hosts in Connecticut on Saturday.