USMNT Preview: Berhalter Back at Reins Against Uzbekistan

Maurice van Steen/ANP/Imago

The second Gregg Berhalter era of the United States Men’s National Team gets underway on Saturday night in St. Louis, when a full-strength squad takes on Uzbekistan for the first-ever meeting between these two.

With less than three years on the clock until the “USA & Friends” World Cup kicks off in summer 2026, the Americans begin their preparations in earnest this weekend, in what will be a potentially anticlimactic run of games to prepare, without the pressure of qualification on their shoulders.

For better or worse, depending on who you ask, Berhalter begins a second term as coach of the team, following an extended break in which the team experienced a somewhat mixed run of results under interim coaches Anthony Hudson and BJ Callaghan.

The latter, who guided the team to their second-straight Nations League title and a disappointing semifinal exit at the subsequent Gold Cup over the summer, has returned to his long-time assistant coaching role.

The team available to Berhalter on Saturday more closely resembles the quality that humiliated Mexico and Canada in the Nations League finals than that which were underwhelming, at best, several weeks later in the Gold Cup.

Apart from a few injured first-team players, most notably Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent, the vast majority of the top-level firepower in the program is available and ready to go in CityPark.

Even though the European season is still young, team captain Christian Pulisic is perhaps in his best club form in months, if not longer, albeit this is largely due to the fact that he has been an every-game starter for AC Milan since joining the team.

Similarly, Sergiño Dest has shown well in his first few games with new club PSV Eindhoven, and is entering a USMNT camp without a layer of rust from inactivity at the club level for the first time in recent memory.

The summer transfer window has seen a large amount of flux for a shocking number of American players, with likely starters Tim Weah, Folarin Balogun and Yunus Musah all finding new clubs during July and August. Of those three, only Weah has seen significant playing time so far with his new team Juventus, where he has essentially played a tag-team role at right wingback with Weston McKennie.

While it would be self-defeating for Berhalter to put out anything short of a full-strength lineup from the opening whistle, his substitution strategy will be worth watching, especially with several untested prospects in the camp.

In the defense, recent USMNT convert Kristoffer Lund and Wolfsburg’s Kevin Paredes will both be looking for their first senior caps with the team. Lund had previously played in all levels of the Danish youth setup, but made his switch to the Stars and Stripes in time for this camp.

Tanner Tessmann, who has impressed as of late in Serie B’s Venezia, along with Miami FC’s Benjamin Cremaschi, are also an intriguing pair in the midfield, whose inclusions in the squad came somewhat as a surprise, albeit moreso for the latter.

Cremaschi is also eligible for Argentina, who have pursued him for their youth teams, so his participation in this camp is seen as an important step in towards the final goal of snagging the promising talent for the long-term.

Most importantly, the game could give hints as to whether the returning coach has discovered any new tricks during his half-year sabbatical from the team. While hyperbolic arguments seem to dominate both sides of the debate surrounding Berhalter, it is fair to say that his general adherence to is own tactical dogma, including his often conservative and late use of substitutions, was a point that was often lacking in his approach the first time around.

Even though there are 63 spots separating the United States and Uzbekistan in the official FIFA rankings, and clearly a wide gulf in talent available to the teams’ respective coaches, Berhalter can’t be expected to stray too far from his favorite 4-3-3 formation, with the attack focused more on wing play than advancement through the middle. The interesting point will be to see whether he adjusts this overall tactic as the game wears on, in particular to see if utilizing Malik Tillman’s attacking prowess from the midfield works out as well for his squad as it did so often for Rangers last season.

Apart from Tillman and Cremaschi, who can also slip into a central attacking role, albeit from a deeper position than Tillman, it’s difficult to see too many opportunities to significantly deviate from the standard, based on the available personnel, even if the team does build a large lead.

Balogun could provide an extra dimension in linking with the midfield, considering his speed and crafty quickness on the ball, if he is given freedom to roam.

Uzbekistan’s 23-man squad that was called up for Saturday’s game and another friendly several days later against Mexico is a mostly domestic squad, albeit with a small handful of players competing at a higher level.

Undoubtedly, their biggest attacking threat is Cagliari forward Eldor Shomurodov, who has scored 37 times in 66 international games. While technically on the books for Italian giants AS Roma, for whom he has played 34 times since joining the team in 2021, he is spending the current season on-loan with promoted Serie A club Cagliari.

A pair of the Uzbek players are competing in Turkey’s top league, notably 55-times capped midfielder Otabek Shukurov Fatih Karagümrük and 24 year-old central defender Husniddin Aliqulov, who joined Çaykur Rizespor, one of Freddy Adu’s numerous former clubs, in over the summer.

The most globally visible player on the squad has been midfielder Jaloliddin Masharipov, who had the good fortune to be on the books of Saudi club Al-Nassr at the time of Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival to the team, although he is currently without a club.

The team is led by Slovenian head coach Srečko Katanec, who took the reigns in late-2021, several months after they failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Katanec is gearing the team up for the upcoming Asian Cup, scheduled to begin in mid-January, although he has a bigger goal in mind for his ongoing tenure.

While Uzbekistan has never qualified for the World Cup since beginning international play in 1992, their chance to reach the final 2026 tournament in North America is significantly stronger than before, as the Asian confederation now has eight spots, compared to only four automatic and one playoff spot in the 2022 edition.

The game will kick off at 5:30pm Eastern US time at CityPark in St. Louis.

Exit mobile version