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Report: USMNT to face Ecuador, Chile in March friendlies

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Gregg Berhalter’s first full strength U.S. Men’s National Team side is setting up friendly matches against a pair of solid South American sides.

Yahoo! Sports’ Doug McIntyre reported that the USMNT is set to face Ecuador in Orlando on March 21 or 22 followed by a match against Chile on March 26 in Houston. Chile currently holds the No. 13 spot in FIFA’s latest world rankings, while Ecuador sits at 57.

The March FIFA dates are the first chance that Berhalter will have to call in a full USMNT squad, with likely call-ups to Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, among others. It will be those players first chance to play in Berhalter’s system, learning his tactical ideas and overall philosophy.

Due to the UEFA Nations League and the near start of 2020 European Championship qualifying, its become much tougher for nations in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL to schedule friendlies with European opposition, as most of their dates are packed with qualifying games.

If the friendly match with Ecuador is accurate, it will be the first of two friendlies in three months the teams will have, with Ecuador scheduled for a pre-Gold Cup friendly.

New U.S. coach Berhalter sets foundation in first training camp

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. (AP) New coach Gregg Berhalter is taking the U.S. national team back to all sorts of basics during his first training camp.

Along with elementary strategic sessions and conditioning work, Berhalter’s plan extends to rather basic accommodations: The 28 Major League Soccer-based players who participated in Berhalter’s first practice Monday are living in dormitory-style group apartments at a training center south of San Diego for more than two weeks.

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“I think it’s a great environment to foster one of the main objectives of our camp, and that’s team-building,” Berhalter said after the workout in postcard-perfect Southern California sun. “We’re here. We’re going to be together here. It’s an intensive period, but I think it’s a focused period. We’re going to get quality time together as a team.”

The U.S. team had conducted its annual January camp in Carson, California, since 2004, with the players staying in hotels and commuting to their training complex just south of downtown Los Angeles. Berhalter elected to move the event 2 1/2 hours south to another well-maintained training complex in this tidy suburb within sight of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The players don’t seem fazed by their accommodations, and they’re intrigued to learn about the new boss’ plans for World Cup qualification and everything in between.

“You’ve got to learn as much as you can as quick as you can,” said Paul Arriola, the attacking midfielder and Chula Vista native. “As much as Gregg is learning about us and trying to fit us all together, we’re trying to do the same with him and his style of play. I think we have a great group here that believes in why we’re here and what we’re going to do.”

Berhalter was formally hired last month after 14 months of team limbo since Bruce Arena’s departure. The New Jersey native is the first American to coach the national team after playing for it at a World Cup, but the 45-year-old European coaching veteran and analytics maven also represents a break from the team’s recent leadership.

Berhalter got his players’ attention with a strong introductory speech Sunday, delivering his priorities and goals for the months and years ahead.

The longtime Columbus Crew coach said he “very clearly laid out the objectives of this training camp, which are team building, team culture, a style of play and competing.”

“We had a competition in training (today),” he added. “We’re going to continue to chart the competition in training and take results of who’s winning these games. Competing is a very big part of our business. But so is building the style of play, and then team cohesion. So we laid out the objectives, but we also talked bigger picture about what we want to be, and who we want to be as a group, and what our mission is.”

The broader mission is to atone for the embarrassment of failing to qualify for last year’s World Cup, but the success of that quest sits within the day-to-day details of building a better team. Few coaches pay more attention to detail than Berhalter, according to the players who know him.

Only MLS-based players can attend this camp, which falls outside a FIFA international window. The leading veteran is Toronto’s Michael Bradley, whose 142 appearances for the U.S. are five more than the rest of the camp roster combined.

“What I would say is Gregg is into it,” explained Bradley, who trained alongside Berhalter as players in 2006 during Bradley’s first stint with the U.S. team. “Gregg loves football. He has real ideas about how he wants his teams to play. (It’s about) details on the field, ideas, how he wants the team to play, what he wants things to look like. There’s going to be real work every day, building what we want this thing to look like.”

Berhalter already revealed he wants a pressing, attack-focused approach. After the U.S. spent the past year breaking in more than 20 new players under interim coach Dave Sarachan, Berhalter is deciding which players can play the new American style.

Although the true results of Berhalter’s modern approach won’t be decided for years, the tools for acquiring that knowledge were visible already in Chula Vista.

Team employees stood on the sideline with tablet computers tracking the players’ movements, and a drone hovered overhead while the workouts were filmed for analysis. Berhalter also plans to establish stronger connections with his players’ clubs in hopes of gathering more analytical data from their day jobs.

The team will train in Chula Vista until Jan. 22 before going on the road to Phoenix and the Bay Area for two exhibitions and several practices. The year gets even more interesting when Christian Pulisic and other Europe-based U.S. players join the team for workouts in March.

Berhalter’s first competitive match is in June at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He will know much more by then about the components available for his rebuilding project.

“It’s extremely important for young guys and myself to be here in camp,” said forward Gyasi Zardes, whose MLS career was revitalized under Berhalter in Columbus last season. “We get a head start for the year and for the season.”

Celtic announces loan deal for PSG, USMNT teen Weah

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Might Jermain Defoe and Tim Weah define the Scottish Premiership title fight?

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a bit rich, but Celtic and Rangers have both added exciting new loan strikers this week.

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Rangers announced a 18-month loan deal with Bournemouth’s Defoe on Sunday, and Celtic confirmed their capture of Paris Saint-Germain and USMNT youngster Tim Weah on Monday.

Weah turns 19 on Feb. 22, and has two goals in six appearances for PSG but is stuck behind Edinson Cavani, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe on the depth chart. He’s eight-times capped with one goal for the United States.

Here’s what Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers had to say about his new forward:

“Timothy’s a young talent who is full international player. He has a long career ahead of him but he has those natural attributes in terms of his pace and technique. He’s hungry too. …

“He has really good qualities technically, and tactically is always improving his game. Physically he’s very good, very fast and is a strong player. He’ll add competition to the squad.”

Celtic is also taking Oliver Burke on loan from West Brom in its bid to win its eighth-straight Scottish top-flight title, and 50th all-time.

How America reacted to Pulisic move

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Well before most people woke up in the U.S., Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund announced that Christian Pulisic would be making a big-money transfer move to the Premier League.

As the sun rose along the east coast and spread from the New York islands to California, Americans chimed in about Pulisic’s $73 million transfer to Chelsea.

Chelsea host Southampton on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge and our Premier League analysts will be breaking down Pulisic’s move.

Here’s what some inside (and outside) of soccer circles in the U.S. had to say about the deal:

 

 

Pulisic Transfer: What’s the significance?

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With the stroke of a pen, Christian Pulisic made history, becoming the most-expensive American soccer player in history.

Pulisic’s $73 million move from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea absolutely smashed the old transfer fee record for an American. In 2017, Wolfsburg paid Hertha Berlin around $22 million to sign centerback John-Anthony Brooks. Four years prior, Sunderland paid around $13 million to sign Jozy Altidore from AZ Alkmaar.

For Chelsea alone, it’s the club’s third-highest transfer fee paid after goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga ($91 million) and Alvaro Morata ($75 million).

Chelsea host Southampton on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge and our Premier League analysts will be breaking down Pulisic’s move.

While the transfer market has seemingly gone bananas since Neymar’s $263 million transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea clearly see a future star in the making in Pulisic, and surely a player that can lead their marketing campaigns in the U.S. for many years to come. In becoming the most expensive American transfer, Pulisic has placed a target on his back, one that he’ll have to overcome, especially after an up-and-down season at Dortmund.

It will be an incredible challenge for Pulisic in England. The physical league has been known to wear down some players coming in from abroad, and the tabloid newspapers are quick to turn on players after a bad performance or two, with some delighting in cutting a player down. In addition, Maurizio Sarri has stuck with his starting XI for most of the year, and it’s unclear exactly who Pulisic would push out of the first eleven. Only if Eden Hazard makes a long-rumored move to Real Madrid does this move really make sense in the short-term.

However, the move comes at a great time for both Dortmund, Chelsea, and Pulisic. Dortmund receives a very large transfer fee that it can invest in improving the squad further or providing raises and Chelsea beats out other suitors to an exciting attacking prospect. Meanwhile, Pulisic has his future settled for the next five seasons in London, starting in the summer. One has to wonder though whether the fee would be even bigger if the U.S. Men’s National Team had made the 2018 World Cup, and Pulisic had a chance once more to star on the world’s stage.

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Pulisic’s move is likely to also be a boon to young American players who are either already in Europe, playing in MLS, or considering their options. Pulisic went from unknown on the world stage to a multi-million dollar star within the space of a few years, and we could see other Americans following in his footsteps, hoping to strike gold as he’s done. For all of his misgivings, former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s insistence on getting his young squad to play their club matches in Europe was the right move, as we’ve seen with Pulisic’s growth in Dortmund’s academy.

Perhaps Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent or Timothey Weah could be in line for big money moves in the next year or two, should they continue to improve and perform.

On Wednesday, Pulisic set the marker down of what could be for an American. We’ll see how many follow and reach that mark, if not overtake it.