SYSTEM-FIRST vs PLAYER-FIRST When it comes to coaches setting up their team's style of play, they tend to operate along a spectrum. On one extreme you have system-first coaches, and on the other extreme, you have player-first coaches. Those extremes are really just for illustration. In reality, coaches land somewhere in between that spectrum. SYSTEM-FIRST COACHES System-First Coaches, as the name suggests, start with a clear system in mind. They then target players who best fit roles within that system. They are less concerned with the overall quality of a player. They are more concerned with how well a player can perform in a specific role. Pros of System-First Coaches: - They more quickly identify and implement their intended style of play. - They simplify the game for the players in their system. - The team more quickly operates as a cohesive unit. - They tend to be more consistent in building the team over time. - They can make use of lesser talented players to do specific jobs. Cons of System-First Coaches: - They are more predictable, and opponents can more easily plan for them. - They tend to be tactically less flexible. They struggle to adjust when the system breaks. - They miss quality players who do not fit in their system. - They are more prone to try to fit square pegs into round holes. GREGG BERHALTER'S SYSTEM Gregg Berhalter falls somewhere in the System-First side of the coaching spectrum. When he accepted the US job, he immediately started talking about the system he intended to implement. More possession. Wider play. Using space. Creating defensive breakdowns through possession, etc. In the first two games, we saw Berhalter's system come to life. The names of the roles are less important. What matters is what Berhalter expects from each role. And if you want to see another player in a certain position, the criteria is NOT whether your preferred player is better overall. The criteria are whether they are better in this specific role. PLAYER-FIRST COACHES Player-first coaches form their system around their best players. Pros of Player-First Coaches: - They tend to get the most out of their most talented players. - They tend to be more tactically flexible, especially in giving freedom to their top players. - They tend to settle on a core player group quickly. - They will experiment more with the utility/supporting roles. - They are more difficult to predict and harder for opponents to scout. Cons of Player-First Coaches: - They take longer to settle on a style of play, and sometimes never do. - They tend to deliver more inconsistent performances. - It is harder to track team progress over time. - Their players are often less clear on their specific roles. - The team more often looks less cohesive. HOW A PLAYER-FIRST APPROACH MIGHT LOOK DIFFERENT THAN BERHALTER'S Bob Bradley is a pretty good example of a player-first coach. He built his system around Donovan and Dempsey, and in the tremendous fitness of his son Michael. In evaluating the US Player Pool, a player-first coach would likely decide that his best players look something like: - Christian Pulisic - Tyler Adams - Weston McKennie - John Brooks With this approach, a player-first coach may end up with a completely different system. For example, a double-pivot with Adams and McKennie. Or Pulisic out wide. Maybe Adams in a more pressing midfield role. And so on. We will likely never know. And while we will almost be guaranteed to spend a lot of time arguing over whether Berhalter's system is the right one for the US, expecting him to overhaul it is folly. He will adjust. He will make tweaks and variations. But he is probably not going to dramatically change the underlying structure of how his team plays to make way for your favorite player. To be clear, I am not saying that one way is right and the other wrong. It just helps in understanding WHY coaches are making the decisions they are.