Coaching Philosophies and the Gregg Berhalter System

Discussion in 'USA Men: News & Analysis' started by Susaeta, Mar 14, 2019.

  1. Susaeta

    Susaeta BigSoccer Supporter

    Apr 3, 2009
    Nat'l Team:
    United States

    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, 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 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 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.


    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.
  2. DHC1

    DHC1 Member+

    Jun 3, 2002
    Is GB's preferred system the only one that allows "More possession. Wider play. Using space. Creating defensive breakdowns through possession, etc?"

    In other words, it is a system or the goal that's definitional?
  3. IndividualEleven

    Mar 16, 2006
    The problem with a system-first coach at international level is the limited ability to bring in players to fit a given role. The coach is limited to NT-eligible players.
    olephill2, Dervos and DHC1 repped this.
  4. nobody

    nobody Member+

    Jun 20, 2000
    A question about the system. Who defends the center of the park, top of our defensive third? I see a creator and a linking player, and Berhalter has already said he is now going with 2 10s, which he did in the first camp and has mentioned he is likely to keep doing. Then you have a quarterback, three forwards. That leaves your defensive crew as defending an awfully lot on their own, with one of them pushed forward anytime we get possession so that teams can break at a three man defense with little protection. That central area is the most dangerous area to let teams setup shop and to my eyes that system leaves a pretty big hole there. Who plugs that gap? Or to avoid talking about players first, how does that gap get plugged? The right back hybrid can't because he'll have to be in retreat mode to get back wide unless the point is to hope he constantly makes saving tackles or cuts off anything sent to the right wing. We're left with 2 10s, neither of whom would likely be a tough defender and our quarterback. So, the guy tasked with being the quarterback is also tasked with the biggest defensive responsibility? Sounds like an awful lot to ask out of one guy, regardless who it is.

    To the larger point, I've always been and always will be a guy who loves soccer at least partially because it is inevitably a players game more than a coaches game once the ball drops and things start moving. So I guess I will always struggle with these guys who crown themselves kings and expect the players to just be cogs in their machine. And, I've still never seen a system guy win anything without having the players to go with it. In fact, the system types seem to work best at big clubs where they can just buy what they need. It is a much harder thing to implement a system with missing pieces.
  5. DHC1

    DHC1 Member+

    Jun 3, 2002
    Assuming we are wed to the system above, where do we want our most influential players and where can we hide our less-influential players?

    It would appear that the three most important players are QB, Creator and Linker and we better be strong at all three positions both offensively and defensively.

    More specifically, the back 7 will have significant defensive responsibilities. In transition, the Creator and Linker better be able to run endlessly to cover the wings and the QB will have to have strong defensive skills both positionally and ball-winning.

    Against good teams, we will primarily play a 433 as our opponent will likely have more possession. This will also require strong ball winning from the QB and CB pairing.

    The place where we can hide players with deficiencies is our wingers and perhaps one of our outside backs (the one who isn't coming into the center).

    question: does this formation lend itself to a high press?
  6. IndividualEleven

    Mar 16, 2006
    Roldan and Mihailovic, both of whom played the 8/10 roles, are excellent defenders. Roldan is a d-mid at club level who has excelled in a number of roles. Mihailovic, now entrenched at the 10, has also played d-mid for Chicago.

    I doubt 3G will use off-forward types in the dual 10 roles.
  7. nobody

    nobody Member+

    Jun 20, 2000
    He's already said that's where he sees Pulisic.
  8. LuckofLichaj

    LuckofLichaj Member+

    Mar 9, 2012
    If Mihailovic is a decent defender, he should be our regista. Is he a better defender than Trapp?
    nowherenova repped this.
  9. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    breath of fresh air- thank you
    Marko72 repped this.
  10. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    GB used the terms of "principles of play" and using the ball to disorganize the opponent. The description above "More possession. Wider play. Using space. Creating defensive breakdowns through possession, etc" is pretty good.

    Then the system is built around how to do that with given personnel. So with the Crew he had a dedicated #10. USMNT doesnt really have that so he wants dual 10's. That means more space for the "qb" to cover. He's handling that by asking the rb to tuck in more than overlap. He's asking the lb to tuck in and play more as a CB. So the numbers forward are essentially the same as a 4231 with an overlapping outside backs who take turns getting forward.

    He still has the defensive integrity. In fact he'll push is wingers very high now with that support and let the" qb" and "rb" control the middle together. One to attack and counter press and the other to fall back and protect the back three.
    So its all give and take.
  11. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    There are lots of problems with both approaches and its definitely a big experiment as to whether GB can pull it off.

    He will have to adapt is tactics. That will be the most interesting thing to follow. How does he adapt them and stay to those principles? What is he likely to try and how can we anticipate he'll adapt?
  12. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
  13. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    It would work very well with the high press because you've got lots of guys forward initiallly to counter press. You've got two guys in the center - one to press and one to protect. Then in your own half - you press as a 4222.
  14. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    The 8/10 role is probably WM to lose I imagine. Adams may fight for it.
  15. IndividualEleven

    Mar 16, 2006
    Yeah, but he's not using that type of player in both roles.

    I'm not sure.
  16. IndividualEleven

    Mar 16, 2006
    Getting rid of that RB/CM tweak would be a nice step forward.
  17. DHC1

    DHC1 Member+

    Jun 3, 2002
    The RB would have to press and ball-win in transition while also making sure to cover our right flank?

    It seems tailor made for counter-attacking teams to run right through us - they could either (a) swing the ball to our left defending flank and bring the ball centrally, directly taking on a poor ballwinner, all while leaving lots of space behind him (as our RB hurries to cover our right flank) or (b) tease our right defending flank, putting our ball-winning RB in a very difficult situation as the tactic would be to always have someone running into the wide open space on our right flank.

    To use another poster's vernacular, where's the data that this is a sound defensive system against good teams? It's designed to put numbers forward and defend a lot of space with 5 people, one of whom it appears won't be required to have ball-winning skills.

    If Chelsea can't make it work at the highest level with their resources and the ability to pick and choose their entire squad, what chance do we have?
  18. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    Why do you hate it so much? I like that its directly solving problems. It puts a ball winner next to that distributer. Often in the last cycle when we played with one 6- he was man marked out of the game and all he had left were back passes. By that rb coming into the center, we have a way so that can't happen.

    Currently the two guys looked at playing that 6 role are two guys who are limted athletically. This puts an athletic ball winner next to him.

    Lastly- for a possession game, most of our rbs suck. This moves away from the Yedlins and puts in guys more technical to help with possession. It seems like it has a lot of good possibilities.

    What do you hate about it so much?
    bharreld repped this.
  19. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    No more than if the rb was overlapping. You still have +1 in defense and the center mids to drop in to cover as well. From a numbers perspective it should be fine.
  20. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    Any team that plays with a 3 man backline has shown that this can be defended well. The winger will come back as well. There are two center mids. One presses and the other falls back with the back three. The rcb then covers that space. Its all pretty standards.
  21. DHC1

    DHC1 Member+

    Jun 3, 2002
    In a 442 with an overlapping speedy RB, we have two CMs assisting in defense when the overlapping RB runs up plus three other defenders. The CM is directly responsible for blunting the attack and has to be able to both positionally shield and ball win.

    Yedlin (for example) is not required to ball win as a stopper, he is required to quickly cover his side and he's well suited for that.
  22. DHC1

    DHC1 Member+

    Jun 3, 2002
    The CMs here have to be able to ball-win as well as positionally guide. This is particularly important if our CBs are better in the air than on the ground. We don't have the back line skills that Man City, Chelsea and Napoli do.
  23. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    In a 442 rarely do both outside backs get forward at the same time. One goes forward, one stays back. They generally keep a +1 in the backline to the defense. You're really just debating a 4 man back line to a 3 man backline.

    Essentially if the rb is tucking in, we're playing a 3 man back line. The cm, 6, qb - covers centrally. The CBs have to be mobile and able to cover the wings (Brooks, Ream). Then the cm, drops center. Once the other mids get back, the rb hyrbrid will get back to his position, but until then... there is plenty of cover there.
  24. Pragidealist

    Pragidealist Member+

    Mar 3, 2010
    We're also not playing against Liverpool, United, or Arsenal either. In this system, one cm ball wins, gets forward and the other covers the and drops in. Pretty much the way any cm pivot system works.
    Aaron d repped this.
  25. DHC1

    DHC1 Member+

    Jun 3, 2002
    We're playing against Mexico and Costa Rica and both teams will have and will continue to make us pay for trying to play aggressively via a high press and the attempt to play possession soccer. This set up puts tremendous pressure on the QB defensively in transition and they will likely swarm him whenever he touches the ball.

    I'm hoping that GB is tactically smarter than this or we're not going win a single game against Mexico and CR this Hex. Our possession based talent level is not materially above other in CONCACAF either.
    Mahtzo1 repped this.

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