US head coach Gregg Berhalter upbeat despite loss to Slovenia in friendly

US head coach Gregg Berhalter upbeat despite loss to Slovenia in friendly
US head coach Gregg Berhalter upbeat despite loss to Slovenia in friendly

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MIAMI: An inexperienced US team lost 1-0 at home to a second-string Slovenia in an international friendly match in San Antonio on Saturday but head coach Gregg Berhalter was pleased with the showing from his young team.

Berhalter had his MLS-based squad in a training camp for a week and the friendly, outside the international window, was a chance for him to take a look at some of his future options.

The decisive goal came in the 26th minute when right back Shaq Moore was robbed by Danijel Sturm who burst down the left and fed Nejc Gradisar who smartly slotted home with the outside of his right foot.

The US responded well, pushing forward quickly but when Brian White slipped a ball across the box to Bernard Kamungo his low shot was well saved by Igore Vekic.

Berhalter gave 11 players their debut appearances throughout the game and his team went close again in the 57th minute when Moore’s shot from a tight angle forced Vekic into action.

Attacking midfielder Diego Luna, of Real Salt Lake, was one of the most impressive of the new faces, with the 20-year-old showing urgency and creativity in the center of the park.

Berhalter’s camp and the friendly also doubled as an opportuntity for some of the players who will feature for the US in the men’s Olympic tournament at Paris 2024 in July.

Columbus Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte, another of the debutants, did well to keep out a well-struck free-kick from Sturm in the 75th minute.

New England Revolution’s 18-year-old winger Esmir Bajraktarevic made a strong impression after coming on as a 61st minute substitute, creating several openings.

Twice John Tolkin found himself with time and space at the back post but to the disappointment of the 9,191 crowd he was off-target on both occasions.

“We wanted the result, part of what we represent is winning, so we’re disappointed not to win but you can’t fault the effort, the intensity and the drive to continue to perform and try to get the goal,” said Berhalter, who highlighted some individual performances.

“Esmir (Bajraktarevic) came in and made a little bit of a difference, he’s got some unbelievable individual ability. I think Diego (Luna) all game was trying to show what he can do and Jack McGlynn showed his passing range when he came in,” added the USA coach.

Berhalter was particularly pleased to see Bajraktarevic and Luna being willing to dribble and take players on.

“If you think about it, in world soccer right now it’s very difficult to find one-on-one players, so it’s nice when you see that type of quality. What we do as coaches is encourage that. We’ve asked them to take playhers on and be aggressive combining and getting into the penalty box. So, happy with their performances,” he said.

The next test for the USA will be the CONCACAF Nations League Final Four in Dallas in March as the team step up their preparations for the Copa America which the country will host in June.

Despite having few of his regular Europe-based starters, Berhalter said the traditional January camp and friendly remained worthwhile.

“When these get this chance to see what the national team is like, it is worth it. Moving forward, when we have the full group, we have some big events coming up in the spring and summer and we’re really looking forward to how we perform in those,” he said.

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