USMNT September camp winners & losers: Gregg Berhalter's second era gets off to strong start

Getty/ GOAL
The coach's first camp back had some ups and downs, but the good news is that it ended on a high as the U.S. looks head to bigger tests.

There was a real sense of intrigue heading into the U.S. men's national team's September friendlies. On the surface, they were somewhat typical: two games against overmatched opponents as tune-ups before bigger games to come - but there was significant subtext due to the return of Gregg Berhalter.

Leading up to his first camp back, there were questions about what this USMNT group would look like; would it be more of the same, a continuation of the 2022 World Cup cycle in many ways, or would Berhalter take anything from the changes we saw during his brief time away from the team?

What we ended up getting was a bit of both, and a solid two-game window to showcase it. A 3-0 win over Uzbekistan was followed up with a 4-0 win over Oman, with the two games showing the good and bad of Berhalter's USMNT.

The good news is that the bad preceded the good and that Berhalter and the USMNT improved as the camp wore on. A relatively tame attacking effort against Uzbekistan was followed by a dominant display against Oman that should leave USMNT fans excited about this team's potential in the attacking end of the field.

Opinion is still very much divided regarding Berhalter's second tenure but, now in the role, the coach made a strong second, first impression. Under his watch, several players, new and old, stood out and took steps forward as this group begins their run towards the 2026 World Cup.

GOAL breaks down the winners and losers from the September window.

  1. WINNER: Kristoffer Lund

    WINNER: Kristoffer Lund

    From relatively unheard of to very much in the mix...that's how quickly things can change with one solid performance.

    Lund arrived in the USMNT camp as an unknown quantity. Born in Denmark, but eligible for the USMNT, the left-back earned a transfer to Palermo this summer after starring at Hacken, but how he would fare with this U.S. group was anyone's guess.

    It was against Oman (yes, so take it all with a grain of salt), but Lund's first real USMNT outing was a good one, showing that he may just be an answer for that pesky backup left-back spot.

    Lund was solid against Oman, having made a cameo appearance against Uzbekistan a few days earlier. He looked like a prototypical attacking fullback, one with plenty of effort and plenty of energy as he ran up and down the left sideline.

    It was a good first impression for Lund, who has earned himself another chance to show what he's made of against tougher competition.

  2. LOSER: Leeds fans

    LOSER: Leeds fans

    If anyone in Leeds happened to be watching these games, not that they really had any reason to, they'd likely be thinking one thing: where the hell was that when they were on our team?

    Both Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson showed who they really are in this camp, with both standing out in a big way over the two games.

    We'll start with Aaronson, who picked up a goal and an assist off the bench. The assist was lovely, as he found Ricardo Pepi for a late goal against Uzbekistan. The goal? A bit fortunate, as his free-kick slipped through the wall and into the back of the net. For a player who struggled to contribute to goals last season, it was nice to see him get two to lift spirits as he prepares for the Champions League with Union Berlin.

    As for McKennie, there were no goals, but he was about as influential as can be. Particularly against Oman, he ran the show, demonstrating incredible passing range and ridiculous effort and overall domination. It was a good statement to Juventus, proving exactly what he can do when played as a midfielder and not a wingback.

    Overall, it was an important window for McKennie and Aaronson, both of whom look fully prepared to shake off a disastrous club season and start anew as this new campaign begins.

  3. WINNER: Ricardo Pepi
    Getty Images

    WINNER: Ricardo Pepi

    When Folarin Balogun arrived, the USMNT coaching staff made it clear that no one is just handed a job in this group. Things have to be earned, especially at the striker position where a player's worth is so easily measured by one statistic: goals.

    Well, if we're going off that metric, then you have to admit that Pepi is very much in the mix. Balogun may be the guy of the present and future, but don't overlook Pepi just yet.

    With his two goals off the bench in these two games, Pepi now has six in as many games for the USMNT. That's a massive haul for a player who struggled to score for the better part of a year leading up to the World Cup, costing him his dream trip to Qatar.

    It seems, though, that Pepi's World Cup dreams were just delayed, not destroyed. It's hard to fathom this group without him now, as he's very much closer to pushing Balogun than he is to falling back into the rest of the pack.

    After years of having zero goalscoring strikers, the U.S. suddenly has two, and it'll be fun to watch those young stars duel over the next year leading up to the Copa America.

  4. LOSER: The familiar midfield ideas

    LOSER: The familiar midfield ideas

    For nearly all of the 2022 World Cup cycle, the U.S. set up in a 4-3-3 with McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams. However, this week proved that this cycle will require, at the very least, a little bit of flexibility if the U.S. are to get their best-performing group onto the field together.

    With Adams out, the U.S. stuck with the 4-3-3 against Uzbekistan, putting in Luca de la Torre, and then Tanner Tessman once the Celta Vigo man got injured, into the No.6 role. The U.S., by and large, was ineffective, struggling to break down the defense as Balogun dropped deeper and deeper to receive the ball.

    Against Oman, the U.S. had no such issues. Malik Tillman was brought in as a more attacking midfielder with Yunus Musah dropped deeper. You can call it a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, whichever your heart desires, but the fact is that the U.S. had a more attack-minded midfield in that second game with all three midfielders given more license to get forward. McKennie roamed, as he usually does, Musah took off on some good runs even as the No.6, and Tillman also got into the mix, allowing the U.S. attack to dominate.

    It's a small sample size, sure, but there's also data from the Nations League to look at, and those Nations League examples combined with the Oman win lead to one question: how much better can this team look when it gets Gio Reyna back in as a No.10?

    Back to Adams' absence, it seems that, after years of looking for an Adams replacement, the answer when he's out may be to just flip the midfield. Adams has carved out his own role but, when he isn't available, the U.S. is much, much better when they drop Musah and put a more attacking midfielder into the mix.

    The MMA midfielder of Musah, McKennie and Adams got the U.S. through 2022, but, on the road to 2026, that formula isn't locked in, at least against the lesser teams on the U.S. schedule.

  5. WINNER: Chris Richards

    WINNER: Chris Richards

    Crystal Palace, are you watching?

    The young central defender continues to stand out for the USMNT, despite a lack of opportunities on the club level. Once again, the quality of opponent must be taken into consideration, but there's no doubt that Richards looked good over these two games.

    Berhalter was quick to praise the defender after the Oman win, saying that Richards and Miles Robinson were given match balls for their efforts in silencing any hope Oman had of counterattacking.

    All of this, though, comes amid a total lack of club minutes. Now in his second season at Crystal Palace, Richards has made just 11 total appearances for the club, which is partly why he was unable to make it into the 2022 World Cup squad.

    "I think confidence," Berhalter said. "We believe in him, his teammates believe in him, here and that goes a long way. Maybe he can bring that confidence back to London. He's got to prove himself there, and that's part of it. It's a tough business when you're in the Premier League, the best league in the world and, when you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. That's how it goes.

    "He's a guy that we're really high on and we hope he takes this back with him and really pushes to be a starter or, when he gets his opportunity, to have his fitness and confidence to be able to take advantage of it."

  6. WINNER: Gregg Berhalter

    WINNER: Gregg Berhalter

    A quick glimpse at social media will tell you that the USMNT fanbase is still very much, at the very lest, split on Berhalter, and that won't change due to two wins over these two opponents. It may not change at all, really, no matter what the results are barring a run all the way to the 2026 World Cup trophy.

    However, you have to give Berhalter credit for how these two games went.

    The Uzbekistan game, in hindsight, looks much better than how it looked in the moment. That's due to Mexico's draw to a rotated Uzbekistan team on Tuesday night, showing just how well the U.S. did to keep them from scoring in St. Louis.

    The Oman game, though, was a perfect reaction. Everything that went wrong in the attacking end in the first game went right in the second, with the offensive patterns of play looking much, much better in that 4-0 win.

    Two games, seven goals, zero can't do much better than that. Bigger tests await, of course, and Berhalter will be judged much more on how his team fares against Germany and Ghana than how his team fared against Uzbekistan and Oman.

    After this camp, though, Berhalter can look at these games as a job well done, with his players responding to his adjustments and getting better from one game to the next.