What If The USMNT Was In The Premier League? The Simulation Nobody Asked For
Following the end of the 2018-19 Chelsea Football Club season, the Blues decided to sack Italian manager Maurizio Sarri and installed club legend Frank Lampard as boss, ... but what if they hadn’t? What if — buoyed by the arrival of Christian Pulisic — owner Roman Abramovich had turned to Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT instead?
Winning the World Cup with Chelsea (Part I)
LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) — It’s a balmy summer afternoon southwest of London and shit’s already hitting the fan at Cobham Training Centre. Mere hours after Chelsea’s decision to sack Europa League-winning manager Maurizio Sarri and replace him with Gregg Berhalter, reports of a fire sale of up to 35 players have got everyone on edge.
Berhalter — only seven months into the USMNT job before answering the irresistible call of Roman Abramovich — has been given the backing of chairman Bruce Buck, who heralded the appointment as “the best fit for our club, our players and the fans,” but the American’s hiring is being denounced in other sectors as “a huge risk” when he’s a coach “with no proven track record.”
But the New Jerseyite has immediately gone about putting his stamp on the team, recalling central defender Matt Miazga from his loan at Reading, releasing a couple promising youth players and sending the entire scouting network of Chelsea to the United States in search of technically gifted midfielders.
LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) — Gregg Berhalter’s Chelsea is beginning to take shape, and there’s a certain pattern developing here that's left pundits, experts and rival clubs scrambling to find a rhyme or reason to it all.
Early this morning, both Kurt Zouma and Mason Mount had already cleared out to Roma and Napoli, respectively.
But the mass exodus has been counteracted by a raft of new signings: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders) have all been unveiled simultaneously while holding aloft the Chelsea blue beside a beaming Berhalter.
“I think the first thing is you’re assuming that we’re doing it exactly the way we did with the Columbus Crew and I think that starting point is incorrect,” Berhalter said to a perplexed gathering of reporters. “We have changed a little bit of what we’ve been doing. The second thing is, whatever type of challenge it is, we’re willing to take that on.”
Sources say that despite the heavy recruitment, approaches for integral pieces of the puzzle — including Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna, Sergiño Dest, Chase Gasper, Antonee Robinson, Timothy Weah and Indiana Vassilev — have all been rebuffed with the consistent message of “the club recently acquired the player so they aren’t looking to negotiate his leave.”
Sources also say that since Inter Miami doesn't yet exist in the world, Wil Trapp also doesn't exist and cannot be located by Chelsea’s vast scouting network.
But this damning occlusion has been most heavily felt at the goalkeeper position with Zack Steffen unapproachable while on loan, Brad Guzan the same because he's retiring and Bill Hamid a “recently acquired” D.C. United player. This reportedly led to the scramble to sign Sean Johnson from NYCFC with the goalkeeper demanding a “sporadic” role at the club. Berhalter then told reporters that Johnson would likely be the undisputed No. 1 all season.
There’s also the strange saga of Weston McKennie, who sat down to agree to personal terms with the manager before storming out of the high-end restaurant after accidentally being low-balled. Sources say discussions with him can’t continue until next week.
Suffice to say the repercussions at Cobham have been immense. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Marcos Alonso and Willian all reportedly went to speak privately with the boss in his office but were all unceremoniously told to get the fuck out.
Michael Bradley, however, was warmly welcomed.
As for the manager’s early training sessions, Berhalter revealed that he’s privately spent them all with Sargent and Aaronson.
“It’s all about seeing how Brenden takes info in and that opportunity to work with these players so down the road he will be familiar with them going forward," Berhalter said. "He’s an extremely young, but talented player and I think he deserves this opportunity after playing well with Philadelphia."
The squad will be given an early test tomorrow at the Las Americas Invitational in Colombia, where a meeting with the Portland Timbers should allow Berhalter to demonstrate the genius of this new Chelsea squad. We can reveal the starting 11 for tomorrow’s match, one which the American manager has dubbed “N’Golo + 10”.
MEDELLÍN, July 3 (Reuters) — Disappointment. Disarray. Disaster. Chelsea’s opening match at the Las Americas Invitational in Colombia ended in misery as the Portland Timbers shocked the Blues 2-1.
More worrying for the Premier League side was N'Golo Kanté storming off the pitch from his “N’Golo + 10” role and forcing an early change from Gregg Berhalter.
The only good news for Chelsea is that Josh Sargent looks the business at the No. 9, scoring the game’s opening goal before Felipe Mora and Diego Valeri won it for the Timbers.
“I see where the narrative is going now, it’s ‘Why are we playing the way we’re playing?’” Berhalter lamented. “The second is, ‘We don’t have the players to do it.’ That’s what all of you guys are thinking. And to me, it’s about developing players. We’re making progress. That’s not going to be your narrative right now, and I understand that. But internally, we believe we’re making progress.”
With Atalanta coming up next in four days time, the American manager has promised changes to the side: It’s rumored that Alfredo Morales is on his way from Fortuna Düsseldorf while Kanté is being ostracized to Piemonte Calcio.
MEDELLÍN, July 7 (Reuters) — Oh god. Playing with the first-ever all-American starting 11 in Chelsea history, the Blues suffered a humbling defeat to Atalanta in Colombia. The Italian side hit “the House that Berhalter built” for four while Christian Pulisic mustered Chelsea’s lone response.
It was a trial by fire for new boy Alfredo Morales, who was dragged by the media after failing to put out the fires behind Michael Bradley and Brenden Aaronson.
The friendly competition continues in three days time with the final opponent of the group stage, RB Leipzig.
MEDELLÍN, July 10 (Reuters) — Another friendly and another defeat for Gregg Berhalter’s Chelsea, but there’s clearly something brewing here. Aided by the arrivals of DeAndre Yedlin and Weston McKennie, Chelsea took an early lead through Christian Pulisic before Leipzig stormed back through Timo Werner and Ibrahima Konaté.
It’s a group-stage elimination at the friendly invitational with three defeats from three matches and a total of three goals scored and eight surrendered, but there are signs this squad is coming together under the "run fast and try hard" ethos.
Pulisic has scored in two straight, McKennie isn't rated in the 60s and Berhalter now has 32 days to iron out his tactics and preferred starting 11 before the Premier League opener against Manchester United on Aug. 11.
There are also whispers of further reinforcements in the transfer window after all the dead weight was finally shifted...
Stay tuned for Part II: Berhalter’s tactical evolution, Premier League opener and the UEFA Super Cup from hell.