Who will be USMNT captain vs. Ecuador? Bradley: “Let these guys play”

ORLANDO, Fla. — US men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter hasn’t decided who will be the permanent captain of his team moving forward. He says he hasn’t even decided who it will be on Thursday when the US take on Ecuador at Orlando City Stadium (8 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, UDN).

“We haven’t decided,” Berhalter said at Wednesday’s press conference. “For us it’s not something where you guys should read too much into it. We’re going to give somebody the armband for this game and that’s what it is. I don’t think it’s going to be something where we say, ‘Okay, this is the captain moving forward.’ It’s not that solid yet.”

That’s reflective of where the US national team is two months, two camps and two matches into Berhalter’s tenure. His tactics are in the beginning stages of implementation and much of the squad is new or relatively early in their careers.

In January, defender Aaron Long wore the armband for both January matches against Costa Rica and Panama. Midfielder Wil Trapp, Berhalter’s captain last year at Columbus Crew SC, wore the armband for much of 2018 for the US, and in November 20-year-old Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in USMNT history.

It’s all part of the continued youth movement that started following the Americans’ failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. And though Berhalter has been open about his long-term approach to 2022, there’s a lot left to figure out, and a lot of room for the youngsters to grow, before declaring anyone the full-time captain.

One former captain still involved in the program says there’s no need to rush to a decision.

“Let these guys play,” said midfielder Michael Bradley, who’s earned 143 senior caps. “Let these guys understand what it means to play game in and game out for the national team. Let them play. We’ll all give them the opportunity to show their personality, to show the qualities they have, to show everybody who are the ones who will be able to be counted on in the biggest moments. Let’s give them all time to see how it comes together.”

It should be encouraging for the US that so many young players — Pulisic, goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) and midfielders Tyler Adams (20) and Weston McKennie (20), among others — have entrenched themselves in the squad and shown maturity beyond their years.

That maturity will be put to the test when the US host Ecuador on Thursday and two-time South American champion Chile on Tuesday, and again at this summer’s Gold Cup.

“Everything needs time. Nothing’s happening tomorrow night,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot to be excited about. But again, nobody is going to snap their fingers and have this all come together overnight. It’s the process of building a team that can hold up in the toughest moments that takes time.”

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