U.S. Soccer announced the 24-man squad called up for friendlies against Ecuador and Chile later this month, and for the first time under Gregg Berhalter's stewardship of the national team, overseas-based players have been called in. D.C. United winger Paul Arriola notes that one factor at play in MLS-based players outnumbering their foreign-based counterparts 15 to nine: squad cohesion.
"With people constantly coming in and out of the national team, I think it's very important to create a core group of players who have the understanding of what [Berhalter is] asking players to do in specific roles," Arriola told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview.
"There's still a good mix of players between domestic and foreign players who have been called in. So I think it won't be as hard to implement the system into the newer players because [the squad] is not overloaded with foreign players."
Arriola was a part of an all-MLS January camp that saw the U.S. earn friendly wins against Panama and Costa Rica, the first matches of Berhalter's time in charge of the national team. More important than the results, though, was Berhalter instilling his ideas in his team's collective consciousness.
The former Club Tijuana standout sees this month's friendlies against South American opposition as opportunities to continue to absorb Berhalter's concepts.
"Collectively, I think it's about: Can we continue to learn how to play together and play in his system?" he said. "Because if we can, we will be successful as a national team."
The international break begins on Monday, and it marks the final time Berhalter will be able to assess his squad all together before the U.S. begins the defense of its Gold Cup title on June 15. And Arriola sees Ecuador and Chile as an ideal opportunity for players to get prepared for the Americans' first competitive match since their heartbreaking World Cup qualifying defeat in Trinidad and Tobago in October of 2017.
"I think this is a perfect test," Arriola said. "We play two tough South American teams in the coming weeks, and it's a great preparation for the Gold Cup."