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Gregg Berhalter

Gregg Berhalter is in over his head after Gold Cup loss

Photo credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday was going to be a full day of celebration for soccer fans in the US. The USWNT was playing in the Women’s World Cup Final against the Netherlands and was expected to defend their title. Once the evening rolled around, the USMNT would play Mexico in an attempt to defend their Gold Cup crown. The day got off to a perfect start with the USWNT defeating the Dutch 2-0 to win their fourth Women’s World Cup title. But after that it was all downhill as the US fell to Mexico 1-0 in the Gold Cup Final. The loss to their arch-rival, the way it played out, and most of the tournament leading up to it, prove that US Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is in way over his head.

On the surface that may seem like an outrageous claim. After all, his record is 8-3-1 for a win percentage of 70%. But only paying attention to the surface is how you repeat what happened in 2017 to the US over and over and over again (the US was unbeaten in 14 straight and won the Gold Cup before going winless in three of their last four and failing to qualify for Russia 2018). The simple fact is that Gregg Berhalter did not call his best players up for this camp. Josh Sargent being sent home after one friendly (and therefore being unable to go to the U-20 World Cup in Poland) was utter stupidity and was especially galling when Berhalter came out and called him the striker of the future. Tyler Adams was sent home prior to the Gold Cup and replaced with an MLS afterthought. And of course he brought his boy Gyasi Zardes who might be able to score with his face but can’t hit the back of the net from inside the six yard box if his life depended on it.

Poor player selection is one thing. Every manager has made mistakes before. But then the results started to get ugly. First it was a 1-0 home loss to Jamaica. The US had one good chance the whole game and looked totally hapless against a Jamaica team comprised of mostly USL players (which is even more amusing given that Berhalter’s apologists rushed to his defense after the loss saying that the US rolled out a mostly MLS side). But what was more shocking was in his post game press conference when Berhalter came out and said that losing to Jamaica was fine and not a big deal. He then took it more than a step further and guaranteed more losses and poor performances. He followed through on that promise immediately as the US was demolished in their next game at home by Venezuela to the tune of 3-0. That’s right, US Soccer’s grandmaster visionary had his team so prepared and dialed in that they got waxed 3-0 at home by a country who has never been to a World Cup, and a country where law and order are on the verge of total collapse. But not to worry, Berhalter again assured fans that losing was perfectly acceptable and that all was not lost.

The Gold Cup began and the US initially struggled against a Guyana side ranked 177th in the world but wound up winning 4-0 thanks to two goals from Tyler Boyd (who US Soccer wasn’t even aware existed until they stumbled across him on YouTube and who now has a deal to play with Turkish giants Galatasaray). Up next was a game against the team that kept them out of Russia 2018: Trinidad & Tobago. Again, the US struggled early on but the floodgates finally opened and the US ran out 6-0 winners. The third and final group game was against Panama, and in typical Gold Cup USA/Panama fashion, it was an ugly rock fight and the US was able to grind out a 1-0 victory (thanks to Jozy Altidore finally scoring a goal that mattered). But the quarterfinal game against Curacao was a shocker. Not only did the US only win 1-0, but they got out-possessed, out-shot, out-hustled, out-worked, and out-fought by a country the size of DeSoto County, Mississippi who was making their second ever Gold Cup appearance. After the game, the media finally decided to ask Berhalter a tough question or two and he immediately became prickly and defensive saying that it was not right to expect the US to win handily because it was going to be a tough game. Seriously, he said that the five time Gold Cup champions were in for a tough game against a country with a population of 161,014. He then added a “gem,” saying that despite the media and fans not being satisfied with a 1-0 win over a Dutch protectorate, he and the team were very pleased. That’s how you get stuck on the treadmill of low-end mediocrity for a generation.

However, the tough questions and fan displeasure seemed to have sparked something because for the game against Jamaica in the semi-final the US came out with their collective hair on fire and were up 1-0 inside of 10 minutes and had several other excellent chances before Mother Nature intervened. A nearly two hour weather delay sapped the verve right out of the US attack and after the restart it was a much more even game that the US was able to see out 3-1, thanks to a pair of goals from Christian Pulisic. It set up a dream final against arch-rival Mexico and with it an opportunity to show the US fans that they could get behind this team and be excited again. It was not to be.

The US came out in the first half and was the much better side, though the finishing was shockingly wasteful (and that was with Gyasi Zardes on the bench). Paul Arriola missed two or three solid chances and Jozy Altidore missed the best of the bunch after he’d gotten into the area and past the defenders. He didn’t even force Ochoa in the Mexico goal to make a save; instead it went out for a goal kick. After halftime Mexico was a completely different team. While Tata Martino (who you’ll remember US Soccer passed on because he speaks Spanish, despite managing in the last three Copa America Finals, managing at Barcelona, and winning an MLS Cup) made a few tweaks that allowed Mexico to completely and totally dominate the US in the second half Berhalter sat there and tugged at his sweater. Mexico’s pressure finally paid off and they won their seventh Gold Cup by a score of 1-0. (And by the way, Tata Martino now has 5 wins, 0 losses, and 1 draw against Gregg Berhalter and has outscored him by a combined 11-2)

If there was any doubt prior to the final against Mexico that Berhalter is in way over his head, then that game surely removed all of it. Here’s a dirty little secret about Gregg Berhalter: he cannot or will not alter his game plan during a game. That is managerial suicide. Mexico made tweaks and completely overran the US, yet Berhalter did nothing. The substitutions he made were quite baffling. Cristian Roldan for Jordan Morris? Whatever, Morris was poor on the night anyway. Gyasi Zardes for Jozy Altidore? Altidore was gassed sure, but why in the world is Gyasi Zardes coming into the game? He’s proven time and time and time again that he’s not good enough for the international level. But then, he is one of Berhatler’s former Columbus players isn’t he? Asked and answered. But the most shocking, appalling, and confounding substitution came with less than 10 minutes to play and the US down 1-0. Tim Ream came off and most sane people expected an attacking player to come on and were surely hoping for Tyler Boyd. Instead they got Daniel Lovitz. That’s right folks. Down a goal with almost no time left in the game, US Soccer’s greatest visionary brought on another defender. That is coaching malpractice of the highest order. It was a fitting crystallization that Berhalter has no clue what he is doing.

None of this should be a surprise to anybody however. Prior to taking the US job, Berhalter had proven himself a loser at two different clubs. In the Swedish second division with Hammarby, he posted a record of 18-11-17 (W-L-D) for a 57% win percentage and won zero trophies. Once he came to MLS, it got worse. In five seasons with the Columbus Crew his record was 75-71-47 for a win percentage of just 51%. As was the case in Sweden, he won zero trophies in Columbus. And now with the national team, he whiffed badly on his first chance at winning a trophy. For a guy being held up as a savior and a genius and a man with a plan, he sure doesn’t seem to have accomplished much of anything that would suggest he’s capable of coaching a high school team to a state championship, let alone winning at a high level internationally.

But of course, he can lose many more games while he’s in charge of the US. He needs to be fired but he won’t be. The job is basically his until after the 2026 World Cup. He’s already said that losing is fine and he’s guaranteed more of it. With his brother Jay about to become the new CEO of US Soccer, he has more job security and a longer leash than maybe any manger in history. So the fans better enjoy being mired on the treadmill of low-end mediocrity. It’s going to stay that way for a very long time.

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  1. Ran

    July 30, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    they will play in Copa America they were supposed to this year but there was a scheduling mistake

  2. Abe

    July 10, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    This article is correct. Berhalter has no business being the USMNT coach.

  3. Azer

    July 8, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    Just a correction in the middle of the paragraph. I left out the word see. Who want’s to see…..

  4. Azer

    July 8, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    The issue I see is not so much the coach but the lack of competitive soccer for the USMNT in the CONCACAF region. Mexico is the only competitive side. If US Soccer hired Jurgen Klopp for example, what tournament/games would he prepare the USA for? Let’s be honest, the Gold Cup is a joke. Who wants to the USA play Curacao, Cuba, St Kitts or the others again, not me. Yes, the USA lost the Gold Cup Final but they lost to Mexico. Friendly games for the USMNT vs UEFA countries do not count much and the World Cup is every 4 years. When it comes to the USMNT what exactly is there to look forward to? I’d like to see the USA play in the 2020 Copa America. Where am I going wrong?

  5. Jude Z. Young

    July 8, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    Please stop crying. We lost 1-0 to a very talented team that we could easily have beaten by several goals, if we’d finished as we have in recent weeks. To call Mexico’s side a *B* team is absurd. O, and the fact that 50,000 of the 62,000 attendees wanted us to lose on our own soil was way more disturbing to me than some of the other issues mentioned above. We have some talent but, no, we’re not ready to beat Top 20 teams more than we lose to them–certainly not right now. It’s not Berhalter’s fault that we’re not stacked with experienced international stars like many of the teams we see in important competitions, correct? The next time we beat Italy or Germany or The Netherlands or whomever, you’ll all say it was a “fluke.” I’ve seen this childish, self-defeatism before. Hey, I have an idea: Calm down, enjoy what is–notwithstanding match-to-match results–primarily entertainment, and give this coach and these players a chance. Yes, I know, I know: it’s always the players who *weren’t* there who would’ve flipped the result; and it’s always the players who *were* there that cost us an “easy” win. O, OK. So, we lost a tough match that we could easily have won (not naming names). If we’d scored those three easy goals, many of you MMQs wouldn’t have a word to say. We’re all sad and frustrated. No, there will be no ticker-tape parade for the MNT any time soon and tears in print surely won’t make one happen. I say: give Berhalter a year before you pummel him. Is that too much to ask? If it is, then go watch the WNT. They beat teams 13-0, then run the table against a WC field that comprises 16 *Z* teams, plus some of the only eight women’s teams in the entire world that can even play the game. Lotsa wins and no second-guessing over there! Be well, all!

    • Kei

      July 10, 2019 at 8:08 pm

      If my grandma had wheels, she would’ve been a wagon.

      Seriously, I hope nobody in the US talent pool reads a single word of that whole spiel, because it’s so indicative of the mentality that could threaten to derail another World Cup cycle for the USMNT.

      Fans waited over a year for the disaster in Couva for any sort of movement to be made in regards to hiring a new manager. Their reward was seeing an okay manager from MLS get installed in that position, over any number of vastly superior candidates that could have been considered — ostensibly because those candidates didn’t “speak good English,” but really because none of them happened to be the brother of a high-ranking US Soccer executive.

      You spoke about being disturbed by the fact that Mexico fans vastly outnumbered the US fans at the final, as if that hasn’t always been the case at any match between those two nations. Even beyond that, what exactly have the USMNT done to get the fans back onside since October 2017? (And no, crawling their way back to the final despite being outplayed for large stretches by powerhouse teams like *checks notes* Curacao and Jamaica don’t count)

  6. John Gonole

    July 8, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    Berhalter should be given more time. Team played a heck of a lot better in this tournament than they did under the last two coaches. The first have they played well but the midfield was made to sprint up and down the field too much. We were passing the ball out of the back but we really weren’t possessing the ball. Not long enough anyways.

    Berhalter’s mistake was in not realizing midway through the 2nd half that he needed to sub on a halfback and probably an attacking full back to help in the build up and relieve the pressure on the back line. Instead he brings on to like for like forward replacements. He realizes his mistake but it was far too late and the midfield was shot by that point.

    Not to mention South American’s are awful squatters at the end of the game when they have a lead. Probably only three minutes of actual soccer was played the last 15 minutes of the game.

    • Kei

      July 10, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      Berhalter’s mistake was in not realizing that he should have a Plan B for when Plan A starts to go sideways. Martino made some tweaks at the break, at a time when they were already in ascendancy — Pizarro pretty much ran riot the entire second half because of it — while Berhalter seemed at a loss as to how to get his team back in the game, even when the score was still 0-0.

      The reason why USMNT didn’t possess the ball as much despite their attempts to play out of the back is because,well, this pool of player doesn’t actually have the ability to really build attacks from the back in the first place. See what I mean about Berhalter not having a Plan B?

      I’ll also say this: If the likes of Bradley, Altidore, Zardes, etc get even one more callup among them, then Berhalter should be fired on the spot.. but because this is the USMNT, they’ll get chance after chance after spurned chance, and in every instance, they’ll come out with some statement saying that they’re in the squad to “provide leadership.”

      PS: Only a neophyte could say that trying to protect a late lead is an awful move

  7. Kei

    July 8, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    A middling figure being appointed to one of the highest managerial positions in the land after an extremely protracted (and extremely shambolic) “search for a replacement,” and being appointed almost entirely through his blood connection to another high-ranking executive… this sounds like something that would happen in the cabinet of some tinpot dictatorial country, but because this is US Soccer, this is simply the mode of doing business.

    The US Soccer setup just screams conflict of interest at every imaginable level, and Berhalter’s appointment has to be the clearest, most blatant example of this. There’s no path for the national team — and American soccer in general — to be taken seriously in America, let alone overseas, because the people who govern the sport in this country have completely abandoned the task at hand.

    • Kei

      July 8, 2019 at 4:06 pm

      PS: They announced *during the final* that these same two teams would be playing each other AGAIN during the next international window. It’s so abundantly clear where their priorities lie that sometimes it seems like they’re goading people who genuinely care about the game into challenging their decisions.

  8. Larry Kern

    July 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Good article, don’t mean to be a Monday Morning Quarterback, but the moment I heard we were hiring Berhalter that we were in deep $hit. His coaching in the MLS, where American born player mediocrity lives, and his unwillingness to change tactics or decisions preordained he was going to be a failure. Running up an impressive record against extremely average teams does not make a good coaching hire.
    If the only ambition the USA team is going to have is dominance in CONCACAF (which currently seems to be the case) then hiring mediocre coaches like Bradley, Berhalter it’s going to take quite a while to even achieve this goal let alone show well in international tournaments outside CONCACAF.
    Lastly, I’m totally confused as to what Greg is doing waiting on bringing Josh Sargent into the team. Our current group can’t hit the side of a barn!! Altidore’s strength and ability to hold the ball do nothing if he also doesn’t consistently score. Berhalter has stated he doesn’t think Josh is ready!! Excuse me! Being a virtual starter in the Bundesliga is FAR more taxing than playing a CONCACAF match!! Earth to Greg!!

  9. Marco

    July 8, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Great stuff you wrote! I like it! Seems to me that hiring this current coach was a huge step backward .

    • John Gonole

      July 8, 2019 at 10:15 pm

      I wouldn’t say that. The last two coaches literally had no plans at all. Just sent the boys out to play some kickball. I like the Greg better than the last two.

      But I will say this. Passing over Tata Martino (one of the best coaches in the world) says a lot about the desire of the US to actually try to improve. Tata Martino has coached MESSI people. He has coached some of the best players in the world and he has won.

      And last night Tata beat the US with a far less physically athletic team than what the US fielded. But their players passed the ball better, were more strategic about how they moved the ball, where they took up their positions, how they ran, etc…. They simply wore the US down by taking their time with their possessions.

      It does very much bother me that they had an opportunity to sin Tata on as the US coach and didn’t make it happen.

  10. Hugh Rhodes

    July 8, 2019 at 10:33 am

    US soccer will continue to flounder as long as high school athletic associations and the NCAA continue to prevent any meaningful support to promising young players of limited means. Its the sport of upper middle class to wealthy parents who can afford the expensive training, clubs and travel. In Ohio, only 5 players from the same High School can play on the same club team. It is STUPID rules like this that hamstring our youth program. The NCAA holding scholarships over parents’ heads being the worst.

  11. Cassie

    July 8, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Perfect commentary and thank you for taking on the ridiculous good ole boys network that runs and ruins us soccer. These losses and his comments would not be tolerated in any other country. I’ll stop watching us soccer now. There’s
    No need. We really gonna be terrible
    For a very long time.

  12. JP

    July 8, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Wasn’t watching any of the Gold Cup until last night. Didn’t realize Mexico was largely using their B squad until the match started. No Vela, Lozano, Hernandez, and Herrera? Even with that a full US squad couldn’t get the result.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      July 8, 2019 at 10:12 am

      It’s almost like Tata Martino is a really good manager and Gregg Berhalter isn’t. Weird. Could have sworn US Soccer told all of us that the only way to win was to speak English.

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