Gregg Berhalter is back at the helm of US Soccer with the Men’s National Team. After a six-month hiatus, the head coach of the 2022 World Cup side returns. He will be there for the 2026 World Cup, too, which is on home soil. However, he will only take over after the 2023 Gold Cup. Until then, BJ Callaghan holds the reins.
It is both a surprising and dull hire. On one hand, US Soccer resorted to its comfortable spot by going with Berhalter. American soccer fans know what they are getting with the 49-year-old coach. He provides the best winning percentage in the history of the USMNT. Two summers ago, he helped the United States to victories in both the Nations League and the Gold Cup. This past winter, Berhalter was the man that helped the side to a round of 16 finish at the 2022 World Cup.
That said, that game against the Netherlands that spelled doom for the Stars and Stripes was not an overly exciting performance. Louis van Gaal outcoached Berhalter on several fronts. To be fair, though, that is a Champions-League-winning manager who also helped the Netherlands to a third-place finish in 2014.
The thing about Berhalter is that he does not have that resume. The highlight of the American’s resume is likely that World Cup finish. He is not flashy, and his pragmatic nature can be a dreary watch at times. But, hey, results are results.
“The organization was ambitious… and I wanted to bring the best candidates to the table.” US Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker said that while reintroducing Gregg Berhalter as the head coach of the USMNT.
Regardless, Berhalter was not the right choice by the USMNT, and US Soccer should have been more ambitious in its efforts to land a top name.
The Nations League and Gold Cup are both international trophies. On both occasions in the summer of 2021, the USMNT deservedly won those competitions. However, should Berhalter be as proud of his record given the quality of the opponents? The United States won seven games in that competition. In each instance but one, the USMNT won 1-0. Again, not flashy, but effective. Of course, Berhalter’s wins included 1-0 results against Qatar, Haiti and Jamaica, which are not powerhouse nations.
Berhalter’s record also comes under increased scrutiny when considering his results outside the United States and against non-CONCACAF teams. Berhalter managed 17 games against teams hailing from outside North America and the Caribbean. Of those, Berhalter produced six wins, seven draws and four losses. If your first reaction is ‘that’s not bad,’ the teams were not too tough for many of these.
The standout result of the above list is likely defeating Morocco, 3-0. The African side went on to the semifinals of the World Cup. Still, that was an overachievement on their part. His non-CONCACAF wins are Morocco, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Qatar, Northern Ireland and Ecuador. That is not an overtly powerful lineup. Some of that does fall on US Soccer and its inability to schedule stronger opposition. However, upcoming friendlies against Germany and Ghana are at least a step in the right direction.
If Gregg Berhalter can prove himself in those friendlies and the upcoming Copa America against South American opposition, he can help take the USMNT a step further.
Seeking out the comfortable
For now, Berhalter is a comfortable choice. That is fine for the crowd that says the USMNT must know its place in the soccer world. That assigned role is casual. Do well in CONCACAF, maybe get out of the group in the World Cup. Berhalter fits that billing. He excelled against the lower opposition that he should have beaten, and he struggled against the stronger sides.
US Soccer should aim higher than just its region. With a talented squad that consists of mostly players based in Europe, the USMNT can compete with top teams. The recent thumping of Mexico in the Nations League semifinal demonstrated the USMNT at its best. Even though red cards and the news of Berhalter took away from that performance. Granted, Mexico looked dismal in the game. But, the play of Christian Pulisic, Sergiño Dest, Tim Weah and others was beyond promising.
Those players, for the most part, supported bringing Berhalter back to manage the side. There is a case that those players wanted Berhalter back because they were always high on the team sheet. If Pulisic is more comfortable with Berhalter around, then more power to him. He played free against Mexico, and his brace was one of his best performances.
Berhalter must answer his struggles with substitutions. It is one thing to let Pulisic or Weah play free and get out there. Still, Berhalter must use his substitutions and changes both in-game and between games to maximize the entire potential of this squad. That includes repairing the relationship with Gio Reyna, which started the whole debacle following Berhalter’s contract expiration.
The other options
Gregg Berhalter is not the exciting pick, and he does not bring that aura of change that US Soccer could undertake under Matt Crocker. Crocker discussed the ‘extensive’ process it took to hire Berhalter. However, how extensive of a process was it to land on the same coach from six months prior? US Soccer said it does not feel like it lost half a year of preparation ahead of the 2026 World Cup, the biggest tournament in the Federation’s history.
Crocker interviewed potential coaches regardless of their contract status or how much they would cost. If that was truly the case, then US Soccer should have set its sights higher. There are a number of coaches that carry the experience and potential that can lead a squad as talented as the current USMNT bunch.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Colorsport
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