For the United States Men’s National Team, the return to another World Cup meant everything to the second youngest squad in Qatar. But after the 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the Round of 16, lots of questions have risen surrounding US head coach Gregg Berhalter and the US Soccer Federation. Namely, whether USSF’s Gregg Berhalter contract should be renewed or not.

Reports indicate that Berhalter’s contract renewal is almost a certainty. However, after plenty of deserved criticism from US Soccer fans, a statement was issued by USSF Sporting Director Earnie Stewart this week that refuted that:

“As we always do after a major tournament, we are taking time to reflect. We will conduct a full review with everyone involved as we determine our next steps”

Reading between the lines, it sounds like US Soccer is trying to buy time before announcing the Gregg Berhalter contract renewal. Don’t be surprised if the announcement is made after the World Cup ends. USSF may be hoping that US Soccer fans will have calmed down by then.

To be fair, let’s give Berhalter some credit. With a 65% winning record (35 wins, 11 losses and 9 ties), he led the USA team to 2020 CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup trophies. With quality dropping in Mexico and in Central America, there certainly was less pressure than usual in achieving those trophies. 

The players that developed after 2017’s failed qualification to the 2018 World Cup made it easier for the former Columbus Crew coach. Berhalter simply had to put the best squad at his disposal and that squad had talent flowing in left and right from many of the top teams in Europe. 

Gregg Berhalter contract is up as US head coach

The US coach often cited hypocritical reasons not to call up certain players, starting with John Brooks and later on with Jordan Pefok. And let’s not forget Ricardo Pepi who has been scoring goals for fun in the Netherlands. Instead, Berhalter chose MLS players that US soccer supporters had already seen (Jesus Ferreira and Jordan Morris, among others) and felt they didn’t offer much anymore.

He led the USMNT to a third place finish (below Canada and Mexico) in the World Cup qualifying stages, barely booking their ticket to Qatar through goal difference. Gregg was unable to push the inexperienced USMNT talent to win more games away from Ohio. 

Unable to create a plan B, C or D, Berhalter’s “system” was exploited several times before heading into the World Cup and especially during their match against the Netherlands. 

Let’s not forget the players he brought to Qatar that shouldn’t have ever touched the field. And the players he didn’t use (Gio Reyna) as much should have started games.

How Gregg Berhalter’s brother helped him get the job

While it’s easy to blame Gregg Berhalter for the USMNT’s elimination, let’s not stop there.

The whole shabang about Berhalter’s mission to change the way the world views American soccer was a complete bust, starting with the selection of Berhalter as the head coach. 

You can blame his brother Jay Berhalter and how the US Soccer Federation was handled during his time as the COO (second in command to former U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati). 

Jay Berhalter took over Gulati’s responsibilities in 2018. His sole responsibility before this was picking the new sporting director, who would be in charge of picking the new U.S. head coach.

The COO opted to hire Earnie Stewart as the new sporting director. As reported in 2018, Stewart’s newly created position would lead the search for the next U.S. coach and “spearhead a committee that will evaluate candidates before hiring a new coach after the World Cup.”

Stewart’s so-called “committee” held no talks with suitors available at the time such as Julen Lopetegui, Peter Vermes, Jesse Marsch, Tab Ramos, and Tata Martino. Stewart ended up hiring his old USA teammate Berhalter. At that time, Berhalter had no national team coaching experience, and had a combined winning percentage rate of 38.7% at Swedish club Hammarby IF and Columbus Crew. 

USSF hit back at the criticism of their hiring process by saying they had interviewed Oscar Pareja, but Pareja would go on to deny such an interview ever happened

“No conflict of interest”

Then, in 2019, when US Soccer officials were questioned further about Jay Berhalter’s role in indirectly hiring Gregg, a US Soccer public relations official said that “there were no conflicts of interest in having brothers serving in two of the federation’s highest-ranking positions because Jay Berhalter has nothing to do with the technical department.”

This was completely opposite to what former US U-20 Head Coach Tab Ramos said, “For anyone who’s worked at U.S. Soccer the last four or five years, it was clear that the technical message was coming from Jay Berhalter.”

When Berhalter was unveiled as head coach, then USSF President Carlos Cordeiro was enthusiastic about the hiring decision:

“He will push our men’s team forward and with an identity and approach that will be uniquely and fiercely American.”

Berhalter has achieved exactly what USSF desired

It’s clear the hiring process was inadequate, rife with nepotism along with Gregg Berhalter’s laughable PowerPoint slide of “Change the way the world views American soccer.” The USSF knew what they were getting with Berhalter – a yes man who would play MLS players in the national team, despite the players not being good enough at the international level. 

In turn, there’d be an increase towards the profile and value of MLS for the owners who also run the Soccer United Marketing (SUM). A win-win for both parties involved. 

SUM, created in 2002 by MLS founders Don Garber and Gulati, linked various advertising and marketing deals for MLS with the USSF.  The organization created a monetary incentive for the US Soccer Federation and the national team to push the international profile of MLS.

This created pressure by MLS owners for their players to regularly feature at the national team level. Thus, the USSF’s financial incentive in finding a head coach who would make this happen was now an easy pick for both Jay Berhalter and Stewart. 

Many U.S. soccer supporters point towards the conflict of interest this has created, enabling the phrase “MLS quota.” The supposed quota was pointed out by legend of the game, Johan Cruyff in his autobiography “My Turn.” 

“Jürgen Klinsmann often couldn’t select the best possible team because he was obliged to include someone from each franchise… Because every franchise contributes to the national budget,” Cruyff said. “I don’t know whether that’s still the case, but I do know it’s very restrictive as a coach… that would delay the national team’s development by years if it were to continue.” 

SUM and USSF have since cut ties with each other. Jay Berhalter has stepped down from USSF, and not coincidentally has joined MLS as their new executive vice president. 

US Soccer doesn’t want to rock the boat

Out of the 32 teams competing at the 2022 World Cup, the United States has the biggest population and is the richest country in the world. We have a wealth of riches based on the standard of facilities nationwide to grow the next generation of world stars.

However, we continue to fail because we have a lack of leadership from US Soccer Federation who seem to be more focused on profits than meaningful results.

Consider how well Japan did at World Cup 2022. They defeated Germany and Spain, and finished in first place in a much tougher group. And then they were knocked out in the Round of 16 on penalties by Croatia.

Contrast that with the United States, who have a quality team of young stars. However, the best that Gregg Berhalter could do was to get one win out of four games at the World Cup. And the win was against Iran.

USA’s defeat against Netherlands displayed three critical coaching mistakes. First, he started the wrong lineup. Second, he didn’t make substitutions early enough in the game when the team was crying out for Gio Reyna. Third, Antonee Robinson was getting burned down the wing (ultimately, his mistakes led to conceding all three goals). And fourth, Berhalter was out-coached by Louis van Gaal.

On the world’s biggest stage in a game that the US should have won, Berhalter’s side got outplayed by a Netherlands team that were beatable.

Expect Gregg Berhalter contract renewal to be announced soon

Despite these mistakes, it’s very probable that Berhalter will see his contract renewed. What we US Soccer fans need though is a world-class coach to turn these rough diamonds into gems. Berhalter has proven that he doesn’t have the experience necessary. And with the United States co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, now is the time for the USSF to hire a top coach to spend the next few years in making this a team that we can be more proud of.

Photo credit: IMAGO / Sportimage

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final