The above tweet from longtime soccer broadcaster, Phil Schoen, is a very legitimate question. On the surface, Gregg Berhlater isn’t a slam dunk, runaway candidate to be named the new coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team. However, with a brief dive into Coach Berhalter’s philosophy and understanding what U.S. Soccer is looking for, Berhalter is the logical choice. His hire is not a sexy selection, but it is pragmatic and logical.
The USMNT is Under Heavy Construction
The USMNT needs to rebuild its foundation. Under Klinsmann, the team was the proverbial house of cards. The morale and culture need to be mended, not only in the intermediate time period, but more so for the long-haul. U.S. Soccer general manager, Earnie Stewart was adamant that the next USMNT coach fit a certain profile. Stating “We’re a country that [is] aggressive in the right sense of the word. We’re a little bit in your face. There’s a way that that could be implemented in a system, in a formation, by a coach.” Stewart also made it clear that while familiarity with Major League Soccer, the U.S. player pool, and the CONCACAF region are ideal, they are not steadfast requirements. He did insist that the new coach live in Chicago and work out of the U.S. Soccer headquarters and be fluent in English. Berhalter check marks all of those boxes.
Who is Gregg Berhalter
Let’s back track for those who may not be overly familiar with Gregg Berhalter’s soccer career. His playing days were distinguished, though not spectacular. He made 44 appearances for the USMNT between 1994-2006, which included playing in both the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup tournaments. His club career spanned the globe, having competed in Holland, England, Germany, before concluding in Major League Soccer. His final year as a player included a player-coach role on the L.A. Galaxy MLS Cup champion team in 2011.
After his retirement, Gregg immediately transitioned to the sidelines, as he took over the head coaching reins at Swedish club Hammarby IF in 2012. He became the first American club manager within a top-ranked European federation. Berhalter posted a modest, but not eye-popping record of 18-11-16 during his 18 months at the helm. He was dismissed during the second season, due to his club’s lack of attacking prowess. Hammarby chairman, Kent Hertzell stated, "Gregg has brought order to our defensive game and has good discipline in the squad, but unfortunately we have not seen good enough dividends in the offense. Therefore, we chose to terminate cooperation with Gregg. We believe that we need to get a new force and new voice on the team."
Berhalter wouldn’t have to wait long for his next gig. He found himself back in Major League Soccer, being named head coach of Columbus Crew in 2013. Since taking over, he has tallied a respectable record of 74-69-50, including an MLS Cup final appearance in 2015. The Crew have made the playoffs in all but one season during his tenure. His bare trophy case is cause for alarm by many U.S. Soccer pundits and fans. What has he accomplished on the sidelines that has garnered selection for the top job in all of U.S. Soccer, you ask? For me, it is less about what he has done, and more about what he will do.
First and foremost, he will bring an identity back to this rudderless squad. Throughout most of Jurgen Klinsmann time as manager the team looked discombobulated and confused. Arena and Sarachan did a fine job to try and right the ship but given their circumstances that was an impossible task.
Secondly, Berhalter will implement an actual system, one that the USMNT pool will buy into. He is notorious for his tactical approach to the game. He emphasizes building from the back and pressuring the opponent into troublesome situations while in possession. Under Klinsmann the USMNT changed formations and schemes on a day to day basis. It was well publicized that the players often had little to no idea who would start from game to game or what positions they would be playing. The dysfunction was rampant. To the contrary, during both stints as head coach, Berhalter has proven that his style of play and messaging are well received by players. He is a coach who can precisely communicate what he wants, which is ideal for this crop of young U.S. players.
Gregg is held under high regard within U.S Soccer coaching circles. He is bright, astute, and a true student of the game. His aptitude for the game is uncanny. The plausibility of his system and structure transitioning from the club side of things to the international side is the real question mark. With a national team, you are only afforded a finite amount of time with your players, as opposed to club where training time is fruitful. Can he ramp up the learning curve? Only time will tell. While this hire may lack creativity and allure, it is sensible and rational. After 14 months of much debate, wonder and rumors, we have our coach. Moving forward, let’s proudly and emphatically support him and our boys representing the stars and stripes. Good luck, Gregg!