Gregg Berhalter, a former World Cup defender who has guided the Columbus Crew to the MLS playoffs regularly under adverse circumstances, has been hired to coach the rebuilding U.S. men’s national soccer team.
The U.S. Soccer Federation announced the move Sunday and will formally introduce him Tuesday in New York.
The front-runner for months, Berhalter succeeds Dave Sarachan, who served on an interim basis for more than a year after Bruce Arena’s resignation in the wake of the U.S. team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
It’s unclear how many others were considered for the job. Earnie Stewart, Berhalter’s former U.S. teammate and the newly appointed general manager, said in September that he would speak to many potential candidates but interview only a few.
The USSF waited more than a year to make a decision because of two primary factors: The organization underwent a presidential transition last winter and did not hire Stewart until the summer. (He started Aug. 1.)
Additionally, without a World Cup appearance, the United States did not have any consequential matches this year, just a series of friendlies against high-end opponents. The next meaningful competition is next summer at the Concacaf Gold Cup.
Berhalter, 45, will conduct his first training camp in January in Southern California with an MLS-dominated roster. (Most European-based players will not be available.)
Berhalter’s brother, Jay, is a high-ranking business executive at the Chicago-based USSF. He would not have a role in the coaching search, Stewart said in September.
Gregg Berhalter inherits a team at its lowest point in decades after missing the sport’s biggest competition for the first time in 32 years — an embarrassing setback for a program that had drawn even with bitter rival Mexico for regional supremacy.
He will have less than two years to implement his plan and set a course ahead of the qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. To his credit, Sarachan laid a good foundation for Berhalter by introducing a new generation of players and rebuilding team chemistry. The average age for recent friendlies against England and Italy was 22.
Berhalter is highly respected for his tactical sharpness and adaptability, his understanding of the U.S. player pool and his experiences abroad as both a player and coach. He made 44 appearances for the national team and served on the 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads.
The Tenafly, N.J., native played three years at the University of North Carolina and enjoyed a 15-year playing career with clubs in the Netherlands, England and Germany before joining the Los Angeles Galaxy for three seasons, the last in 2011 as a player and assistant coach.
He parlayed those experiences — and the Galaxy’s ownership ties to Swedish club Hammarby — into a two-year head coaching job with that Scandinavian organization.
Columbus hired him before the 2014 season, the start of four playoff appearances in five years. Besides coaching, he was the Crew’s sporting director, placing him in charge of player-personnel decisions.
Despite sporting a low payroll in a small market, the Crew advanced to the 2015 final before losing at home to Portland, 2-1.
Since last fall, when chief investor Anthony Precourt announced intentions to move the organization to Austin — and subsequently draw back financial support — the Crew has played under a cloud. The off-field distractions, however, did not slow the team, which qualified for the playoffs and beat D.C. United in the first round before falling to the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals.
In terms of team performance, Berhalter is not close to being MLS’s most successful coach. Atlanta United’s Gerardo Martino, the MLS coach of the year, plays the most attractive soccer with an expensive roster and Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes has raised four trophies (one MLS Cup, three U.S. Open Cups) while becoming the league’s longest-tenured coach.
Martino is slated to take over the Mexican national team after Atlanta’s MLS Cup meeting with the Portland Timbers next Saturday. His inability to speak English fluently — a Stewart prerequisite — seemed to impact his U.S. chances.
Vermes seems happy in his MLS role, as both coach and technical director for Kansas City; it’s unclear whether he was approached by the USSF.
FC Dallas’s Oscar Pareja reportedly spoke with Stewart about the U.S. job before accepting the head position with Mexican club Tijuana.
The federation has turned to American coaches almost exclusively since the mid-1990s. The exception was Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann, who, after leading the 2014 World Cup effort, was fired two years later after a bad start to the 2018 qualifying campaign.
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