Gregg Berhalter has done just about everything possible to establish himself as a desirable candidate for the position of coach of the United States Men’s National Team, except to somehow arrange for to be born and grow in Europe. He played professionally in England and Germany and was a key player in the biggest World Cup race in the United States. He got a job at one of the best clubs in Sweden.
OK, so he grew up in New Jersey and coached for half a dozen years in Major League Soccer. Did we mention all those European stamps on his passport?
This is how it is for an American who coaches this American team, how it has been for most of the three decades football has been relevant in this country. Bruce Arena led the United States to the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals, Bob Bradley to winning a 2010 World Cup group dramatically, but the desire to inject overseas influence led to the savage inconsistency of Jurgen Klinsmann’s overly long tenure. Perhaps this made it clear to US Soccer that the best coach for the job could be in the neighborhood, but Berhalter was never a popular choice.
MORE: Here’s What Happened In The Gold Cup Final
How do you like him now?
Late Sunday, Berhalter dragged the USMNT to a win over rivals Mexico in a league game for the second time in the past three months, with Miles Robinson heading on a free kick from Kellyn Acosta in overtime providing the margin in a 1-0 victory in the Gold Cup Final. The American players once again lifted a trophy under the gaze of the Mexican players, the first in June in the CONCACAF Nations League.
âWhen you watch the game today, we didn’t stop. It was relentless on our part, âBerhalter said at his press conference. âAnd that’s the mark of a good team. We thought we had enough quality in the team to do it. And sometimes it looks a little different, and sometimes the form changes and the staff changes, but we have guys who are determined to win and who are very proud when they come out onto the pitch to represent the country.
This is something many saw missing in the fall of 2017, as the United States lost twice in their last four qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup and missed the tournament for the first time since. 1986. Authors Steven Mandiss and Sarah Parsons Wolter, in a academic but fascinating dive into the history of the national team, called this type of engagement the “spirit of 76”, an underdog mentality that Americans have enjoyed since the War of Independence and which saw its sporting apotheosis with the American hockey team beating Russia in the Games 1980 Olympics.
They argue that the spirit has been lost as the United States has become more successful and the drive to make the national team more European has accelerated. Berhalter had positioned himself as able to train the build style from the rear that is most often associated with Barcelona and Spain, albeit from an American perspective, but critics of his appointment have often pointed out that his brother, Jay, was the business manager. US Soccer officer at the time. The federation said Jay was excluded from a role in the hiring process, and he has since left that post, but the presumption persists.
I’m not going to say it was my idea to hire Berhalter as the USMNT coach, but you are free to give me credit or blame. I think I was the first person in US sports media to publicly suggest he would make a great fit for the job, albeit in a simple response tweet sent to veteran football journalist Andrea Canales in the fall. 2015.
Berhalter was nearing the end of his second year as head coach of the Columbus Crew, a season that would end with a loss to the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final. The crew were far from the top of the league in terms of payroll, yet they won a lot and scored goals with an offense that looked different from most MLS teams.
Canales was asked on Twitter if there were any MLS coaches she might consider replacing Jurgen Klinsmann after the United States collapsed in this summer’s Gold Cup. She has appointed four, including, with foresight, Jesse Marsch, who went on to coach in the Champions League with Red Bull Salzburg and is now in charge of RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga.
âWatch out for Berhalter,â I wrote. “New to the job, but his team play football quite well.”
Indeed, the United States has at times played attractively under Berhalter. That’s not what happened over the three-week Gold Cup, however. The Americans were ugly. With nearly all of their best players preparing in Europe for the club’s important seasons and having to stay relatively fresh for this fall’s World Cup qualifiers, they lacked the talent and experience to consistently generate artistic statements on the pitch. .
The thing is, no one who lined up against them was having fun at all. Haiti, Canada, Jamaica, Qatar and Mexico scored together – well, they didn’t score at all. Mexico, long regarded as the dominant power in the region and fielding the best team they could muster, had 120 minutes to try, including overtime, and never succeeded. The opposition of the USMNT in this tournament did not score a goal during the game in 570 minutes.
Much of that was the brilliance of goalkeeper Matt Turner’s development, but the most important element was that ‘Spirit of 76’ mentality that the players brought to camp and that Berhalter nurtured. Together for a shorter period, the United Nations team that won the Nations League behind stars Christian Pulisic, Geo Reyna and Weston McKennie also showed that same fight.
USMNT will play 14 games against seven CONCACAF opponents between September 2 and March 30. The top three out of eight teams will advance to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Nothing Berhalter has accomplished will matter much if Americans aren’t one of those three, and he’s fully aware of that no matter how good he feels right now.
The Gold Cup, however, allowed coaches to discover Turner who could be their best goalkeeper, Robinson (above) is a legitimate option at center-back, Acosta could fill multiple roles in midfield if needed and the overall depth of the program is as good as it has been for some time, even with the majority of players still in their early twenties.
âWe had a fantastic group in the Nations League that were able to win a trophy, and to turn around and start over with that group is a great accomplishment,â said Berhalter. âI can’t say enough about their wit, hard work and dedication. “
Its work is far from over, but what is done is well done.