Gregg Berhalter was unveiled as the new head coach of the U.S men’s national team on Tuesday in New York City and his message was clear.
He wants his USMNT to attack, keep the ball and force the issue as they aim to get back on track.
Berhalter becomes the first USMNT head coach who played for the program at a World Cup (2002, as well as being a part of the squad for 2006), and there’s no doubt his main ambition is to make the U.S. a team which is entertaining for their fans to watch.
“The idea is that we are an attacking-based team that wants to create goalscoring opportunities by disorganizing the opponent,” Berhalter said the former Columbus Crew manager. “In my time in Columbus we have done that through build-up, where we start the ball with the goalie in the back, as teams try to press us we play through them to create goalscoring opportunities. Another way is to use pressure, whether in a mid block or move into high pressure to force turnovers and win the ball to immediately create goalscoring opportunities. The idea is that it is a fluid style that has players intent on breaking lines, playing through opponents and creating goalscoring opportunities. We want to see ball circulation, breaking lines and goalscoring opportunities. That should be the DNA of this team.”
In the understated manner which has dominated his time rebuilding the Columbus Crew over the past five years, Berhatler’s first public appearance in NYC was hardly box office.
But right now the U.S. men’s national team needs a man with a long-term plan and Berhalter seems in sync with the other top officials in charge of U.S. Soccer.
Berhalter will bring structure and calmness to the USMNT.
Not qualities that many will scream from the rooftops, but those traits are much-needed after the nightmare past year the program has endured.
After the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, a total restructure of the program took place and the past 12 months were spent mainly stuck in neutral, led by interim head coach Dave Sarachan who gave dozens of youngsters a chance to shine but was never in a position to be the new head coach moving forward.
USMNT’s General Manager Earnie Stewart, hired to start on Aug. 1, sat alongside Berhalter and was asked what the main goal for this team is with the 2022 World Cup in mind.
“One: making sure that the way we play is identified through our fans and something they want to watch. Two, is really simple: qualify for 2022. And three: doing well in 2022. Those are the goals we have,” Stewart said.
Asked if there was a timeframe for when we would be able to see a team which was truly his, Berhalter said he expects this current USMNT squad to kick on in the coming months after a year of experimentation.
“As with any team building it is a process. I don’t want to use it as an excuse and say in eight years we will have a good team. The process has to accelerate,” Berhalter said. “When you have quality players, you can accelerate that process a little bit. We want to see progress. Each and every camp you should expect to see development among the team.”
When it comes to the makeup of his squad, the former USMNT center back revealed they would be thinking about reintroducing more experienced U.S. players as well as selecting many of the youngsters who have worked under Sarachan since last November.
That will be music to the ears of the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Fabian Johnson, who are just a few of the star names who were cut adrift from the program after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was confirmed last October.
Alongside Berhalter and Stewart sat Carlos Cordeiro — the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) since February — who confirmed that Gregg’s brother, Jay, had a hand in hiring Stewart as the new USMNT GM but had nothing to do with his brother, Gregg, getting the head coaching job.
Cordeiro also took exception to reports that USSF didn’t interview enough candidates during the process.
“I think the process and selection of the coach was very thorough and Jay had nothing to do with that,” Cordeiro said. “He was involved in selecting Earnie as general manager, which Carlos Bocanegra was responsible for. The search for the coach was managed and run exclusively by Earnie. Jay had nothing to do with that, to be clear. We think the process has been very honest and fair.”
As for Berhalter the next steps for him are clear.
With the January camp coming up for him to work with U.S. players based in Major League Soccer, he wants to meet as many players as possible in the next few weeks and also make sure those who won’t be in camp next month can keep up with the direction he is steering the program.
His plan to do that is by sending out videos, notes and online webinars to get everyone on the same page as soon as possible and throughout his reign.
“My first priority is reaching out to players and getting to know them. I will reach out to domestic players and head to MLS Cup, then I’ll be heading to Europe to meet players face-to-face,” Berhalter said. “We know there’s not much time in camp but when you have quality players who are in environments where they are learning all the time, they should pick up what we need pretty quickly.”
Cordeiro revealed that over the past 12 months the USSF took their time to hire the right main for the position, and that amid a successful bid to host the 2026 World Cup their hunt for a new USMNT head coach was put on the back-burner a little.
“The past 10 months at U.S. Soccer have been a time of real change. In respect of the men’s team, the pieces are now falling into place. We are now focused on the future,” Cordeiro said. “We have no regrets at all. We got our best guy. We couldn’t have moved any faster. The reality is, it has been a busy year. In a matter of between February and July we were consumed by the successful World Cup bid. We haven’t sacrificed any candidates because of a deadline. We never had a deadline.”
Stewart added that since he was hired as GM his main focus has been on hiring a coach who fits the style of play he wants to see and who will get the best out of the young U.S. players who have emerged.
He and his team ranked the candidates and whittled the list down to three key men, but Stewart admitted that “one of the candidates was no longer available,” which many believed was outgoing Atlanta United head coach Gerard ‘Tata’ Martino who is expected to take charge of Mexico when the 2018 MLS season is over.
Many believe the past 12 months has been lost for the USMNT but with high-profile friendlies against France, Brazil, Colombia, England and Italy in recent months, Berhalter believes that experience will be invaluable in selecting the players he wants moving forward.
“The last six games were instrumental for this group,” Berhalter said. “It gave them a taste. It is now about moving forward and thinking about where we will be in 2022. What is the right mix of players? Who do we bring back in who hasn’t been included?”
As there has been ever since they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup last October, there are still so many questions hanging over the USMNT.
At least they now have a head coach who can start to put the building blocks in place for future success.