For the United States men’s national team, the return to another World Cup meant everything for the second youngest squad in Qatar. But after the 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the Round of 16, many questions have arisen around US head coach Gregg Berhalter and the American Football Association. Namely, whether the USSF’s Gregg Berhalter contract should be renewed or not.
Reports indicate that. However, after much deserved criticism from US Soccer fans, a statement was released this week by USSF Sporting Director Earnie Stewart refuting that:
“As we always do after a big tournament, we take the time to think. We will conduct a full assessment with all involved as we determine our next steps.”
Reading between the lines, it appears that US Soccer is trying to buy time before Gregg Berhalter’s contract extension is announced. Don’t be surprised if the announcement is made after the World Cup has ended. USSF may be hoping US Soccer fans have calmed down by then.
To be fair, let’s give Berhalter some credit. With a winning record of 65% (35 wins, 11 losses and 9 ties), he led the US team to the 2020 CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup trophies. With quality declining in Mexico and Central America, there was definitely less pressure than usual to get those trophies.
The players who developed after the failed 2017 qualification for the 2018 World Cup made things easier for the former Columbus Crew coach. Berhalter simply had to put the best squad at his disposal and that squad had talent pouring in left and right from many of the top teams in Europe.
Gregg Berhalter’s contract as USA head coach expires
The American coach often cited hypocritical reasons for not calling up certain players, starting with John Brooks and later Jordan Pefok. And let’s not forget Ricardo Pepi, who scores goals for fun in the Netherlands. Instead, Berhalter chose MLS players that American football fans had already seen (Jesus Ferreira and Jordan Morris, among others) and felt they didn’t have much more to offer.
He led the USMNT to a third-place finish (worse Canada and Mexico) in the World Cup qualifying stages, barely booking their ticket to Qatar by goal difference. Gregg was unable to push the inexperienced USMNT talent to win more games outside of Ohio.
Unable to make a plan B, C or D, Berhalter’s ‘system’ was exploited several times before going to the World Cup and especially during their game against the Netherlands.
Let’s not forget the players he brought to Qatar who should never have taken the field. And the players he didn’t use that often (Gio Reyna) should have started games.
How Gregg Berhalter’s brother got him the job
While it’s easy to blame Gregg Berhalter for the elimination of the USMNT, let’s not stop there.
The whole shabang about Berhalter’s mission changing the way the world watches American football was a complete failure, starting with the selection of Berhalter as head coach.
You can blame his brother Jay Berhalter and how the US Soccer Federation was treated during his time as COO (second-in-command to former US Soccer President Sunil Gulati).
Jay Berhalter took over Gulati’s responsibilities in 2018. Before that, his only responsibility was to choose the new sporting director, who would be in charge of choosing the new US head coach.
The COO elected to hire Earnie Stewart as the new sporting director. As reported in 2018Stewart’s newly created position would lead the search for the next U.S. coach and “head up a committee that will evaluate candidates before hiring a new coach after the World Cup.”
Stewart’s so-called “committee” did not conduct interviews with suitors available at the time, such as Julen Lopetegui, Peter Vermes, Jesse Marsch, Tab Ramos, and Tata Martino. Stewart eventually hired his old American teammate Berhalter. At the time, Berhalter had no experience coaching national teams and had a combined winning percentage of 38.7% with Swedish club Hammarby IF and Columbus Crew.
USSF responded to the criticism of their hiring process by saying they interviewed Oscar Pareja, but Pareja would continue to deny that such an interview ever took place.
“No conflict of interest”
In 2019, when U.S. Soccer officials were questioned further about Jay Berhalter’s role in indirectly hiring Gregg, a U.S. Soccer public relations official said that “there were no conflicts of interest in having brothers in two of the top positions in the league.” federation, because Jay Berhalter has nothing to do with the technical department.”
This was completely contrary to what the former US U-20 Head Coach said: “It was clear to anyone who has worked at US Soccer for the last four or five years that the technical message came from Jay Berhalter.”
When Berhalter was unveiled as head coach, then USSF President Carlos Cordeiro was excited about the hiring decision:
“He will take our men’s team forward and with an identity and approach that will be uniquely and fiercely American.”
Berhalter achieved exactly what the USSF wanted
Clearly the hiring process was inadequate along with “Change the way the world views American football.” The USSF knew what they were getting with Berhalter – a pumpjack who would play MLS players on the national team despite the players not being good enough at the international level.
In turn, there would 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.
Founded in 2002 by MLS founders Don Garber and Gulati, SUM linked several MLS advertising and marketing deals to the USSF. The organization created a financial incentive for the United States Soccer Federation and national team to boost MLS’s international profile.
This caused pressure from MLS owners to have their players regularly play at the national team level. So the USSF’s financial incentive to find a head coach who would make this happen was now an easy choice for both Jay Berhalter and Stewart.
Many American football supporters point to the conflict of interest created by this, allowing for the phrase “MLS quota”. The supposed quota was pointed out by the 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 every franchise… Because every franchise contributes to the national budget,” said Cruyff. “I don’t know if that’s still the case, but I do know it’s very limiting as a coach… that would delay the development of the national team by years if it continued.”
SUM and USSF have since severed ties. Jay Berhalter has stepped down from USSF and not coincidentally joined MLS as their new executive vice president.
US Soccer doesn’t want to rock the boat
Of the 32 teams participating in the 2022 World Cup, the United States has the largest population and is the richest country in the world. We have a wealth of wealth based on the standard of nationwide facilities to grow the next generation of world stars.
However, we continue to fail because we lack leadership from the US Soccer Federation, which seems more focused on profit than meaningful results.
Think how well Japan did at the 2022 World Cup. They beat Germany and Spain to finish in first place in a much more difficult group. And then they were eliminated in the Round of 16 on penalties by Croatia.
Compare that to the United States, which has a quality team of young stars. However, the best Gregg Berhalter could do was to get one win out of four games at the World Cup. And the victory was against Iran.
The US defeat to the Netherlands featured three critical coaching errors. First, he started the wrong lineup. Second, he didn’t make enough substitutions early enough in the game when the . Third, Antonee Robinson was burned out on the wing (which eventually led to conceding all three goals). And fourth was Berhalter.
On the world’s biggest podium in a game the US should have won, Berhalter’s side was outplayed by a Dutch team that could be beaten.
Expect Gregg Berhalter’s contract extension to be announced soon
Despite these mistakes, it is very likely that Berhalter will see his contract extended. However, what we American football fans need is a world-class coach to turn these diamonds in the rough into gems. Berhalter has proven that he does not have the necessary experience. 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 making this team we can be prouder of.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Sportimage
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