Type Gregg Berhalter’s name into Twitter and you will see a wave of negativity engulfing almost any and all discourse surrounding the USMNT manager.
Despite guiding his side to the World Cup Finals, a feat not achieved since 2014, Berhalter faces an uphill battle to win over public support ahead of the US team’s trip to Qatar.
Berhalter was hired out of the ashes of the USMNT’s failed World Cup qualifying campaign in December 2018, despite holding a managerial career win percentage of a measly 39%.
Perhaps unrelated, but at the very least it is interesting to note that at the time of his hiring, Berhalter’s brother, Jay, was the federation’s chief commercial officer.
Fast forward almost three years, a CONCAF Gold Cup and Qatar qualification later, Berhalter finds himself on the hot seat after underwhelming recent performances.
It is not simply the lack of results against Japan and Saudi Arabia which are of concern to American fans. Rather, the toothless attack which has plagued the USMNT of late and indeed outside of the United States.
Despite criticism, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has led the US to its first World Cup since ’14
Since a 5-0 Nations League win over Grenada in June, results have started to slide. Two draws — against El Salvador and Saudi Arabia — and a humbling 2-0 loss to Japan are hardly a sign of promise prior to the World Cup.
Berhalter will be managing at his first World Cup and fans will be hoping his experience as a player at the 2002 and 2006 tournaments can help get the best out of a young, feisty squad.
Berhalter and his clan are truly a soccer-rich family. The patriarch played at the University of North Carolina, so too his wife, Rosalind, who won multiple national titles with the Tarheels.
One of their sons, Sebastian, followed in their footsteps before finding his way to the MLS. After a stint with Columbus, the 21-year-old was traded to current club, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Berhalter represented his nation 44 times from 1994=2006, including at the ’02 and ’06 WC
As a player, Berhalter was involved in the US’ most successful World Cup campaign and a key part in the team’s most controversial moment. Trailing 1-0 to Germany in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final, Berhalter’s strike beat goalkeeper Oliver Kahn before the ball hit the arm of defender Torsten Frings on the goal line in what would now be deemed a blatant handball.
Unfortunately for the USMNT, the ball failed to cross the line and a penalty was never awarded as they sunk to a narrow single-goal defeat. Two decades on, the player-turned-coach must be praised for his recruitment skills, an attribute often glossed over when it comes to national team set ups.
Since taking over, Berhalter has convinced a litany of the USMNT’s young core to pledge allegiance to the Stars and Stripes. Gio Reyna (England), Malik Tillman (Germany), Sergino Dest (Netherlands), Yunus Musah (Ghana/England), Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi (Mexico) could have all chosen to play for other countries but instead committed themselves to the US cause.
The American is used to taking on challenges. Following a 13-year, 44-cap international career and a 19-year club career across four countries, Berhalter moved to management.
Throughout the last 270 minutes the USMNT have scored just once and have looked toothless
One season as an assistant coach at LA Galaxy readied the former Crystal Palace man for the main job at Swedish second-division side, Hammarby, in 2011. Berhalter was one of the first American coaches to manage a European side and spent two seasons with the club before his firing in July, 2013.
At the time of his release, Berhalter had led Hammarby to the second-best defense in the Superettan, but in a theme familiar to USMNT fans, failed to offensively inspire. Hammarby were nine points behind the promotion zone halfway through the season but stylistic issues caused his canning.
‘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,’ Hammarby chairman Kent Hertzell told the club website at the time.
19 months in Sweden led Berhalter back to his homeland where he took over as head coach and sporting director of Columbus Crew, almost five months following his dismissal.
England manager Gareth Southgate (L) and his team will provide a stern test for the USMNT
Berhalter enjoyed a relatively positive spell with the franchise from the standpoint of making the playoffs in four of his five seasons — including a 2015 MLS Cup loss to Seattle.
Since acquiring the USMNT job in December 2018, Berhalter holds an impressive 64.29% win record in 56 games as coach of the USMNT, though the US’ record on the road is far from impressive.
Dating back to September 2021, the USMNT have won just one of their last 10 away games — drawing four and losing five. In fact, Berhalter’s side are winless in their last eight games outside of the United States.
Success and its definition are ultimately defined by those above Berhalter, though it is tricky to establish just what it looks like. Fans, however, are easier to gauge. Some may believe qualifying for the World Cup is more than adequate, others not so much.
The Americans face Wales on November 21, England on Nov. 25 and lastly, Iran, on Nov. 29
Then, there is a section who cannot tolerate an offensively-stilted system. The USMNT will face far sterner tests than its CONCACAF rivals and the likes of Saudi Arabia in Group B against England and Wales, particularly.
Berhalter will be in charge of one of – if not the – youngest squads in Qatar. Perhaps that will engender some leeway if November and December go awry. Though just maybe his team will rise to the occasion, rather than flounder as of late.
To put the USMNT squad into context, Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie were 19 at the last World Cup in Russia. Brenden Aaronson and Sergino Dest were 17, while Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna were a tender 15 years old.
The USMNT looked poor in their 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia – their final tune up before Qatar
Granted, the dearth of talent between the above players and the greats of old like Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have made it easy to ingratiate the young core charged with creating new memories on the world stage.
‘We’re not as confident as I’d like,’ Berhalter told FOX Sports following the Saudi Arabia draw. ‘We’re playing tentative. And we see just the connections are not there like we’d want.
‘We just have to go out and play together. The confidence isn’t there yet but we’ll get there.’
The Star and Stripes have only won once in 2022 against teams that have qualified for the WC
The Star and Stripes have only won once in 2022 against teams that have qualified for the World Cup. Whether a lack of confidence is system, performance or age-based will only be crystalized in Qatar. Berhalter reportedly earned $1.2million annually this year, as per tax filings seen by the Associated Press — drastically less than some of his World Cup colleagues.
England manager Gareth Southgate is widely regarded as one of the highest paid international coaches, and earns around $5.67m USD for his efforts with The Three Lions. Meanwhile, Berhalter’s contract expires after the World Cup and it remains to be seen what level of performances would be befitting of a new deal.
Although it is important to note, the US will joint host the 2026 tournament alongside Canada and Mexico. If performances — and results — exude promise, positivity and fearlessness, then Berhalter will likely get to as many World Cups as coach as he did a player.