Gregg Berhalter’s contract has expired and we’re unsure of the next move for the manager or the US Men’s National Team. Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena left little to the imagination when they each lost their position as USMNT managers. They had not been able to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 out of CONCACAF and in Arena’s case not been able to even secure a draw against a lowly Trinidad and Tobago side. Berhalter is a much more interesting position with a network of converging storylines that make for intriguing decisions for both parties.
What did Gregg do and how will he be measured? What does USSF want to knowing they are hosting the World Cup and will have an incredibly talented team to build from for a 2026 run.
Qualifying & Expectations
Gregg was hired at a time when the US had failed to qualify for the world cup out of CONCACAF. After failing to qualify a number of US fan bases and independent media were born and grew out of the frustration of this experience. Scuffed Podcast, Underdog Soccer Podcast, Tactical Manager and 11Yanks are all core mediums that were born of and have grown a tremendous following in the wake of missing 2018.
Alexi Lalas had mentioned early in the process that this was the greatest group of American players assembled and expectations would be high for the new manager. There were trophies earned across the pool, Pulisic had some great moments in HUGE games for Chelsea, Weston McKennie was establishing himself as a key piece for Juventus in Italy, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson at Leeds, a backline duo of Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream at Fulham, Tim Weah in France and Gio Reyna, the wonder kid, at Dortmund, Yunus Musah and Sergiño Dest in Spain (followed by Italy for Dest). The list goes on and on. The argument however, has been – how essential are these players for these key clubs. Are they scoring goals and providing true attacking impact in their roles? Can we produce a striker who can score to finish off goals in this talented pool of supporting attacking players?
The USMNT finished third and qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Ultimately they qualified, but they were dominated by Canada drawing their first match at home and losing to an under manned Canadian team away. Though they defeated Mexico in qualifying, they finished below them in the standings as they were unable to put away some of their weaker opponents. It could have easily gone very differently either way during qualifying. The US should have scored to defeat El Salvador in their opener and looked desperately disorganized against Panama through most of the match before a halftime lineup change and Pepi’s substitution likely changed the course of qualifing and Berhalter’s legacy.
Gregg built a successful defensive side, that allowed very few goals during qualifying and played to Tyler Adam’s strengths gobbling up most of opposing teams threats through qualifying. The team struggled to score, identify a striker and find ways to score goals for three years. The inability to figure this out was apparent early and brought up by Gregg after the US’ loss to Holland.
Young & Inexperienced Group
The roster that Berhalter took on needed to be completely overhauled. There were very few pieces worth keeping from the previous cycle of an aged MLS retirement squad. However there was a tremendous young crop of extremely promising players coming up in the wake of the 2018 failure.
The minimal expectation was qualification and debate has raged over how challenging that process truly is for CONCACAF. This allowed for more of a microscope on Gregg’s tenure than many coaches ahead of their takeover had faced. Gregg’s mind was on regaining US presence and achieving World Cup qualification, but many fans strived for and demanded more. The quality of the talent he inherited were achieving historic success in Europe’s top leagues, Champions League and making a name for themselves at the highest levels of world football. They are also extremely young, Tyler Adams was the youngest captain at the tournament and the team was 2nd youngest at the tournament (25.2 years). That average was slightly higher in the tournament than it had been (<25 years) during qualifying, in their October qualifier against Costa Rica they had an average age of 22.2.
The debate on the talent level has raged for years. Very few players through qualifying and the tournament had ever experienced a World Cup, many had been a part of a qualifying cycle. Did this play a part in their success or failure? All this experience discussion not to mention that their leader Gregg himself had never managed internationally, never led or been a part of leading World Cup qualifying off the pitch.
During this qualifying process many questions around the US roster call ups were brought up. Gregg was extremely slow to retire players from his pool that were apparent to not be key contributors to the group especially glaring were players like Jackson Yueill, Sebastian Lletget and Aaron Long, who was included on the World Cup roster. Jesus Ferreira looked unready for the position of 9 this cycle, but was included anyway and showed poorly in the 45 minutes he was given in Qatar.
Further playing into this debate was the pool itself. Sergiño Dest selected the United States of America over pursuing an opportunity with Holland. Yunus Musah was eligible for Ghana, England and Italy, however he makes a shocking decision to play for the US. Was this the work of the Brian McBride, GM hired to help with internationals or Gregg’s personal efforts to build relationships with players and prospects players? Perhaps also encouraging his players to reach out to these dual nationals. There are enough rumors and personal stories that confirm Gregg was involved in several dual nationals decisions to make the case for his value there. This was perhaps his most impactful moves as a manager. Musah was part of the central midfield nicknamed “MMA”. This trio were immensenly impactful, critical even, to the US success and the best central midfield collective I’ve seen play.
The players had some learning experiences along the way. Weston McKennie in particular during World Cup qualifying got himself into trouble breaking protocol and was sent home. This was hugely debated at the time and questions galore, but has since clearly shown to be handled well. McKennie himself has praised how the situation was handled and Gregg restored McKennie to the lineup.
“I’m glad we’re addressing this right away. Because when this thing happened, we stressed the importance of us having a young team, people making mistakes and people being held accountable for their mistakes. And that’s exactly what it was and what it is,” Berhalter said.
For the most part Berhalter had a relatively successful brand with his core players who continued on the roster. However many fans have continued to wonder through rumors and other places how great Gregg’s relationship was with all players. John Brooks name and curious legacy has been dragged for two years now since he was dropped from WCQ and inexplicably been left out. Others like Matt Miazga have hinted at some future stories that may emerge once Gregg is no longer the manager.
A bizarre interaction with Gregg and media regarding Haji Wright after 45 minutes in June.
Additionally, Gregg caused unnecessary drama after the World Cup when he made comments at an event that was tied to Gio Reyna. This came at the time the Athletic was releasing a story around Reyna’s limited minutes and the reporting they had to why this was happening. Reyna will certainly be one of the rising stars in the 2026 cycle and widely considered one of the best American young players in Europe. That could lead to some challenges for Berhalter’s selection as a manager with the young star.
Gio Reyna on Instagram in response to Gregg Berhalter’s comments and reports he was nearly sent home from Qatar for his behavior in-camp. pic.twitter.com/n4UJqN7JMl— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) December 12, 2022
One final area that was noticeable during his tenure was his rare ownership of losses or failures. After the loss to Canada, Gregg was demolished by the media for saying that the US dominated Canada in a 0-2 loss.
“I think it was an entire team effort that was outstanding,” Berhalter said. “We asked them to be dominant, we asked them to embrace the conditions, embrace the physicality of going and I think we did that and more.
“It’s hard for me to remember a performance away from home this dominant without getting a result.”
After losing to Holland, instead of owning it as a manager and identifying the defensive weaknesses of his own side; he leaned into his striker problems:
WHAT THEY SAID: “We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now, who’s scoring in the Champions League,” Berhalter proclaimed, despite Memphis never scoring a Champions League goal since joining Barcelona. “[The Netherlands] were clinical in their [scoring] opportunities in the first half. Other than that, there wasn’t much separating the teams.”
Ironically many fans pointed out we have more statistically successful players in Europe and Holland’s manager Louis van Gaal pointed to tactical failures on the manager’s part.
‘Team USA didn’t adjust, they didn’t adapt,’ he said. ‘We based a tactical plan on that [targeting the flanks] that probably allowed us to win. ‘
All the above is for not if a manager isn’t successful on the field of battle. Fair or not, that is how all managers are ultimately weighed. The challenge for USSF and for fans is what is the measure of success. Gregg came into the position with debatable success to begin with. Many fans were excited to see a coach who had taken a small market club with no budget into the playoffs. Others saw a manager who had failed and been fired in Europe and never won anything domestically.
Preparation for World Cup qualifying, building a roster, building a system – execution and quality for wins, bringing the locker room together under a shared vision and belief. These are difficult things to break down and measure in a manager, but let’s look at the body of work.
In preperation for World Cup qualifying it was a mixed bag of reactions to roster selections and style of play, but success against rival Mexico cannot be debated. The US defeated Mexico three times in 2021, winning the Nations League (one of the best feelings of the cycle for me), the Gold Cup (with our B team) and defeating Mexico at home with a classic and deeply meaningful 2-0 scoreline in World Cup qualifying.
Making Mexico is a CONCACAF minnow— Ethan Zombek (@eszombek) December 15, 2022
The debate of course here, lies in seeing Mexico’s body of work for the year and their poor performance at the World Cup. This was clearly not the Mexico of old, missing key players and their young prospects not panning out as quality as the young Americans had. In addition, not scoring goals and the two defeats to Canada hurt Berhalter’s body of work.
Gregg struggled with in game tactics his entire tenure. He rarely made the right impact substitution or lacked what seemed to be the right tactical changes in those critical manager minutes from 60-80 to make any case that he had a good feel for the game, his subs were limited but often due to his own roster selection or lack of development errors and he rarely tactically how managed his opponent once they had the opportunity to engage.
That all said, Gregg helped the USMNT qualify for the World Cup. This is ultimately the most critical piece of manager responsibility in World Cup Qualifying is to qualify. The Italians amongst many other nations would gladly take a last place spot to have been included in the 2022 tournament. However, the qualifying process didnt appear to grant Gregg the opportunity to solve one of his most glaring issues on the attacking side of the ball.
At the World Cup the US missed a golden opportunity to defeat Wales. The draw came of all things, on a defensive error that led to a penalty. The US looked strong against England achieving a draw once again, though at times looking the more dangerous and better side – especially in the midfield. Giving the Captain arm band to Adams, helping Weston McKennie navigate breaking team rules and recruiting Yunus Musah perhaps making Berhalter’s decision making important here. These two results however led a very talented team to a must win game against Iran which they ultimately did win 1-0. It was once again a debated result. The job of a team in a tournament is to move on yes, but many fans felt it was unconvincing and the inability to win against Wales forced Berhalter to play a tired starting XI too many minutes.
The US lost in the first group stage to the Netherlands 3-1. Not a side that is embarrassing to lose to, but certainly a scoreline not indicative of a strong defensive minded manager. The goals against were not prolific, but often missed assignments, perhaps from tired legs. The US had opportunity to draw this game down 2-1 after scoring to get in the game there were missed chances. Who is to blame? The debate rages on, but ultimately a win against Iran and two draws are what Berhalter’s young side come home with.
The US have increased their Elo ranking, remained undefeated against England and dominated Mexico in 2021. As stated above perhaps Berhalter’s biggest accomplishment was his potential involvement in the dual national recruitment arena. The team structure and culture overall seemed to be solid, though as pointed out above plenty of cracks in the walls. Most of the key items pointed out in Bob Morocco’s response below:
-Overall Good Results: moved the USMNT from an Elo ranking in the 30s to the 20s. Largely better results than past managers against all level of opponent.
-Dual National Recruitment: Dest and Musah alone are hugely valuable.
-Defensive Structure: both in possession and… https://t.co/ncWLUM42mI— Bob Morocco (@bob_morocco) December 14, 2022
What ultimately does the US want to look like and what are they planning and hoping to accomplish in 2026?
Gregg’s tactical strength were improving the defensive identity in the US, however in a few critical games we seemed to give key goals or make defensive errors (2-0 loss to Canada, 3-1 loss to Holland). Few of the backline will likely be part of a 2026 run – Dest, Antonee Robinson are likely, Joe Scally could be competing and it is likely Cameron Carter-Vickers and possibly Walker Zimmerman could compete at CB. It’ll be on the attacking side of our game we’ll need to improve and this area has not been Gregg’s strength. Gregg didn’t show a strong in game tactical management to make crucial changes that would shift the course of a game in the way we’ll need to make a deep run.
Gregg was a fantastic dual national recruiter and that was critical, how many more dual nationals are out there and can McBride with a new manager and a strong model replicate this? That will be difficult to measure and assess. Gregg’s cracks and flaws showed both in his commentary and some of his relationships. He often gave preference to domestic camp players and hung on to poor performers past when the player was losing their traction even in their own clubs. The lack of depth showed in the World Cup and would need improvement for a 2026 run.
Gregg has won Nations League and Gold Cup, but has few international successes or trophies, nor any improvement in is resume to show that he would have the caliber or tactics to really shift the mindset of even is existing players on how to level up from where they have performed. Few of even our top players outside of perhaps Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams showed even as much of the qualities they’ve possed for their club for the national team.
For all the positives many fans have on Gregg Berhalter certainly the gap between good and great was apparent to all. Perhaps event to Gregg himself, who may want to pat himself on the back, say job well done and return to his favored club coaching career.
Can the US draw and inspire a successful international or touted club tournament manager into making a go of a run with the USMNT fan base and the host nation marketing that will come for that manager? Certainly that won’t inspire a top club manager, but may provide additional funding to make the pay competitive and the spotlight of a massive sports nation interest to glory seekers. The answer to that will define what’s next.