After going more than a year without a permanent manager, the U.S. men’s national team on Sunday finally, officially named Gregg Berhalter as the program’s new coach. The former Columbus Crew boss will be presented to fans and media members on Tuesday at a press conference in New York City.
The announcement was not a surprise. Yahoo reported last month that Berhalter was finalizing an agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation. U.S. Soccer’s board of directors unanimously approved his contract in a conference call on Saturday.
Berhalter, a former U.S. defender who helped his country reach the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, had long been considered the frontrunner for the position.
“As an experienced former National Team player and highly regarded professional coach, we are confident [Berhalter] is the best person to guide our program forward,” U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said in a statement.
Berhalter becomes the first former U.S. World Cup player to lead the national team. (He was also on the squad for the 2006 event but didn’t play.) The 45-year-old New Jersey native replaces interim coach Dave Sarachan, Bruce Arena’s former top assistant. Arena resigned in the wake of the Americans’ catastrophic failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
That embarrassing flop led to a restructuring within U.S. Soccer that delayed the hiring process, but Berhalter was always going to be a leading candidate for the job. He became the first American head coach of a professional club in Europe in 2011, leading Swedish club Hammarby to a record of 18 wins, 11 losses and 17 draws over parts of two seasons. He’s been at the Crew’s helm since 2013, taking the notoriously frugal MLS side to the domestic league’s championship match in 2015 and going 74W-69L-50T over his tenure in Ohio.
Some of his most impressive work came this year. Against the odds, Berhalter kept the Crew in the playoff places ahead of wealthier foes almost all season despite the threat of relocation to Austin, Texas hovering like a dark cloud over the club throughout. The Crew then upset Wayne Rooney-led D.C. United in the knockout round and beat Supporters Shield winner New York Red Bulls in the opening leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals before falling 3-1 on aggregate.
Berhalter won an MLS Cup as a player-assistant coach with the LA Galaxy in 2011. During his 17-year career as a player, Berhalter spent time with clubs in the Netherlands, England and Germany before finishing with Los Angeles.
Known as a demanding boss with an almost obsessive attention to detail, Berhalter was chosen for the position by former U.S. World Cup teammate and current national team general manager Earnie Stewart, who began his search after taking the reigns as GM in August. According to U.S. Soccer, Stewart “aggregated an initial list of candidates” that included 33 coaches, some of whom had reached out to the federation, either personally or through an intermediary, to express interest in the job.
Stewart eventually settled on 11 finalists, the federation said, and conducted two formal interviews. Yahoo Sports previously reported that Club Tijuana manager Oscar Pareja was the only other candidate to receive an interview.
“I am absolutely convinced Gregg is the right man to lead the National Team program moving forward,” Stewart said. “He ticks all the boxes with his background as a person, a successful coach and an accomplished former international player.”
Berhalter will take charge of a rebuilding young squad that features highly regarded talents such as Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen, the latter his former starting goalkeeper in Columbus. It’s also a group desperate for stability and guidance, which Berhalter should be able to provide.
“Having played for the national team I know what it means to represent our country,” Berhalter said. “I believe in our players and our program, and together we will work to build something special and develop a team that will make our supporters proud.”
Berhalter was highly popular in the locker room in Columbus despite his serious personality and insistence on accountability. Even former players seem to swear by him.
“He’s a tactical mastermind,” Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst, a former national teamer who played in Norway and Germany and who worked under Berhalter for three seasons with the Crew, told Yahoo’s Leander Schaerlaeckens last week. “He’s very, very detail-oriented, runs great training sessions, very organized. He just puts together a good game plan.
“He sets you up for a baseline and that’s super important,” Parkhurst added. “I think he’ll have good success with the national team.”
More soccer on Yahoo Sports:
• McIntyre’s 23 Thoughts: MLS Cup preview, Almiron’s future and more
• Timbers stun SKC at home, headed to Atlanta for MLS Cup
• Red Bulls eliminated by Atlanta, fall cruelly short in playoffs yet again
• Champions League roundup: Neymar goal helps PSG beat Liverpool