U.S. Soccer shake-up makes Gregg Berhalter a long shot to continue as USMNT coach

The writing seems to be on the wall for Berhalter.

With Earnie Stewart (L) exiting his position as U.S. Soccer sporting director, it seems less likely that his hand-picked coach, Gregg Berhalter (C), returns. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
With Earnie Stewart (L) exiting his position as U.S. Soccer sporting director, it seems less likely that his hand-picked coach, Gregg Berhalter (C), returns. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Officially, Gregg Berhalter remains a candidate to continue as U.S. men’s national team head coach. Earnie Stewart said so earlier this month. After Stewart decided to leave his post as U.S. Soccer sporting director, still, “nothing has changed on that front,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said Thursday.

But dominoes are falling. And the writing seems to be slowly appearing on the wall.

Whatever the metaphor or euphemism, it is now far less likely than it was a week ago or a month ago that Berhalter will retain his job.

Gio Reyna’s parents had already made it less likely, but even then, in early January, it was a possibility. Even with an investigation into a decades-old domestic violence incident ongoing and with a key player-coach relationship strained, Berhalter had a big fan near the top of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Stewart was the one who handpicked Berhalter back in 2018. He remained an advocate through the 2022 World Cup.

Even after the scandal surfaced and sadness pervaded American soccer, Stewart spoke favorably, albeit indirectly, of his former teammate. He said Jan. 4 that the USMNT had a “successful four years” under Berhalter. He was “pleased” with the team’s identity and style in Qatar and, overall, “very happy with this group.”

He also spoke about his philosophy, with space to read between the lines. "What I do believe is in consistency and continuity and the way that you play, in the way that you do things, and making sure that when players come into camp, they have a recollection of what happened the last time," Stewart said. "So that consistency and continuity is really important. That doesn't necessarily always have to happen with the same coach, but it does make that process easier."

Stewart's philosophy aligned with Berhalter’s management style. It was also clear that Stewart, a process-oriented and data-driven leader, would be willing to block out public criticism and ignore the crescendoing calls for change. That’s not to say he was committed to retaining Berhalter, but if he didn’t, it wouldn’t be due to any clamoring outside his downtown Chicago door.

And so, in the aftermath of the USMNT’s World Cup exit, Berhalter and U.S. Soccer prepared to begin discussions about a new contract, ESPN reported. Berhalter would later describe them as “conversations about the future.” He also pondered his future — and opportunities elsewhere — but ultimately decided that he wanted another four years with the team. “Of course I'd like to continue in my role,” he said Jan. 5.

The Reyna saga, by then, had complicated matters. It was baggage and a multifaceted risk that U.S. Soccer could simply choose to not take on. But if there were any sporting director willing to take it on, it was probably Stewart.

'A clean canvas'

Now Stewart is gone, off to take a supposedly better job in his native Netherlands, closer to family. And U.S. Soccer leaders are speaking as if they’re prepared for both a months-long sporting director search and a months-long coaching search.

A months-long coaching search is not what you undertake to rehire an incumbent. This process now sounds more akin to the one that landed on Stewart as GM and then Berhalter as head coach in 2018 than a simple decision of whether to retain Berhalter. His contract has expired. He is not currently a U.S. Soccer employee, and he almost certainly won’t be in February or March or April.

Throughout those months, Parlow Cone and U.S. Soccer CEO JT Batson will work with a consulting firm, Sportsology, to lead a review of their leadership structure. They’ll conduct the search for a new sporting director, which they hope to hire by July. They’ll also work with Sportsology to “analyze head coach candidates,” the federation said in a news release. Once the sporting director comes aboard, Parlow Cone said she will work with them to lead the coaching search, “and ultimately, the new sporting director will be tasked with hiring the men's national team coach.”

Could that coach still be Berhalter? Perhaps. “Gregg remains a candidate,” Parlow Cone said Thursday. But that is likely because, as Batson said earlier this month, “We have agreed that we need to let the investigation play out before we can make any determinations [on Berhalter or the future of the program].”

On Thursday, they spoke as if they are starting anew. Parlow Cone said the vacancies atop the USMNT and sporting department presented “a clean canvas.”

Her own involvement in the search lends some modicum of continuity to the process and perhaps could benefit Berhalter, but it’s just about the only thing working in his favor right now. Unless Parlow Cone has already, quietly and tentatively, tabbed him to continue, the search is now open. Wide open.

That it will likely continue into the summer further broadens the pool of candidates. There will be European club coaches — Jesse Marsch? Jose Mourinho? — who become available. There will be MLS coaches who bolster their résumés and could even complete their seasons before officially signing a contract in the fall — just like Berhalter did four-plus years ago.

Coming out of Qatar, Berhalter was the clear betting favorite to lead the team into 2026. Now there is no clubhouse leader. Now the possibilities are both unknown and endless.

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