It seems inevitable at this point that sometime within the next 30 or so days, Columbus Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter will be hired by the USSF after a year-long search. “Search” seems a bit of a stretch as reports have indicated the USMNT GM Earnie Stewart has not formally interviewed many, if any, other candidates for the job. Nevertheless, the nightmare feeling of being stuck in neutral for over a year will soon be over. The program will finally start heading into a direction, whether that direction is positive or negative remains to be seen.
Everyone has an opinion on the problems that face the USMNT and whether or not Berhalter is right for the job. I was one of the majority who wasn’t keen on the former USMNT defender getting the position. After watching several important matches involving the Crew over the past few seasons, I’ve softened my stance a bit. I’m going to share with you why I’m cautiously optimistic about Berhalter as the new U.S. manager.
An airing of grievances
Before we get to the optimism that will surely be shredded apart in the comment section, let’s review all of the legitimate complaints surrounding Berhalter to the USMNT:
- His brother Jay is the Chief Commercial Director of U.S. Soccer and while all involved claim he has no influence on the hiring process, how are we supposed to believe that? No matter what anyone says, that link will always be in the back of everyone’s mind.
- In conjunction with the cries of nepotism, there’s the hiring process itself. Very few candidates were interviewed. Over the course of 12 months, the federation have appeared to settle on a candidate they could’ve had whenever they wanted.
- “There are better candidates!” — That’s a big complaint from some, but I don’t necessarily agree. Where are these candidates? Oscar Pareja was a hot name several years ago, but has since cooled off. Peter Vermes and Jesse Marsch both have similar resumes as Berhalter. Tata Martino is a hot name, but has flaws just like any of the others.
Why I’m optimistic
Over the past two MLS seasons, I’ve seen Gregg Berhalter out-coach one of the candidates listed above and put his over-matched team in position to succeed in the playoffs on a consistent basis. Let’s rewind the clock back to October 2017. Atlanta United, the league’s hottest new team, are hosting their first-ever playoff match in front of a raucous crowd of over 70,000. Berhalter’s Crew stifle Martino’s side which had been labeled the “most exciting” team in the league for 120 minutes. The high-powered Atlanta attack had no answer for the compact and composed Crew and fell on penalties.
The Crew went on to oust another talented team in NYCFC before finally succumbing to the best and most expensive team in MLS history, Toronto FC. The moral of the story is that Berhalter always does more with less. His Crew teams don’t have a ton of money or talent, but consistently outperform expectations and are always competitive.
The reason for this competitiveness is simple. Berhalter rarely gets his tactics wrong in the important games. Let’s look at a more recent example. After knocking off the red-hot Wayne Rooney-led D.C. United, they hosted the Supporters’ Shield winning New York Red Bulls. This is a team known for their tactical brilliance. A side that not a month earlier embarrassed Tata Martino and Atlanta United with a tactical masterpiece.
What did the Crew do? Again they kept the best team in the league quiet for 90 minutes with their technical and tactical approach and won the first leg, 1-0. Take a look at the lone goal of the game:
We are strictly about that switching play, line splitting, and defender attracting action. pic.twitter.com/DTTpOlW5se— noah the eeli tolvanen fan (@EriksensationaI) November 4, 2018
Mind you, this is against the most deadly press in the league. Berhalter’s Crew are as surgical and precise as you’ll see. They don’t have a ton of amazingly skilled players, they beat you with technique and wits. Okay, so a little skill at the end of the move goes a long way, but the build-up before it speaks volumes.
This is the type of stuff that gets me excited about Berhalter as the USMNT manager. American players are becoming more technical every day. It’s about identifying these players and fitting them into a system and creating an identity. An identity is what the United States has lacked over the last several years, no tactical identity to lean on when things aren’t going well. In Berhalter, you have a manager who has an exact idea of how he wants his teams to play. The USMNT could really use that right now.
There are things to not like about the appointment of Berhalter as the USMNT manager. I’m not debating that. The point is, it appears we’re past the point of no return. While the ideal candidate for the job may be out there in some dream world, in reality there are some things to like about the guy who will inevitably get the job. Let’s give him a chance and hope we see the positives outweigh the negatives in the long run.