clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

SSFC Roundtable: How did Gregg Berhalter do in Qatar?

The staff analyzes the manager’s World Cup performance.

Netherlands v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

The USMNT has been knocked out of the 2022 World Cup. It’s time for U.S. Soccer (most likely U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart) to make a big decision: should the federation bring back manager Gregg Berhalter for a second World Cup cycle? Before we answer that question, we have to take a stab at grading how Berhalter did at the World Cup. Let’s hear from the writers.

Roster, lineups, team culture

Justin Moran

The roster was mostly solid. Ricardo Pepi seems like a fairly drastic miss. Jesús Ferreira and Haji Wright did precious little to acquit themselves at striker. It also would’ve been good to have 1 or 2 more players who could come in to provide an attacking spark, like Djordje Mihailovic and Malik Tillman.

I think the lineups were very good for all 3 group stage games. I don’t think it made sense to go back to Zimmerman vs Netherlands after CCV did well vs Iran and Zim had glaring errors in the first 2 matches. I think starting Ferreira vs Netherlands was a really poor choice.

I think Berhalter has done really well with team culture, and deserves credit. That may come easy with a group of young players who enjoy each other, and results are always going to be the best thing for morale, but I can’t fault Gregg at all here.

Donald Wine II

I think we could have used Jordan Pefok or Ricardo Pepi on the roster, and honestly the role of a winger that could have worked hard and tracked back on defense in the final 10-15 minutes could have gone to Paul Arriola (if he really was hurt, as was reported). But in general, I was pretty satisfied with the roster selection. Haji Wright got his shot and while he scored a goal against the Netherlands, it wasn’t a very successful campaign for him or the rest of the strikers. However, the team culture I give an A+. The guys battled for each other and for us, and you could tell the camaraderie was super strong. That kept us believing all the way to the end.

Adnan Ilyas

It seems clear to me that Berhalter nailed his World Cup starting XI, at least while Josh Sargent was still healthy. The decision to recall Tim Ream proved to be a particularly wise choice. You have to look farther down the roster to find the problems. Specifically, there were problems with fitness for Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest, Gio Reyna, and Luca de la Torre that caused problems with rotations and substitutions, particularly in midfield. Ultimately, I think it is clear that the actual major problem with the roster was a lack of depth in midfield to allow for enough rotation so that Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah didn't start making defensive errors after being worn down by the fourth game in 12 days. Berhalter never really found that player (though, to his credit, he most certainly did look). But, ultimately, he probably should have made the tough call to leave Reyna or de la Torre or one of the extra right backs (probably Joe Scally) home so that he could bring in a healthy Paxton Pomykal or Eryk Williamson or Djordie Mihailovic or (insert preferred midfielder here).

As for culture, well, that was all aces. The players are constantly praising each other and their coach, even when facing adversity. And that’s just a really good sign. Berhalter’s done a good job putting together a program where everyone sticks together, through thick and thin.

Jack Ellis (aka jcksnftsn)

After seemingly years of not knowing what to expect from a roster or lineup release when push came to shove for the World Cup, Berhalter went with lineups that were consistently looking to his star players, not trying anything “cute,” and regularly putting out lineups that seemed logical to the point of there being very little to debate. There were only a few changes to the starters over the course of the four matches. One was to get Cameron Carter-Vickers’ speed and passing on the field against England, and the other changes were to the center forward position, where Haji Wright got a chance against England and in the knockout rounds, Jesus Ferreira saw the field for the first time with Josh Sargent unavailable.

The changes at center forward, and Ferreira’s lack of impact in his 45 minutes in Saturday’s loss, highlight one roster issue which was that there has been no clear answer at the position. Sargent played well in his opportunities, particularly in the win over Iran, but neither Wright (goal not withstanding) nor Ferreira looked like an answer. Unfortunately, there were no clearly better options left at home, and hot hand and personal preference seem to be playing a significant role in the ongoing conversation.

The second issue with the roster was depth, as it became clear throughout the matches, and particularly in the loss to the Netherlands, that the drop off from the preferred starters to their backups was steep, particularly in the midfield. It also seemed clear that Berhalter did not trust some of his options, such as Joe Scally and Luca de la Torre, who did not see the field. Again, there were no obvious depth pieces who have been integrated that were left behind but that seems as much due to Berhalter’s stubbornness in giving players opportunity as a player pool problem.

The players themselves have consistently lauded the culture of the team. Whether that culture was from tone set by the coach or if it was driven from the players who were brought in, Berhalter had significant influence, so we’ll give him full marks for that portion.

Brendan Joseph

I hoped for the inclusion of a striker more proficient in aerial duels. The USMNT appeared to hit a lot of crosses, yet the roster lacked suitable and fitting talent. The Netherlands was able to completely shut down the very idea of headers with a single center back, using Virgil van Dijk and two fullback-ish defenders on the three-player back line.

As for team culture, Gregg Berhalter seems to be a strong motivator and has his finger on the pulse of the squad. He was able to bring the best out of several players, including those who have a tendency to run hot and cold. Everyone was locked in and ready for the pressure of the final group stage fixture against Iran.

Parker Cleveland

I think the roster was fine, if he missed anywhere it was Pefok vs. Wright and Jesus Ferreira vs. Ricardo Pepi, but that’s a pretty fine margin when Wright scored a goal and Ferreira vs. Pepi is a tossup still. It’ll never be known how Pefok or Pepi would have done in any case.

The lineups were pretty good also. If there was something that could have been different it was clear that the midfield was totally gassed by the time the Netherlands game came around. It would have been bold and risky to change out Adams, Musah or McKennie for the group games against England or Iran but might have made a difference in the Round of 16 if those three could have had fresher legs.

As for the culture, the team fought for each other on the field and off of it were encouraging or at least not vocal to the media in their criticism of each other. The only point of friction was whatever was going on, or wasn’t going on, between Gregg and Gio Reyna but that didn’t seem to spill over anywhere else.

Tactics: chance creation, defense, in-game adjustments and subs

Justin Moran

We had a lot of the ball, and we played a pretty attractive style of soccer at times. The Wales game saw lots of possession, but I thought we could’ve created more chances with it, especially in the second half, when we fall back into a defensive posture. Tim Weah’s goal was a beauty, but there weren’t many similar chances. We didn’t create a ton vs England, but we slightly out-created them, which is a huge compliment to our defense. The first half vs Iran we really came into our own, creating chance after chance. I would’ve liked to see us stay on the offensive in the second half, instead of falling back into a defensive shell and inviting pressure. Our xG was very close in the Netherlands match (1.51 to their 1.77).

In-game adjustments was the area I would’ve liked to see Gregg do better. While his tactical setups from the opening whistle seemed to work well in the three group-stage games, our opponents were able to adjust and find advantages. Berhalter didn’t seem to be able to do the same. I think Gregg was too conservative against Wales, and the same pattern emerged vs Iran. Instead of bringing on Acosta, he could’ve brought on players like Reyna or Luca de la Torre, players who could help us keep the ball and continue threatening, instead of retreating into a shell and inviting our opponents to attack. The fact that neither Luca de la Torre nor Joe Scally played a single minute seems like a waste, especially when our midfielders were gassed by the fourth game, and Yedlin and Moore each got 2 games at RB.

Donald Wine II

We became a possession team, which was nice to see. Unfortunately, the subs left something to be desired, particularly in the first match against Wales. Subs came on too late, and regardless of what was going on with Gio Reyna, we didn’t see much of him in matches and he clearly showed he could be a boost off the bench. Guys were just tired during the Netherlands match, and that’s where utilizing some of these other subs could have helped. Those adjustments just weren’t present in any match.

Adnan Ilyas

Go back and look at that goal vs. Iran and count how many American players there are on the attacking band right on Iran’s backline when Weston McKennie hit his pass to Sergiño Dest. Well, I’ll help you out: Six. There were six attacking players on that high line. You had McKennie and Tyler Adams behind them, and you had Tim Ream and Cameron Carter-Vickers in the back. That’s an aggressive play! But if you imagine where the USMNT could have given the ball up, you would see that Iran was pinned all the way back into their own final third, with the USMNT players set up in a position so that they could quickly win the ball back. When people like myself say that the USMNT dominated, this is what we mean. While the team didn’t create as many chances throughout the games as we would like, they did control the game, allowing them to build up towards chances without compromising the defensive structure. That is difficult to do at the club level, never mind the international level, where players only meet for a few weeks at a time. The play style and tactics Berhalter employed were very effective, and ultimately mostly successful, even if they were a bit conservative. Even the one game the US lost came down to individual player mistakes rather than a tactical loss (though credit is due to van Gaal). The real major issue is about rotation and substitution patterns. I generally tend to weight the effectiveness of the starting XI as it is, but, on top of that, I feel like the substitutions were a product of roster construction, player pool limitations, and player fitness, rather than specific tactics. But, on the whole, I’d say Berhalter aced it on the tactical front.

Jack Ellis (aka jcksnftsn)

Defensively, the team was very solid, giving up just one goal in the group stage on a silly penalty. Likewise, in their knockout round loss to the Netherlands, it was individual errors and players seemingly falling asleep at the worst possible time that led to chances that the Netherlands punished ruthlessly. This looked to be largely influenced by fatigue.

On the other hand the team really struggled offensively. The system didn’t produce many solid chances and seemed to rely on individual brilliance as much as anything. Don’t get me wrong, the USMNT has some brilliant players, but with just three goals in four matches, it begs the question of why we can’t get more from such a promising group of attackers. Do we have players who lack a killer instinct? Or, do we have a system that is struggling to make the most of the ingredients it has? In their final match, the one goal that was scored was incredibly fluky while the best chance came off of a busted play, with Christian Pulisic being unable to punish the Dutch in the same manner that they punished the U.S.

The U.S. seemed to come out of the gate with a solid game plan in each match, but tactically, and particularly from a personal standpoint, they struggled to adapt or even maintain as the match moved on. I’ve mentioned it several times already, but the real undoing of this team felt like it’s lack of depth and/or rotation, which culminated in a team that looked exhausted as they ended their tournament Saturday.

Brendan Joseph

The decision to come out in almost a full press against the Netherlands was curious, particularly with the amount of Dutch talent collected on the wings. The thought process was partially correct because the opponents had issues playing out of the back, but the scale was too great and easily exploited. Teams should avoid altering the general, overarching strategy, but Louis van Gaal easily won the chess match. Berhalter also struggled against Wales to react to the halftime insertion of Kieffer Moore. The unfortunate reality of the job is that he makes instantaneous decisions on a global stage, and observers have until the end of history to pick them apart.

Parker Cleveland

I think the chance creation question goes back to something that’s been a huge mystery for this team since Berhalter took over: why hasn’t the team developed a starting no. 9? It’s odd because Berhalter has done this in the past by getting the absolute most out of players that fell off either entirely or noticeably after leaving the Columbus Crew. Kei Kamara, Ola Kamara, and Gyasi Zardes all had the best seasons of their careers with Berhalter as manager. Perhaps it’s the difference in attacking vs. defensive talent in MLS, but he’s managed to forge a no. 9 before, but with the national team seems to have lost his ability to be a striker whisperer. It seemed like in the World Cup any attacking threat came from the wings and lacking threat from a center forward or more central attacking option from midfield seemed to hurt the team in the final 13 quite a lot.

The defense was impressive until the Holland game. Giving up only a penalty to a washed up MLS player in the group and holding England who no has 12 - TWELVE - goals in the tournament to a clean sheet is great. In the recap I was a bit jaded maybe about the 0-0 scoreline, but going back and seeing how Berhalter set up the team to frustrate England it’s clear that he had a plan and the team executed it perfectly.

Berhalter’s substitutions were the weakest area of the World Cup for him as a manager, which is odd because he’s made some great adjustments in big games before. Shaq Moore entered games where the USA needed a goal, or could have found one useful at least, and didn’t offer anything in the attack. Same can be said for Yedlin. Meanwhile Joe Scally was on the bench. Gio Reyna was also left out of matches in favor of Jordan Morris, no further comment needed. Berhalter made a big move against Holland and brought in Gio Reyna to play as a false 9, which isn’t his position and he did poorly in the game until Haji Wright came in. That said, he made some good moves and I did think that Wright did OK against the Oranje, he was better at 9 than Ferreira and Reyna at least. The decision to put Zimmerman and Moore in against Iran was a good one, it was after the 80th minute and killing the game off then was the right call... he just had no idea there would be almost 10 minutes of injury time.

Overall feelings

Justin Moran

Gregg did a lot better in Qatar than I expected him to. I fully expected him to start Ferreira and Long at least the opening match, which I think would’ve gone really poorly. It was good that he brought Tim Ream straight into the XI, and I think Sargent was the right choice for the lion’s share of striker minutes, although I do think Pepi could have been a real upgrade over Ferreira and Wright. I think Gregg did a good job setting the team up to frustrate England’s build-up, and he deserves credit for that result. It did bother me that Gregg once again used the word “domination” after a lopsided U.S. loss. Ultimately, I think Gregg has accomplished all he can with this group. I think the team suffered because of his conservative, defensive approach against Wales and Iran. Given U.S. Soccer’s history with giving managers a second World Cup cycle, I think it’s time to move on — but before we can do that, we’ll have to establish what candidates are available and who could be the next boss.

Donald Wine II

If I’m grading Gregg Berhalter’s coaching job at the World Cup, I’d give it a solid B. He accomplished the task of getting us out of the group, but probably had his worst performance in the Round of 16. We left some points on the table and better in game adjustments and tactics would likely leave us still in the hunt for the World Cup title. I’m someone who fully believes that no coach should get more than one World Cup cycle, unless they win it all (and even then I’m skeptical). Gregg Berhalter had a specific task of returning the USMNT to the World Cup and causing some damage to set up the huge expectations this nation will have for 2026. And he did that. However, it’s time for another coach to come in and take this group to the next level, while thanking Gregg Berhalter for his service.

Adnan Ilyas

Gregg Berhalter ultimately had two things he needed to accomplish. He needed to restore the USMNT program after the disaster that was missing the World Cup entirely in 2018, and he needed to create a foundation for the program going into the 2026 cycle. I think Berhalter unquestionably accomplished these two things. Despite not qualifying last time, the USMNT was back in the knockout stages. And, on top of that, while the team didn’t make it to the quarterfinals, they played with a style and technical sophistication that turned heads. This cycle wasn’t about trying to change the image of American soccer; it was about recovery. But such was Berhalter’s ambition — and, evidently, ability — that the narrative did change to one about proving that American soccer actually is something compelling and worthwhile.

It is a massive honor and privilege to coach one’s own nation. It is especially good to coach a national team with so many promising and talented players entering their prime. Coaching such a group of players to a World Cup that they themselves will host elevates the position to another distinguished level. Which is to say, the position of head coach for the USMNT has suddenly become one of the biggest jobs in international soccer. And, given how well the team played and how strong the and positive the team culture has been, quite frankly, this job is Berhalter’s if he wants it. I don’t know if he does want it; there is talk about Gregg wanting a return to the club game. And I suspect there are clubs in Europe that would give him an offer, perhaps in the Netherlands or Germany where he once played. But I will say, I hope Berhalter moves on. I am delighted with what he’s done with the team and I think he deserves to be proud of where the team is now. But I tend to be skeptical of coaches staying for more than one international cycle. I think it is legitimate to fear that existing problems will deepen without a fresh set of eyes. And, for that reason, I would prefer to see someone new step into the role.

Brendan Joseph

The USMNT reached the Round of 16, which was both the expectation and a slightly pleasant surprise considering the squad’s youth. Yet, as with any tournament exit before the final, there is a lingering sense of “what could have been.” I will be equally unsurprised by Berhalter departing or sticking around for another ride. He is a known commodity who, I’m assuming, has built relationships with the players. While the 49-year-old has his flaws and is still learning on the job, there are many managers who would perform far worse and struggle with the idiosyncrasies of the position.

Jack Ellis (aka jcksnftsn)

Overall, I felt like this team performed exactly to expectations. Bowing out of the group stage would’ve been “disastrous” and beating the Netherlands would’ve been a huge step. So, what does average get you these days, somewhere in a C or B range? I’m going to go with a B- for Berhalter, as the team performed right to expectations but a little more courage against Wales or England could have easily seen them win the group and set up an easier knockout round matchup. In particular, the capitulation to England in settling for a draw at the end of the match, not really pushing for a goal when a loss meant almost nothing, felt like a real missed opportunity. The coach found his guys and ran with them as far as he could, which is a solid approach. However, running the players into the ground ended up taking its toll. Again, this is partly an issue with the sharp drop off in the player pool, and partly a long term issue of developing and integrating the available pieces in the pool. Ultimately, I’m left wondering what could have been if only Gio Reyna had more opportunity to impact the results. I’m assuming he played as much as he was able due to fitness, but if the usage was solely a coach’s decision, Berhalter’s grade would plummet in my book. An average grade is by definition decent and I hesitate to call for a new man at the top without knowing what that might look like, we can do worse. However, the track record of coaches in their second cycle, and the team’s consistent struggle to produce goal scoring opportunities does have me wondering if maybe the grass is greener.

Parker Cleveland

Gregg did fine and met expectations as far as being the second best team in the group, finishing second, and then losing to a better team in the Round of 16. The narrative that Louis van Gaal is a little unfair I think. The Dutch plan only really worked on the first goal where they ripped up the USA midfield and took advantage of the press so effectively. The second two really came down to individual errors and ball watching. Perhaps that’s on Gregg for not rotating his squad a bit, but I think 3-1 is somewhat unflattering to the USA. Justin mentioned the xG being pretty similar in that game and if Christian Pulisic scored his early chance or Haji Wright put away that errant back pass, the story is perhaps much different. I would prefer that the USA move on, but truth be told I think if Berhalter stays I would not be that upset.

Now, it’s your turn. How did Gregg Berhalter do at the World Cup? Hit the comments and discuss.