In the days since Gregg Berhalter was announced as the head coach of the United States Men’s National Team, fans, players and pundits have all expressed their take on the hire, the man, and even the hiring process. One of those pundits, Taylor Twellman, has been very outspoken at some of U.S. Soccer’s failures. This week, he spoke with Stars & Stripes FC while promoting his participation in the Allstate All-America Cup during MLS All-Star week to discuss the recent hire of Berhalter, the hiring process, what American players need to do to improve, and even the upcoming U.S. Soccer vice presidential election.
Gregg Berhalter’s hire has been criticized by a number of fans for various reasons, but what Twellman stressed is that while the process was slow, Gregg Berhalter is a good fit for the USMNT. “I think Gregg is a very meticulous coach, he’s a coach that pays attention to detail, and he has shown a great quality in [getting] a team to execute a particular gameplan.”
Despite his relative inexperience, Twellman thinks Berhalter will pick up the job quickly and apply his own stamp on the MNT program. “Going from working with a team every single day to now working with a team at most 80 days in a calendar is going to be different [for Berhalter], but...he can get a group to believe in the game plan. How he can articulate that gameplan will be interesting, because I think a lot of these exciting young players are going to be very interested in [his gameplan]. So I think Gregg is a good hire and a very interesting one.”
The talk quickly moved to the hiring process, a 14-month crawl that saw U.S. Soccer only interview Berhalter and Oscar Pareja for the position and not being transparent throughout the process. Twellman was very stern in his comments about what the process has done to undermine the tenure of Gregg Berhalter before it even started. “I think U.S. Soccer has just put a needless amount of pressure on Gregg Berhalter now because there wasn’t a lot of transparency throughout the entire process. I think that’s one of the things that should have changed.”
Because of this long, drawn out process, U.S. Soccer has brought a lot of ire to the MNT side of the program and the federation at large. A lot of trust has been lost. Still, Twellman was very quick in stating what he thinks will bring U.S. Soccer, and the USMNT, some goodwill. “Oh, they’ve got to win games. I can go on every radio show and TV show in the country and explain the optics, what [this process] looks like and it can all be true, but if [the USMNT wins] games, what does it really matter? The reality is, there’s gotta be tangible results. you’ve gotta see it, you’ve gotta believe it...[If] they come out and win the Gold Cup and stroll through World Cup qualifying, then you have some optimism back. So, ultimately, it comes down to results.”
Part of those results, according to Twellman, include the improvement of the American players, because naturally the improvement of the players will lead to a better national team. “[The] American players have to get better, they’ve gotta improve, and they’ve got to be playing at a higher level. It’s one thing to be in Europe, but it’s another thing to actually play in Europe and get consistent games.” Pressed on the question of whether the path should be for players to begin in Major League Soccer and then move to Europe or for the national team to have most of its stars playing domestically, Taylor admitted there’s no black or white answer.
“First and foremost, you need as many Americans playing, I don’t care where you are. You can on one hand have every single player playing in MLS, and on the other say we have 20 players in Europe. But how many of them are playing?” He goes on to explain that American players don’t need to worry about the level of play just yet. They need to be playing regularly.
“[You] want all of your players playing at the highest level...playing not training. If you got 40 players playing in the EPL, then you’ve already got your answer, but it’s not like that for the American player right now. You need as many Americans—Gregg Berhalter needs as many Americans playing games week in and week out, and then you can have the next conversation of what level are they playing. Do I think it’s a huge step in the process that a Tyler Adams went through an academy to MLS and then to Europe? Absolutely, that’s the way it should be done. [If] MLS embraces it, that’s the way Weston McKennie should have gone, that’s the way Christian Pulisic should have gone over, that’s the way Josh Sargent should have gone over. So, the sooner MLS has a part in that, now you’re talking about players going over to Europe through MLS, and now MLS is on the world market and [part of] the world conversation that happens all over the world with every other club [and league].”
Taylor Twellman went on to stress that just going to Europe means nothing if the players aren’t getting consistent playing time:
“[Too] often, I read or listen to people saying ‘Well, he’s playing at Manchester City.’ No, he’s not. He’s owned by Manchester city, he’s on loan, and he’s not playing on that loan. That’s not good enough. I don’t care where you’re playing in the world, you have to be playing week in and week out. Then, we can have the further discussion of what level [they are] playing at right now, but...we still have a [different] conversation that needs to be had: how many Americans are playing [for their club teams]? That includes Major League Soccer. One of these things that I have said to a bunch of people over the last year [is to] watch the trend of the American player over the next 5-8 years. It’s gonna be very interesting to watch how many Americans are playing [then].”
Finally, Twellman turned his thoughts to the U.S. Soccer vice presidential election that will take place at their annual meeting in February. The presidential election from this past February was heavily discussed and debated and drew a lot of attention, as several high-profile candidates ran for the right to head up the nation’s soccer federation. Then-U.S. Soccer VP Carlos Cordeiro won the election, and the winner of the upcoming vice presidential election will fill his vacant seat and serve out the rest of that term. Twellman didn’t mention any particular candidates that he thought should run because “some of the candidates I think would be good can’t or won’t run for it.” He emphasized that U.S. Soccer needs to be more clear about its process to have more success. Otherwise, “the presidential election, to me, is going to go unnoticed because there hasn’t been change.” He thinks that whoever the candidates are that emerge for the vice presidential election should be “willing to move the needle and push the ball uphilll, so to speak, in order to get things done. If that’s not the case, then I’m not sure the [VP] election even matters.”
Strong words from Taylor Twellman, and U.S. Soccer would be good to listen to them. It’s certainly thoughts that are shared by a large group of USMNT fans. But, if they’re not listening to Taylor Twellman, who has a huge platform at ESPN, then we just go back to what he said on the night of October 10, 2017, after the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup: