In a turn of events, Gregg Berhalter has returned as the U.S. men’s national team head coach after his contract expired Dec. 21, 2022. It has been a tumultuous time in the U.S. camp since its World Cup elimination in the round of 16, a period in which the 49-year-old was the subject of an investigation after allegations of domestic violence against him — information shared to U.S. Soccer by midfielder Gio Reyna‘s parents, who were unhappy with the lack of playing time for their son and comments by Berhalter about Reyna at a news conference.
After the investigation, U.S. Soccer deemed that the incident between Berhalter and his wife in 1992 did not eliminate him from consideration for another cycle as the men’s head coach. The search for the next manager continued, with the team being linked to Jesse Marsch, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, to name a few. We’ve come full circle to Berhalter, who led the USMNT to 37 wins, 11 losses and 12 draws over his previous stint, but how will the team dynamic change? Can Berhalter continue to build on his success? And most importantly, was this the best decision?
ESPN writers Kyle Bonagura, Jeff Carlisle, Bill Connelly, Cesar Hernandez and Luis Miguel Echegaray give their views on Berhalter’s reappointment, whether they agree with it and what to expect next.
Berhalter rehire is underwhelming, but can he build on foundations he laid down?
Berhalter’s return as USMNT manager feels safe. He’s a known quantity, one that isn’t going to push the USSF out of its comfort zone. It’s certainly not going to generate excitement in the U.S. fan base, a significant swath of which has wanted him gone for a while in favor of a bigger name.
As I wrote after Thursday’s win over Mexico, there were some compelling reasons for not bringing Berhalter back. A domestic violence incident, no matter how long ago, and even though restorative steps have clearly been taken, isn’t easy to get past. The outing of locker room dirty laundry related to nearly sending Reyna home from the World Cup, no matter how obliquely Berhalter tried to do it, hinted at potential problems with the players. And then there is the second-cycle syndrome, where returning national team coaches don’t improve on their first go-round. The history of second cycles in the U.S., from Bruce Arena to Bob Bradley to Jurgen Klinsmann, hasn’t been an encouraging one.
For these reasons, I thought that the USSF would look elsewhere.
But player input matters, and the backing of Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah hints at a strong level of support inside the U.S. locker room. It also sends a signal that the way Berhalter handled the quarrel with Reyna, at least until it was made public, was approved of by the broader player pool.
Clearly, Berhalter has some fence-mending to engage in with Reyna. Those will be hard conversations, and Thursday’s win over Mexico revealed how much more dynamic the U.S. attack looks with Reyna in the middle. But that’s what Berhalter gets paid for, and there is too much at stake for either individual to hold a grudge.
Let’s be clear, however. Claudio and Danielle Reyna behaved abominably in disclosing the domestic violence incident and dragging Rosalind Berhalter into a petty dispute over their son’s treatment. It’s good to see that behavior not get rewarded.
As for the USSF, they look like they don’t know what they’re doing, spending considerable time and money to hire a sporting director who led them back to exactly the same place they were in December. This all should have been finalized months ago when the results of the investigation were announced.
Is it an ambitious rehire? Not at all. But there is something to be said for continuity. Berhalter has spent the past four-plus years building this team, and now he’ll have the opportunity to expand on the foundation that was laid down. With no World Cup qualifying, there will be fewer competitive fixtures over the next three years to do that, so the fact that there is familiarity between manager and players gives the U.S. something of a head start rather than starting over.
Now we’ll see if safety results in growth and progress. — Carlisle
Is Christian Pulisic already better than Landon Donovan?
Herculez Gomez raves about Christian Pulisic’s two-goal performance in a 3-0 victory vs. Mexico.
USSF’s U-turn is not a good look
After last night’s chaotic victory over Mexico, USMNT’s captain Pulisic said, “Today is a testament of the work that [Berhalter] put into this team.”
I know he meant it as a compliment, given the scoreline and big gap in current development between the American setup and their Mexican rivals, but because of last night’s erratic match (four red cards, objects thrown onto the pitch, the homophobic chant that continued throughout the game) it’s also a great line to describe the circus that has surrounded the U.S. Soccer Federation since the whole Reyna/Berhalter ordeal.
The decision to rehire Berhalter is a bit like like the season finale of “Lost” where the “flash-sideways” narrative showed how the Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 never crashed. Here, Berhalter is the airplane, with the descending reality that he might never get his job back, especially after the arrival of Matt Crocker, the federation’s new sporting director who replaced Earnie Stewart. In the end, all of us would come to the conclusion that after a lengthy investigation and five months of dilly-dallying, the team would have a new manager. But just like the ending of “Lost” and Flight 815, we’re all left in purgatory scratching our heads at the time wasted.
From a strategical standpoint, I have no issues with Berhalter’s return, and in many ways, it makes a lot of sense. Pulisic is correct. The chemistry and camaraderie amongst this young American team is evident, and in the end, it was Berhalter who built it and eventually took them to the World Cup and a spot in the round of 16. The team likes him. They trust him. Maybe even Reyna (though I do question Reyna’s judgement after seeing his peroxide blonde hair). Vieira or Henry could have been choices that showed more ambition, but in the end, if the squad is happy, then part of the job is done.
My issue isn’t with Berhalter’s return. It’s with a federation who spent an entire year literally going around in a circle by hiring an outside firm that interviewed multiple candidates, only to make a decision they could have done themselves in a much shorter timeframe.
I salute you, USSF. You are making CONMEBOL teams look less chaotic. — Echegaray
Herc Gomez: We were wrong about USMNT talent level
Herculez Gomez says the USMNT showed its quality by blanking Mexico 3-0, despite playing under an interim coach.
Can Berhalter get the best out his players, including Reyna?
Had the public feud with the Reyna family never happened and Berhalter been renewed at the end of his contract, I would have mostly been indifferent to his return as manager. The team checked the minimum accomplishment boxes — Nations League and Gold Cup trophies, World Cup round of 16, dual-national recruiting success, etc. — to justify his continued employment.
The obvious caveat is that his appointment coincided with a rapid improvement of the player pool, so it’s not apples-to-apples when comparing the team’s success with how it performed under past managers. He had better players to coach, so the bar to measure success should have been higher. That’s why it was hard to ever get excited about the job Berhalter did specifically. He had all this talent, but the attack usually performed at a level — especially against the better competition — that was less than the sum of its parts.
Then, of course, came the Reyna stuff. It was messy, embarrassing on a number of levels and doesn’t need to be rehashed again today. The ordeal became the prominent storyline in the wake of what was, for the most part, a good showing at the World Cup. It was one of those stories that U.S. Soccer should have wanted to put to bed as fast as possible and never revisit. So, when the federation announced it was bringing in an outside search firm to help find a new sporting director, who would then lead the search for a new coach, common sense indicated there was no way that path would lead back to Berhalter (despite the USSF’s insistence that he remained an eligible candidate).
We’ll find out in the coming days and weeks what happened behind the scenes that led to Berhalter’s return, but the most obvious takeaway is that the hiring process comes off as amateur and borderline comical. Leadership will inevitably dress it up as wanting to be thorough, but that supposed thoroughness makes the past five months look like a complete waste of time. It will look even worse if he’s not coaching the team at the Gold Cup.
There is no shortage of global candidates who were qualified for the job. The idea that there wasn’t a better candidate in the USSF’s price range is hard to fathom. Still, there are continuity benefits from Berhalter’s return that are worth acknowledging. Either way, the players remain the most important factor in dictating how the team performs. — Bonagura
U.S. soccer play it safe ahead of 2026 World Cup
It was easy to feel like the U.S. could find an upgrade over Berhalter. He was tactically outclassed by Louis van Gaal in the World Cup round of 16, and frankly, his fear of falling victim to Concacaf nonsense (primarily in road games during World Cup qualification) seemed to lead to a paranoid and overly cautious approach. Some of his squad selections were confusing and/or frustrating, and while he obviously wanted a pressing-and-possession style, a lot of the worst moments the U.S. produced under his command were with constant, aimless possession that made it seem like the talent wasn’t suited for the tactics.
Throw in the soap opera that unfolded with the Reyna family in December, the long gap between his contract expiration and the present, and the ongoing assumptions that things frequently go wrong in a national team coach’s second cycle, and this felt like a solid time for a clean break.
At the same time, even with plenty of shaky moments, the U.S. played almost exactly to its talent levels under Berhalter at the World Cup. They have more depth of talent than Iran and Wales, and they advanced past them; they had less than the Netherlands, and they lost to them. And since the World Cup, under two different interim coaches, the tactics and personnel decisions have been almost indistinguishable from Berhalter’s, and the U.S. has continued to perform as one would expect against opponents at hand.
If the country’s golden generation of early- to mid-20s players continues to mature in the coming years, the U.S. will have its best roster ever for the 2026 World Cup. Knowing that the players like him and play to their talent levels under him, it’s easy to think, “Hey, bird in hand!” and go back to the Berhalter well. Maybe you could improve upon his abilities by making a new hire, but maybe you could do worse, too.
Uninspiring logic? Absolutely, especially when you think about how much stock we’re putting into a four-match sample (and if you think, like I did, that the U.S. underachieved in World Cup qualification.) But his overall record was still solid at worst. The long delay in making this decision seems ridiculous in retrospect — and if it turns out that he and Reyna can never restore a healthy relationship, it will seem far worse — but many of the team’s star players spoke in his favor, and there’s plenty of time for Reyna restoration.
I’d love to think there was a perfect successor out there, but unicorns don’t exist, and there’s at least a strain of logic in bringing him back. — Connelly
Callaghan ‘in no way embarrassed’ by USMNT red cards
Interim head coach B.J. Callaghan says he was not embarrassed by the red cards to Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest in USMNT’s 3-0 win vs. Mexico.
Berhalter’s influence runs deep on star players
It’s back to a comfortable square one for the USMNT. In what initially seemed to point to a new direction after the drama regarding Reyna and a reshuffling of USSF leadership, Berhalter has returned as the surprising, and also safe, rehire.
It’s tough to imagine many USMNT fans are popping bottles of champagne right now because of the return — although some might still be drinking after the dominant 3-0 win over Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League, to be fair — but the return of Berhalter should maintain stability in a project that took steps in the right direction this past World Cup cycle. With Berhalter leading the way, the USMNT brought in a new generation of talent, won over key dual-national figures, clinched the 2021 Gold Cup, and also lifted the inaugural 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League trophy. Sure, the World Cup round of 16 exit last year neither surpassed nor fell below expectations, but it laid down a promising foundation to build off of.
Could U.S. Soccer have aimed higher for the hire? Most definitely. Tactically and in games against difficult opponents, there was lots of room for improvement for the coach who had managed just two club teams before getting the USMNT job. Off the field, there’s also everything surrounding the Reyna incident, which is going to take a lot more than just a few paragraphs to truly dive back into.
But what was noticeable in recent months was that even though Berhalter was out of contract in 2023, high-profile members of the USMNT like Weah and Pulisic still backed him. Even with B.J. Callaghan, the interim head coach, taking charge against Mexico in the Nations League, it was also easy to see the Berhalter influence that helped guide a player like Pulisic to the incredible MOTM performance he had over the USMNT’s longtime rivals.
All that said, there is something quite funny and bizarre about U.S. Soccer stating Friday that sporting director Matt Crocker “led a worldwide search process” for a new head coach before landing back on Berhalter again. Time will tell whether it’s the right decision and whether they should have searched a little more. — Hernandez