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Gregg Berhalter 'the right man' U.S. Soccer was seeking to lead national team

Gregg Berhalter 'the right man' U.S. Soccer was seeking to lead national team
Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter prior to taking on the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 11. (Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

That Gregg Berhalter would become the next coach of the national soccer team has been more a certainty than a secret for weeks. But it didn’t become official until Saturday evening, when U.S. Soccer’s board of directors voted unanimously to ratify his appointment.

U.S. Soccer announced Berhalter’s hiring Sunday and will introduce him in a press conference Tuesday in New York.

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Filling the position, which had been open since Bruce Arena stepped down in October 2017 following a failed World Cup qualifying campaign, was Earnie Stewart’s top priority when he took over as general manager of the national team in August. And though Stewart -- who was assisted by Nico Romeijn, U.S. Soccer’s chief sport development officer, and Ryan Mooney, the chief soccer officer – considered 33 candidates and talked to 11, the search started and ended with Berhalter, a former Galaxy player and assistant coach who has spent the last five seasons as the manager and sporting director of the Columbus Crew.

“I am absolutely convinced Gregg is the right man to lead the national team program moving forward,” said Stewart, who played alongside Berhalter at the 2002 World Cup, in a statement. “He ticks all the boxes with his background as a person, a successful coach and an accomplished former international player.”

Berhalter will conduct his first national team training camp next month, then make his international coaching debut in late January against an opponent still to be announced. His first competitive match as coach will come in June’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

“This is a tremendous honor,” Berhalter said in a statement. “Having played for the national team I know what it means to represent our country. I believe in our players and our program, and together we will work to build something special and develop a team that will make our supporters proud.”

Stewart began his search by talking to more than a dozen people in and around U.S. Soccer – among them eight former national team captains with at least 100 international caps – to identify the traits needed in a new coach.

“I felt getting the feedback of those who had contributed so much to the success of our national team in the past was important,” said Stewart, who played 101 games for the U.S. “I didn’t want it to be random either. The criteria I set for who I would reach out to was purposeful. There’s no mistake with someone that played 100 times for their country or captained the national team on multiple occasions.”

Stewart, Romeijn and Mooney conducted just two formal interviews, with Berhalter and former FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja. Berhalter’s brother Jay, U.S. Soccer’s chief operating officer, was not involved in the process, Stewart said.

The fact the national team went without a full-time coach for nearly 14 months was the result of a number of factors. Shortly after Arena resigned, Sunil Gulati announced he would not run for re-election as the president of U.S. Soccer, leaving the hiring of a new coach for his successor. At about the same time U.S. Soccer’s board voted to create a general manager position for the national team to lead that search.

Carlos Cordeiro was elected president in February and immediately turned his attention to the 2026 World Cup bid, which the U.S., joined by Canada and Mexico, ultimately won. That delayed Stewart’s hiring as GM until June and it was two more months before he reported to work.

At 45 Berhalter, who was also a candidate for the Galaxy’s vacant coaching job, is the youngest coach to head the U.S. national team since Steve Sampson, who was 38 when he took the job in 1995.

A defender, Berhalter appeared in 44 games for the national team and was a member of two World Cup teams. He also played for clubs in the Netherlands, England, Germany and MLS during a 17-year playing career that ended in 2011 when he was a player-coach on a Galaxy team that won both the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup.

Three weeks later when he was named head coach at Hammarby IF, a second-division Swedish club partly, making him the first American to manage in Europe. He returned to MLS in November 2013 as coach and sporting director at Columbus, a club he took to four playoff appearances and an MLS Cup final in five seasons.

Dave Sarachan, Arena’s top assistant with the Galaxy and in two stints with the national team, served as caretaker manager for the U.S. team over the last 14 months going 3-5-4, including a win over Mexico and a draw with eventual World Cup champion France.

But his chief accomplishment was rejuvenating a national team player pool that had grown old, giving 23 players their international debuts in his 12 games in charge, the most of any U.S. coach in the modern era. The players Sarachan started last month in the national team’s final game of 2018 averaged 22 years 71 days, more than five years younger than the players Arena used in the final World Cup qualifier 13 months earlier.

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