Amid U.S. Soccer's future focus, Gregg Berhalter just wants to get to work
NEW YORK -- The focus on a Tuesday afternoon at The Glasshouses -- which is, according to its website, "a collection of technologically advanced high-rise event spaces" -- was the future. The future of the United States men's national team, to be specific.
Gregg Berhalter, whose announcement as the new head coach prompted the occasion, talked about looking ahead. "It's about moving forward and thinking about where we want to end up in 2022," he said. "How do we get there? What are the right mix of players?"
Carlos Cordeiro, the new-ish United States Soccer Federation president, did too. "This is a great day for U.S. Soccer," he said. "A great day for the U.S. men's national team. Indeed, a great day for soccer in America."
Earnie Stewart, the American general manager and person most responsible for Berhalter's hiring, was also on message. "The style of play was important [in looking for a coach]," he said. "It explains where we are going and what we are trying to do."
The forward focus continued later in the afternoon. A few hours after the news conference concluded, there was a "The Future is US" fan summit.
All anyone wanted to talk about was next year and beyond. Berhalter, with his deep-set blue eyes offset by a blue button-down shirt that he wore without a tie, refused to even address how the U.S. team got to this point.
"I don't think it's appropriate to talk about the failure of the past," he said. Which makes sense because the recent past has been pretty brutal.
The Americans missed the 2018 World Cup. They spent more than 14 months without a head coach, a time in which interim manager Dave Sarachan worked admirably to introduce new players but found himself hamstrung by the lack of full-time tenure and a permanent direction. The results were fine, if not spectacular: wins against Paraguay and Mexico, a draw with France a month before Les Bleus took home the World Cup trophy in Russia, listless and convincing losses to Colombia, England and Italy. Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah and a few other young talents emerged as possible solutions going forward.
Life and careers continued. The men's national team stood still.
The future couldn't come quickly enough. You can't, however, get to the future without dealing with the present, so back to The Glasshouses. The 21st-floor room overlooking the rapidly growing west side of Manhattan, the Hudson River and New Jersey featured U.S. national team branding on the backdrop, the walls and the windows. Even the concrete pillars holding up the roof were draped in red, white and blue banners featuring the slogans "The future is US" and "Somos el futuro." One image with those words depicted a smiling DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green and Bobby Wood. Are these the players you think of when you think of the future?
Before the proceedings, Cordeiro mingled. It's a new era, one person observed to him. "Hopefully a good one," the president responded. Elsewhere, there were assorted flavors of cookies, soda provided by U.S. Soccer sponsor Coca-Cola and various American soccer luminaries including MLS commissioner Don Garber.
Following brief opening statements, the quartet seated at the dais -- Cordiero, Stewart, Berhalter and USSF CEO Dan Flynn -- answered questions for nearly half an hour. Most queries went to the new coach, who said the right things.
"We want a team that's going to compete. We want a team that's going to be prepared. We want a team that's going to understand our style of play and execute it," he said. "The process has to accelerate. When you have quality players, when you have players that have the ability to learn, you can accelerate that process a little bit. Each and every game, you should expect to see development. That's my job."
Berhalter talked passionately about building a cohesive style -- "an attacking-based team that wants to create goal-scoring opportunities by disorganizing the opponent" -- while touting his success at doing so in his last job with the Columbus Crew without coming off as overly impressed with himself. He mentioned sending supplemental materials and possibly webinars to his players when they are with their clubs around the world so they can develop as a group separately.
Throughout the event, Berhalter stayed calm and poised, respectful and collected. He presented as a thoughtful manager who understands what he wants from his players and how to empower them to achieve these ends. This should be more than enough.
While a news release announcing his appointment was absurdly effusive in its praise of his qualities -- "known as a fiercely competitive and intelligent player, a natural leader and a detailed, forward-thinking manager" -- the truth is that he's a fine and appropriate candidate to do the job. After a playing career that spanned three European countries and featured 44 caps with the U.S. national team, he had an up-and-down managerial stint with Sweden's Hammarby before joining the Crew as head coach and sporting director. It is this experience, which involved holding together a club with an uncertain future, that will help him most in his new job.
As American manager, his first task will be re-establishing a culture of accountability and presenting a coherent, sensible plan for the next few years. This is a skill set he possesses.
Still, the whole event, frankly, felt at least a tad ridiculous: the hyper-modern event space, the high production value, the flowery rhetoric. The future, man, the future. The U.S. got its guy -- though Stewart admitted that one of his three top candidates was no longer available when he wanted to interview him. Berhalter sat, listened, spoke. One suspects what he really wants to be doing is coaching. He'll get his chance starting soon, and judgment will follow quickly after.
But if you're a U.S. men's national team fan, it's easier to feel better about tomorrow today than it was yesterday.