Gregg Berhalter should be the Next USMNT Head Coach

Last week, I revisited my thoughts on the USMNT crashing out of World Cup Qualifying. Now it’s time to assess the recovery and answer the question on everyone’s lips: who should be the next USMNT coach? Word on the street is that we may know as soon as November 1st.

In order to answer this question I’ll give a quick recap of what the interim coach Dave Sarachan has done and I’ll list the qualities I would like the next USMNT coach to have. I have someone in mind, so I’ll make my pitch for one coach in particular.

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Whoever the next coach is for the USMNT will have a young star to work with in Christian Pulisic. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dave Sarachan was announced as the interim head coach for the USMNT within days of the team’s loss to Trinidad & Tobago. So far, Sarachan has lead the team in half a dozen friendlies with a mixed bag of results. Generally, he has done a good job of calling in youth who will play a large role in years to come, namely, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Timothy Weah. They have earned multiple caps over the last year and each will certainly be part of the team’s core going forward. It’s unfortunate Christian Pulisic has yet to join them, but I am excited to see him in the upcoming friendlies against Columbia and Peru. Sarachan has built a solid foundation of players for this team going forward.

Something that is often overlooked is what he has done for the mentality of this team. These young players are hungry when they are playing, despite these games meaning next to nothing. It’s something which has been sorely missed on the team over the last few years. I credit Sarachan here even if he has passively allowed the players to set the tone. The truth is past head coaches haven’t fostered the same environment where players want to fight for all 90 minutes.

That being said, Sarachan’s tenure hasn’t been all roses. Tactically, he suffers from some of the same ills that plagued Bruce Arena’s team. That is, his tactics are outdated, and his 4-1-4-1 formation probably won’t maximize our best XI’s talent. For an interim head coach, that’s fine. None of this should make the USMNT worse for the wear by the time competitive games come around. By that point, the permanent head coach will establish their system. Fingers crossed it’s a good one.

What do we want this new head coach to do? Here’s what I would like to see:

  1. Man-Manager/Motivator – Someone who can make any game feel like the World Cup Final. I think a few of our core players (at least Pulisic, Adams, Miazga, and Yedlin) are fairly self-motivated. They won’t need much of a push. Letting those players set an example and rewarding them appropriately will go a long way. The inverse is also true. If a player has a toxic attitude, they should be punished/benched. Similar to Sarachan, perhaps all this coach needs to do is let the players motivate each other.
  2. Tactician – Someone who can create a team identity. Personally, I’d like to see the USMNT play some attractive, possession-based soccer, but I’d be happy if we were a bunker-and-counter team or a pressing team, or any other style so long as we had an identity.
  3. Pragmatist – On the other hand, I think the head coach needs to be practical. If the next head coach wants us to be a pressing team, we can’t run a high press every game, all game. Depending on our opponent, line-up, conditions, etc. it may be more beneficial to play a different style for that one game. 
  4. Scout – Someone who will find talented Americans in all leagues and consider them for national team camps. You could also include winning over dual-nationals under this category. Recently the US lost a great potential player in Jonathan Gonzalez to Mexico because he got called into their camp first. That trend can’t continue. 
  5. Developer of Youth – Someone who knows when to bring in a young player, when to stick with a young player, and when to let go of an older player. The USMNT has sorely missed this over the last decade.
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Berhalter made 44 appearances on the US National team. (Wikimedia Commons)

If we can find a head coach who does all of the above, then we will be in a good position to achieve all of our future goals. With that said, I think Gregg Berhalter checks all of these boxes better than any other candidate. For those unaware, Berhalter is a former center back who currently coaches the Columbus Crew in MLS.  Let me walk you through my thought process:

  1. Man-Manager/Motivator – Berhalter falls under the man-manager heading more than the motivator. The best example is Kei Kamara. In 2015, Kei Kamara lead the league in goals for Berhalter’s Columbus Crew. They lost the MLS Cup to Portland and proceeded to collapse the following year. It was no secret that Kamara was a toxic presence in the locker room when the results weren’t going their way. Soon enough Kei Kamara gets traded to New England. A vocal, bad attitude can ruin a locker room. Despite Kamara being the top goal-scorer, Berhalter wasn’t afraid to move on from him. And like I said before, with vocal guys like Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic in the locker room, a coach may be able to pass these duties onto those guys. 
  2. Tactician – Berhalter’s teams regularly play some of the prettiest soccer in MLS. It’s possession-based, it’s methodical, and Berhalter has been able to plug and play different players into his system. Look at Gyassi Zardes. The LA Galaxy were playing him at right back at the end of last season because he wasn’t scoring goals. He gets traded to Columbus and he has 16 goals on the season. Ola Kamara scored a similar amount after being plucked out of a Scandinavian League, and before him it was Kei Kamara. Plug. And. Play. In the words of Will Trapp, Berhalter is great at “making guys on the field understand the clarity of the picture.” I have no doubts of Berhalter’s tactical know-how.
  3. Pragmatist – In 2015, the New York Red Bulls won their 2nd Supporter’s Shield in 3 years. They were playing a high-press style which was quite new and few teams knew how to counter it. The Red Bulls were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by none other than Berhalter’s Columbus Crew. One would expect New York’s high press to rip apart Columbus’ possession-based style. Instead, Columbus sat back, let New York have the ball, and killed them on the counter (a strategy which is effective against New York to this day). Point being: Berhalter wasn’t afraid to deviate from his tactical norm in order to get a result. That’s pragmatic coaching and something the US needs. He did something similar against Atlanta United in the 2017 playoffs, holding Atlanta scoreless and winning on penalties. 
  4. Scout – Not only is Berhalter Columbus’ head coach, but he is also the sporting director, meaning he makes the decisions when it comes to signing, trading and releasing players. With that role, he has brought in players like Artur, Ola Kamara and Milton Valenzuela to Columbus. Artur has become the perfect partner for Will Trapp and Valenzuela is arguably the best left back in the league. Berhalter has also done this on a low-budget team in Columbus. It’s not like he has the money to buy the best players; he had to find the right guy and get him for the right price. It hasn’t been all good for Berhalter in that regard. Pedro Santos is one of Columbus highest paid players and he has one goal over the course of the last year as a winger. Everyone whiffs on a signing from time to time. Despite Pedro Santos’ poor play, I still think Berhalter has more good than bad in this category.  
  5. Developer of Youth – This one is tougher as Columbus doesn’t exactly have the most prolific academy. Only Will Trapp and Alex Crognale are current Crew academy products on the roster and Crognale has been loaned out for the year. This is not the fault of Berhalter, as I doubt the Crew’s ownership has devoted that much money to their academy. That being said, Trapp is a commensurate professional. Say what you want about his play on the field, no one has a bad thing to say about him off the field. Additionally, half of developing youth is letting go of veteran players. Berhalter has shown a tendency to do just that as exemplified with Kei Kamara, and Tony Tchani. Tchani was Trapp’s partner in that 2015 season before he was traded and Artur filled the same role.

All of the above is why I have been on the Berhalter train for the past couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, there are other candidates I would be content with, such as Oscar Pareja, Jesse Marsch, or Tata Martino. But Pareja’s teams play more defensively than I’d like, and both Marsch and Tata seem to over-think big games and get the tactics wrong (For Marsh, look at the Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League exit to Chivas, and for Tata look at Atlanta’s loss to Columbus last year in the playoffs and their recent loss to the Red Bulls). No candidate is perfect, I could just as easily point to Berhalter’s inexperience with developing youth as a weakness. I would rather take that unknown with Berhalter than known flaws with other coaches. 

And with that, I will see you next week where I will dissect the recent USMNT roster, examining my likes/dislikes, and project a starting XI! 

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MLS playoff hopefuls after the first fortnight of the season

I will admit it. I was completely wrong about the start to the MLS season. I truly believed that MLS and its players would be unable to find a level ground for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Turns out, the two sides were able to come up with a new agreement, which meant that the season would start on schedule. Good thing they did too because the last two weeks have been truly exciting. The parity in the MLS is incredible as well, with only one team having won each of its first games. With two weeks down, it’s time to take a look at who the playoff teams at the end of this year will be.

Eastern Conference:

Number 6: New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls were a goal away from pushing into the MLS Final. However, without Tierry Henry, it is unlikely New York will be as high up in the standings. With two different Designated Player positions yet to be filled, the Red Bulls will be candidates to land a game changing player to make a big push for the playoffs. It worked for New England last year with Jermaine Jones.

Number 5: New York City FC
Another New York team clocks in at five. NYCFC actually sits atop the Eastern Conference at the moment, but that likely won’t last. David Villa proved last week that he can be a force and Ned Grabavoy looked strong in the midfield. Bringing in Frank Lampard midway through the season will provide a nice boost NYC will need to stay afloat for the postseason hunt.

Number 4: New England Revolution
The defending Eastern Conference champions look a bit rattled right now. Through two games, they have failed to register a point, outscored five goals to nil. However, the losses came against Seattle and NYC, both of whom will be in the postseason. New England needs to make some changes, but with time to right the ship, they should be fine.

Number 3: Orlando City SC
Sitting just behind New York City currently is the other fresh face to the MLS. With four point in their first two matches and a group of talented, promising players, Orlando has the assets needed to finish in the top three in the East. Ricardo Kaká is their leader and when he plays well, this is a tough club to beat. Defense will carry this club as far as they go.

Number 2: DC United
DC will once again find themselves near the top of the East. Bill Hamid is tough to beat in between the posts and more often than not, DC can find the offense needed to get a win. United allowed the fewest goals last tied with LA. Once again, DC will find a way to win low scoring games on their way to a top playoff seed.

Number 1: Columbus Crew
With Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain and Ethan Findlay running the show in Ohio, the Crew will be a tough outfit to beat. Those three have Columbus in a good spot already to begin the season sitting third after just two matches. If the Crew’s defensive performance steps up even marginally this year compared to last, this team will finish atop the Eastern Conference.

Western Conference:

Number 6: Houston Dynamo
Landing Cubo Torres in the offseason was a great move for the Dynamo. For a team that struggled to score and really got beat badly on a regular basis, getting a top goal scorer was a top priority. Their victory over Columbus shows that this team is ready to turn the corner and become a threat in the postseason.

Number 5: Sporting KC
Despite sitting last right now in the West, I think Kansas City will find a way into the postseason. It will be close but with Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer running the show, this team has enough talent to reach the playoffs. Predicated on defense, this will be a tough team to out over the course of the season. Their loss this year came at Dallas, which is more than acceptable given how good Dallas is.

Number 4: Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake returns to the playoffs in 2015. Here is yet another team that wins with its defense, allowing the third fewest goals in MLS just a season ago. Kyle Beckerman anchor this group and with Nick Rimando in between the posts, this team is tough to score on. If the collection of strikers for RSL can muster up some more goals this year, they could finish even higher.

Number 3: FC Dallas
Currently sitting as the king of the hill in the West and this no fluke. The two wins come against San Jose and Sporting KC, which gives them some credibility. Dallas won’t remain on top come seasons end with the two powers who control the West playing as well as they do but they will be a title contender come the fall.

Number 2: Los Angeles Galaxy
This is where LA finished its 2014 campaign and then went on to win the MLS Cup. I think they won’t mind a repeat. With Landon Donovan gone and Steven Gerrard not set to join the club until almost July, look for the Galaxy to slip a little bit from their 2014 form. This team though still outscored opponents by 32 goals last season. I don’t think they will be that dominate this year but they will make another playoff appearance as a top seed.

Number 1: Seattle Sounders FC
Once again, Seattle will finish on top in the West. After winning the Supporters Shield last year and qualifying for the playoffs every year in its existence, Seattle desperately wants a title. Making the postseason is no longer enough. The Sounders will certainly get their once again, but it remains to be seen if they can actually make the jump into the MLS Final, something this squad has still yet to do.