Gregg Berhalter was a bit of a controversial choice when he took the helm of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) in 2018. The team has largely performed at their expected level under his leadership. Given the most talented US squad we’ve ever seen on paper, however, and the fact that we are hosting the World Cup in 2026, giving us a rare home-field advantage, is Gregg Berhalter the right man to lead the USMNT for World Cup 2026? 

A Little History 

In 2011, the national team hired Jurgen Klinsmann, a very high profile coach at the time due to his success with the German national team and experience at Bayern Munich. Since the program and player pool was evolving quite a bit at the time, with more and more American players finding success in Europe, it seemed like it was a good idea to hire a high profile coach with experience in the European environment – this was thought as a necessary step to take our program to the next level. 

Under Klinsmann, the US did well in the 2014 World Cup, advancing to the second round and losing to a very good Belgium squad in overtime, and generally had some good results. The program did look to be moving in the right direction. For a time at least. After the shock of failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 for the first time since 1986, the US went in a different direction than their previous cycle.

After this failed tenure, it was assumed the US would go for another high profile, internationally recognized coach. Instead, they picked Gregg Berhalter for the job. It was a slightly controversial pick due to his brother Jay Berhalter’s role as the Chief Commercial Officer of US Soccer and Gregg’s own decent but unspectacular coaching resume. 

Coaching Background – Why Did He Get the Job?

Gregg Berhalter has a great playing background, especially as one of the first US players to establish himself with a long career in Europe. Even though he never played for the top, top teams, the fact that an American could consistently play at a high level over there was impressive during his playing era (when our soccer culture was much less advanced).

Berhalter had a decent but uninspiring record as a head coach before he was selected for the US job. He was with Hammarby in the Swedish second division. After his stint there, failing to gain promotion, he returned to the US to coach the Columbus Crew of the MLS. 

At Columbus, some would say he exceeded expectations for a small-market MLS team that doesn’t boast the resources of other teams in the league. He qualified them for the playoffs in 4 out of 5 seasons, but only managed an overall win percentage of 38%. They did make the MLS finals in 2015, but lost in that match.

And that’s it. Two coaching jobs and some mild overperformance. But nothing that jumps out and says “this guy should definitely get the most important coaching job in the country.” Especially if you consider options outside of the US coaching pool.

Coaching Style

I think what caught the eye the most was his rapport with players, as well as the progressive playing style of his teams. 

His ability to relate to players plays an important role, especially for a national team coach. You don’t get to coach your players year round, squads change due to form and injuries, and a coach must stay in touch to make sure players are in the right frame of mind when they do have to switch gears and report for national team duty. 

Gregg apparently is very strong in this respect. Many current players laud his ability to check up on them regularly, as well as their relationship with him. He was a decent USMNT player himself (44 caps isn’t too shabby, and he was a key member of the 2002 team that made the World Cup quarterfinals), with a long career in Europe among middle tier teams, which also gives the players that bit of extra respect. A lot of our players play in Europe now, and they know he understands their perspective quite well.

Christian Pulisic backs Berhalter as the USMNT coach

What presumably caught the attention of the decision makers for the job when Gregg was in contention was likely his style of play. He likes to play front-foot, possession-oriented soccer, with a strong preference for ball retention and aggressive pressing. This style was just starting to become more popular in the mid/late 2010’s, and Gregg Berhalter was one of the few US coaches utilizing this more en vogue playing style. 

I even remember them mentioning Berhalter’s use of inverted fullbacks while at Columbus and in the early days with the national team – something that was a relatively new idea at the time (Pep Guardiola had just started using them with Manchester City). This advanced tactic was something most US coaches were not employing at the time, and hinted at the possibility of Berhalter being able to coach at a higher level.

US Soccer had always had the goal of becoming a world power in the game, and they felt like a shift in style away from the more workmanlike teams of the past was necessary for the progression of the program. Also forming an American identity for our national team had always been preached (as a former ODP player, we heard this type of rhetoric all the time). Creating a style of play more aligned with new tactical ideas likely impressed the decision-makers at the US Soccer Federation.

This is probably why an American coach made more sense at the time, especially as our tenure with a highly regarded foreign coach did not end well. 

This mix of player relatability, the embracing of new tactical ideas, and experience as a European-based USMNT player ultimately gave him the edge. His brother’s role probably didn’t hurt either. 

Meeting Expectations

So far, Gregg Berhalter has met expectations as the national team coach. Is this progress? I think given that we easily have the most talented and deep squad in our history, not as much as we should hope for.

We’ve beaten the teams we are supposed to beat. We’ve lost the games we should lose. We’ve beaten the crap out of Mexico (who are arguably at their weakest point in many decades). But past US teams have been able to pull off upsets. Gregg’s teams have not. 

Our overall play is better. We possess the ball better. It looks prettier. But for whatever reason, our teams don’t play with the same grit and determination of past US teams that were able to give better teams a tougher match. This keeps us from getting those ugly wins against better teams.

The game against the Netherlands in the 2022 World Cup is the best example. The Dutch have a more talented squad, but the gap isn’t anywhere near where it used to be. And we lost 3-1 and were never really in the game after two quick first half goals. The tactics were naive. We pushed too many men forward, and it seemed like the Netherlands had a much more street smart approach – wait until we make a mistake with too many men forward, then counter quickly. They did this to devastating effect. 

Not to say we should win these games regularly, or that we should have beaten the Dutch. But that game should have been more competitive. We have to put up a better fight and give ourselves a chance to win these games. Especially if we want to become a legit World Cup contender. The less talented US teams of the past have been able to get these types of results (vs. Colombia in ‘94, Argentina in ’95, Portugal in ‘02, and Spain in ‘09 come to mind). 

The recent result against Colombia is as worrying as his reaction. Colombia has a slightly more talented squad than the US (maybe), but they beat us pretty soundly (5-1). At times we looked good on the ball and created some danger. But we were way too easy to beat. Not only was our mentality in the wrong place (definitely needed some more intensity and sharpness defensively), but our setup was way too easy to break down. 

And Berhalter’s response that “we didn’t respect the game” really calls himself into question. It’s his job to make sure players are in the right mental place for a game, even if it’s a friendly. This group is simply too good to lose 5-1 to anyone. Whether it’s mindset, tactics, personnel, or something else, a big part of the blame needs to fall on the coach.

We did bounce back and put up a respectable 1-1 performance against Brazil a few days later, which should give US fans optimism that Gregg can make adjustments in a short amount of time. This ability is key to tournament success.

While this is completely objective, I don’t love his personality as a high-profile coach. He seems to deflect blame. He doesn’t have a lot of charisma nor does his aura necessarily give fans confidence that he has everything under control. If you think of the best coaches in the world, they have a certain X factor in their personality that helps calm everyone down when things are not going well. 

If we want to have any chance at a deep run in World Cup 2026, we’ll have to at least get one upset. And a deep run is critical if the powers that be want soccer to become more mainstream in this country. 


Any article about Gregg Berhalter has to mention the controversy with the Reyna family. We won’t rehash the gory details here (check this out if you’re not aware of what happened), but it certainly does not look good for the coach. 

It would have been easy for US Soccer to let his contract run out after the last World Cup cycle, especially given this controversy. For whatever reason (maybe Gregg just fits the budget better?), we didn’t go in a different direction. This is a gamble that has not paid off yet. 

Is Gregg Berhalter the Right Man for the Job?

My biggest gripe with this current group is that they play a little too pretty and have lost the key identity of what kept the US teams of the past competitive. While we clearly have a better group of players, we don’t have the top-end talent of the best teams in the world, which means we have to scrap it out against those teams. It seems like the current players aren’t as willing or being instructed to do so. 

I think we actually have an ideal group to mix the improved talent pool of US soccer with a bit of our old identity. If we can learn to grind out some games or periods of games, when it might not look pretty, we can definitely take teams by surprise. This might involve some more conservative tactics that don’t align with Berhalter’s philosophy. 

And his unwillingness to be flexible against these big teams may cost us (and him). If you look at teams who overachieve, they definitely need to implement a more pragmatic approach at times.

Atletico Madrid is a great example. Without the resources of their two main rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid, their coach has implemented “ugly” tactics to make them competitive. 

And a grittier approach could see our team make a deep run in this summer’s Copa America, as well as the World Cup in two years’ time. 

What’s the Breaking Point?

I think if we don’t make it out of our Copa America group, he has to go. For sure. If we do make it out of our group but exit in the quarterfinals, he’ll probably keep his job. If it were up to me, I would have stricter standards. 

At least one signature win in this tournament should be the bare minimum expectation. Especially at home. He needs to prove that he can get this type of result. He’s had plenty of chances to do so. And this group of players needs the confidence that it can take on and beat favored teams. 

If he can’t get it done here, there’s no indication he can get it done as the coach in the next World Cup. We’ll probably not host another one for at least another 30 years, so this is our one shot to make soccer mainstream and give our fans some memories to build upon. And of course, US Soccer has a lot of money to be made if the team makes a deep run. Hopefully their thought process aligns with ours.

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