Any coach hired by U.S. Soccer, at least for the men’s side (though Vlatko Andonovski isn’t winning many fans these days either), is never going to have 100 percent buy-in. They just haven’t gotten it totally right in… well, ever? Berhalter being related to an exec at the time of his hiring didn’t help. U.S. Soccer being a mess at the time (and still is) helped less. And there’s always going to be a raised eyebrow with an MLS-trained coach taking the reins.
Not that some of the criticisms of Berhalter weren’t valid. Every coach has “his guys,” so he’s no different in that. Not every fan will agree with those guys. He’s been pretty rigid with how he wants the team to play, which is good and bad. As I’ve beaten into the ground, international soccer just doesn’t leave a lot of time to develop an intricate system or a ton of options. But there are small variances that Berhalter could go to when Plan A hasn’t worked in the past.
After the latest set of friendlies, which did not go well, the air raid sirens going off about Berhalter being too married to too many of “his guys” were blaring loudly.
Those should be quiet now.
Berhalter went off the board for a few of his picks for the final 26 that will head to Qatar. No one saw goalkeeper Zack Steffen being dropped entirely. But as Berhalter said himself, he gave Steffen a ton of runway to grab the starting keeper role with both hands and he never quite did. And Matt Turner is just the better keeper right now. And given the U.S.’s schedule, Turner’s shot-stopping is just the more valuable asset. The U.S. won’t need a keeper that can dish out dimes against Wales and Iran. When the U.S. has the ball, there won’t be a Welsh or Iranian player within a local call of the keeper. England will press, but that match is something of a free hit for the USMNT. Their progress will almost certainly be decided in their first and third contests.
No one saw Shaq Moore making the team, as Berhalter just didn’t see that Erik Palmer-Brown or Mark McKenzie were worthy of this level. Why force them onto the roster? Moore at least was a plus player during the 2021 Gold Cup run.
Many had been frustrated that Tim Ream didn’t get a call-up in September even after starting the season excellently for Fulham in the Premier League. It felt like Berhalter had decided Ream just wasn’t one of his guys. But he wasn’t so rigid that he couldn’t see what was right in front of him, and that’s Ream is probably in the best form of any central defender for the Yanks. If not him, it’s Cameron Carter-Vickers.
The other questions were at forward, where Berhalter can never win given the panic among the fanbase that quite simply, there is no perfect option. There might not even be a good one. But Josh Sargent was allowed to play his way back into the fold. Ricardo Pepi’s goals in Holland mean just about the same as Haji Wright’s in Turkey. That’s a coin flip, and Haji is the better frame for when it’s time to just pump balls into the box. Berhalter probably appreciated that he called Wright out in the press in June after his one appearance for the team, and then Wright has responded so far with his club team.
Yeah, there’s still Jordan Morris, who won out over Paul Arriola. But what either’s role would be for this tournament, coming on late, running hard a lot, and trying to cause chaos, Morris is probably actually better suited for. He’s just not suited for having the ball at his feet. If the U.S. gets to a point where they’re counting on Morris to save them, a lot of other things will have gone wrong.
Yeah, he might still start Aaron Long over Carter-Vickers or Ream. Yeah, Gio Reyna should start in midfield over Brendan Aaronson if McKennie is going to be replaced as the most advanced in there. Sargent should probably start over Ferreira. But then again, if Gregg has shown flexibility on his squad, maybe he can with his lineup. Stranger things and all that.
Whatever Berhalter’s legacy will be, it lies in wait for 11 days. If there was a worry he was too rigid, those concerns should be fading. The real stuff starts now.
Most hockey fans hate coaching challenges after goals. It’s easy to see why. They take too long, they wipe out goals, and usually, the decision is over a fraction of an inch. Them’s the rules of course, and you can’t eliminate the blatant offsides that are missed without also including the minuscule ones as well. Just how this works, as frustrating as it can be.
But when it destroys a work of art like this:
You can understand the forsaking of the lord and cursing his name that ensues. I am pro replay, and pro getting the call right. But watching this display of audacity and bravado erased from history… it’s harder to stick to that principle. Which I suppose is the real test of a principle.
It was Scott Boras Day at MLB’s GM Meetings yesterday. So make sure your breakfast is fully digested, otherwise, you’ll be encountering it again soon as it charges toward the exit of your mouth in complete disgust.
Do we think he charges his clients extra for this? Does he get into negotiations like this? Does he say this to GMs? I certainly hope so.