PHILADELPHIA — On the United States National Team’s 13th day of limbo, with Greg Berhalter out of contract and under investigation, and with the future of coaching the USMNT as vague as can be, J.T. Batson took the stage.
Gossip swirled around him at the United Soccer Coaches Conference last week. The Berhalter-scandal followed NFL’s newest Jeans CEO, Renna Batson, to a hearing Friday morning alongside association president Cindy Barlow Kuhn. They were asked to comment on “the news surrounding the men’s national team and their coach”. They gave their standard, non-binding answers about ambition and athletic director Ernie Stewart’s “review” of the USMNT program.
Then, before they moved on to another vanilla question, Batson brought the microphone back toward his mouth. He wanted to make a “really important point”.
“Obviously there is a lot of focus on who is the men’s national team coach or the women’s national team coach,” he said. “But as part of our review, we’re looking at this broadly.”
He went on to talk about the players’ daily environment and American football’s contacts with their clubs. He talked about finding competitive matches for a team that will co-host the 2026 World Cup and therefore not have to qualify for it. Later, he spoke to two reporters off stage about possible participation in the 2024 Copa America, and hinted at discussions with CONCACAF, the North and Central American Football Confederation, and perhaps even with CONMEBOL, its South American counterpart and organizer of the Copa America.
“Obviously we know those parties,” Batson said, “and we may or may not be in Miami [the home of CONCACAF headquarters] this week.”
But his broader view was that the massive decision facing American football is not really an individual one. There are countless variables that will influence and depend on the selection of a USMNT coach. The federation must decide whether it is interested in regional competitions, such as the Gold Cup and Nations League, between now and 2026. It must set priorities, mapping out precisely what the federation needs to do in order, in Batson’s words, to “maximize our chances”26. Need a strong 2023 or do its stars need a break Is the coaching option pressing, or can it wait?
Stewart certainly does not need more time to “review” and evaluate Berhalter’s performance. He and the feds are awaiting the results of an independent investigation into Berhalter, his past domestic violence, Reynas, and possibly others. Then they’ll measure Berhalter and his baggage against replacements — who may or may not be interested in available in 2023, which may or may not affect the internship search schedule, and may or may not result in a re-search for the incumbent.
Resolution US Berhalter Soccer
Stewart is a fan of Berhalter. It’s been for years, and it still sounds like one in his first public comments since the 2022 World Cup. He said the USMNT had had “four successful years” under Berhalter. He was “happy” with the team’s identity and style in Qatar, and overall “very happy with this group”. There have been many hints that, on sporting merit alone, he would have been very happy to extend Berhalter’s contract. (The bigger question seems to be whether Berhalter wants one; he has since said he does.)
Right now, though, preferences are unclear and the final decision will be a thorny one. Even if the investigation reveals no further wrongdoing by Berhalter after the 1991 incident he has already exposed, US Soccer will consider two key questions: Is it comfortable to hire a coach who has admitted kicking his wife now, albeit 31 years ago? And can the coach mend his relationship with the 20-year-old star, Gio Reina, who should be a pivotal player for the next three and a half years?
This relationship, to be sure, is not beyond repair. Rina will mature. Professional Berhalter. He will not tolerate the actions of Claudio and Daniel Reina against Geo. But of course, this scandal and the damage it caused won’t just go away.
However, the first question may be the most pressing one. American football can reasonably infer that Berhalter has long grown weary of his admittedly “disgraceful” actions that night in the early 1990s. It could decide that a 49-year-old shouldn’t be punished for something he did when he was 18, especially if his victim forgave him and happily married him. But the union also knows that hiring Berhalter now sends a complex and potentially problematic message. Kuhn, Patson and Stewart will have to answer thorny questions, about everything from their anti-abuse obligations to the 2018 process that landed Berhalter in the first place.
There are multiple layers of risk, from headaches that American football could choose to avoid simply by moving on from Berhalter and hiring a new coach — one that, in theory, would have similar football acumen and no encumbrances. However, the open question is if anyone who fits that description wants the job — and when.
Who are the other candidates for USMNT coaching?
Stewart said he maintains “a pool of candidates at any given moment”. These include, most likely, experienced international managers and up-and-coming American managers. Among those with a managerial pedigree far greater than Berhalter, though, it’s not clear if any of them will take on the job – which will feature very few games of significance over the next three years.
Top club coaches usually don’t care. Roberto Martínez, one of the many candidates that has been floated publicly, has already signed with Portugal. According to reports, Zinedine Zidane politely declined an initial approach to American football. The semi-realistically sounding big name is Joachim Löw, the 2014 World Cup-winning German coach who took a long break after leaving the national team in 2021. Löw speaks English, and said in October he felt “motivated” to return to management.
The most qualified American candidate would be Jesse Marsh, who He said that “coaching the US national team would be unbelievable,” and specifically that “coaching for the World Cup at home would be an amazing experience.” But he is currently at Leeds United. To become available in 2023 he would either have to leave the Premier League – which in many ways is considered the pinnacle of his career – or be fired, in which case his last two spells with the club would have essentially ended in failure. 2021 just four months later, during which he posted a losing record).
Incidentally, Marsh will face many of the same challenges as Berhalter. How will he plant his philosophies and implement his system in short international windows? Will its intensity energize players or wear them down?
(There is a tendency to assume that a coach’s club success can translate into national team success, but games and jobs are different. Successful international coaches are rarely the ones whose hires are celebrated. Lionel Scaloni was essentially a last resort when Argentina kicked off his temporary label in 2018. He was Two of the other three semi-finalists at the 2022 World Cup, Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic and Morocco’s Walid Regragui, were relatively no-ones in mainstream international football when they took office.)
If Marsch wasn’t available or fancy, the search would likely lead to a respected, up-and-coming MLS coach in the mid-40s – Jim Curtin? Steve Cherundolo? – which is exactly what Berhalter was four years ago. Which, of course, begs the question: Why not just keep Rhalter, who has proven, at least to some extent, that he can adapt to the international game?
The NFL’s other option would be to wait for a better candidate to emerge. He could be riding with an interim coach – either Anthony Hudson, the current supervisor, or another coach – until this summer, or possibly until 2024. He could use the 2023 Nations League and Gold Cup to prepare for the 2024 Olympics (mostly under-23), and award team stars USMNT break until the Copa América. She could sacrifice some training camps and games to increase her chances of getting the right hire.
However, the extended interim period has been the subject of criticism in the recent cycle, and it could lose significant momentum stemming from 2022.
Both are viable paths, but neither are ideal, which brings us back to Batson’s idea of a “wide” review. American football doesn’t just need a USMNT coach; He needs a plan.
Who will make decisions in US Soccer?
American football officials indicated that Stewart, who last year signed a contract extension until 2026, is primarily responsible for this plan. But it is not clear who is involved.
Back in 2020, when Stewart hired Brian McBride as general manager of the USMNT, he initially said that hiring and firing coaches would be McBride’s responsibility. But McBride himself is also supposed to be assessed as part of the sporting review. A spokesperson for the union confirmed to Yahoo Sports that it is currently still employed by US Soccer, but Batson told Soccer America last week that no “long-term decisions” have been made. (McBride’s possible connection to Claudio Reyna may also be the subject of investigation.)
So football decisions are Stewart’s decisions – unless his bosses decide otherwise. If he wants to keep Berhalter, baggage and all, Batson and Coon will definitely need to sign off on that pick. Any coach’s contract must also be approved by the NFL’s board of directors, and can vote to deny that contract if he no longer feels comfortable with Berhalter leading the team.
And all of this, again, can hinge on investigation, which can provide clarity, or it can exacerbate the chaos.
If it’s not Berhalter, US Soccer will likely name a permanent successor in the first half of 2023. If, after two years, it becomes clear that the program is going sideways, Stewart could then pull the plug and chase a high-profile coach in 2025, With a low-pressure year to prepare for the high-pressure moment in 2026.
Curtin, one of the 2023 theoretical candidates, said last week that he has not been approached by the NFL team, and he is happy for the Philadelphia Union. But, of course, it can change.
“I will say, for 2026, with the decision that’s been made, whoever the coach is, it’s a big decision,” Curtin told reporters. “And I think every coach has to put his ego aside and be willing to be helpful with this team. It’s a big job and that’s important for the job.
“It’s an important moment for our country where you have to take the time and think and do the right things and continue that search,” Curtin continued. “If Greg is the guy at the end of it, great. But I think everyone needs to be open-minded, and we have to do the best we can for that.” [World Cup]. No effort should be left to find the appropriate manager or managers to understand this.”