Gregg Berhalter’s USA soccer team is looking ahead to this year’s World Cup in Qatar after a successful qualifying campaign. It has been a strong past year for the United States Men’s National Team which has also won two major trophies in that time, having beaten Mexico in both June’s CONCACAF Nations League final and August’s Gold Cup final. While sites like OddsChecker won’t be making the USMNT favorites for World Cup 2022 on the back of their recent performances, fans using free bets to back them to at least get out of the group stages won’t seem farfetched. While this could depend on a favorable draw, Berhalter has created a tactically flexible side that can match anyone on their day.
It is probably too early to say what a successful World Cup tournament would look like for this young team with groups yet to be decided. However, they’ll be confident that if they can continue to play with the same spirit and quality, they’ll surely be able to cause a few upsets.
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Berhalter’s journey to the role of USMNT head coach has been an unorthodox one. Originating from New Jersey, his football career started at Saint Benedict’s High School, where he played with future USA captain Claudio Reyna. He represented the University of North Carolina Tar Heels at the college level while also gaining experience with Raleigh Flyers when not competing in the NCAA. It was during this time that he first got noticed by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) when he was selected to represent the under-20 team.
After three years at UNC, Berhalter moved to Holland and joined Dutch second division side FC Zwolle. He impressed at Zwolle, enough to earn a move to the Netherlands’ oldest club, Sparta Rotterdam, although he didn’t manage to nail down a starting spot. He joined the Eredivisie’s newly promoted SC Cambur Leeuwarden in 1998 but left two years later as they headed for relegation. After a year in the English second division with Crystal Palace, Berhalter moved to Germany, where he ended up spending his peak years.
He joined Energie Cottbus and quickly endeared himself to fans with his intelligent reading of the game and fighting spirit. In almost four years at the club, Berhalter suffered the humiliation of relegation before captaining the club to promotion to cement his status as a club icon. In 2006 he joined 1860 Munich in the German second division but wasn’t able to gain promotion in his two and a half years there.
He finished his playing career at LA Galaxy, his first professional club in his native country, where he played alongside David Beckham. They won the MLS Cup in 2009 and the MLS Supporters’ Shield the following year, with Berhalter earning plaudits for his leadership in defense, which led to a drastically reduced number of goals conceded.
After retiring in 2011, Berhalter immediately became an assistant coach at LA Galaxy for a season, before he was offered the head coach role at Swedish side Hammarby IF. After being sacked due to disputes over his team’s style of play he returned to the States to become the sporting director and head coach of Columbus Crew. He successfully implemented a playing style and team ethos in Columbus, helping the club reach the playoffs in four of his five years with the Crew. This led to him being offered the USMNT job in 2018, with some critics publicly questioning whether he was the right man for the job.
Most of those critics are fairly quiet now as Berhalter has steadily improved in his three years in the role. It was a difficult time for the USMNT, who had just failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup due to their inability to beat Caribbean minnows Trinidad and Tobago. This result caused a lot of hurt amongst fans who felt the USSF wasn’t making enough progress, despite now producing a number of talented players. So, there was a lot of pressure on Berhalter to give the fans something to believe in.
After a slightly uninspiring start, signs of a cohesive team with a clear structure began to emerge, with the coach using a core of young players to lead the team. Things really started to pick up steam in June when his team won the CONCACAF Nations League against Mexico, which was an important win for a team who had been struggling against their fiercest rivals around that time. Following that up with the Gold Cup win against the same opponents just two months later really made fans and players believe that something special was being developed, which helped increase the support for the team. Helping rebuild the bond with USA fans has been one of Berhalter’s greatest achievements, as the relationship had been somewhat tarnished in the years before his appointment.
Berhalter’s success with the USMNT has been even more impressive when one considers that it has been achieved with an extremely young squad. Upon his arrival, he immediately made Christian Pulisic his main man, handing him the captain’s armband for the Nations League Win in which he scored the winning penalty in extra time. He has scored the majority of his international goals under Berhalter and seems to be thriving under the extra responsibility.
Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie is another young player who has become a key man for the USMNT, with his tireless performances in the engine room providing the platform for his teammates to showcase their talents. He is another player who has taken a step forward in terms of quality and leadership since Berhalter’s appointment.
Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna is also a player who has flourished in the USMNT set-up, winning US Soccer’s Young Male Player of the Year in 2020.
Most fans would probably want to wait until the World Cup groups are revealed before making any USA predictions for the tournament. However, after years of flattering to deceive, the USMNT may finally have a team to be proud of thanks to Berhalter’s amazing work. His team is organized, tough to beat, and packed with young players who are among the best in the world in their age group. With most of these players set to keep improving under his guidance, fans will hope that they can send shockwaves through the football world and surprise everyone in Qatar.
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