Christian Pulisic says Reyna Berhalter saga is ‘childish’ and Berhalter ‘hugely unhappy’
Christian Pulisic offered a pretty strong endorsement to Gregg Berhalter in an interview with ESPN published on Friday.
When asked about the US men’s national team’s uncertain coaching search, with Berhalter out of contract and US Soccer suggesting a signing could wait until the summer, Pulisic gave a wide-ranging, reasoned response, saying that Berhalter ” was extremely unhappy to be in the position he is in now.”
Pulisic was of course referring to the saga started by the parents of his USMNT teammate Gio Reyna, which culminated this week with the release of an investigation into Berhalter’s past domestic violence and the Reynas’ interference and threats during the World Cup.
“In my opinion, everything that happened with Gregg is first and foremost [was] handled extremely childishly,” said Pulisic. “I think we’ve all seen what’s going on. I think it’s childish, it’s youth football, people complain about playing time. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but we’ll say that.”
Before that, however, Pulisic spoke at length about Berhalter’s leadership, the “brotherhood” he created within the USMNT and his qualities as a coach:
“So I would say Gregg Berhalter is someone I’ve grown very fond of over the years. I’ve learned a lot from him, I think I’ve grown so much as a player. I think it’s an underestimated thing he created This environment that I was talking about was so special in this team [in Qatar]. I think he helped a lot of players improve in many ways. I think he’s very fond of sports. I think he’s done some incredible things in a short amount of time.
“There were times, there were moments when he benched me and I wanted to kill him [guy] – I hated him. I was so angry. But then the next game comes along, and then I find myself in a better place. And I have to give him credit for the way he handled many situations. I think he created a team that was not only probably the best fraternity, family, unit I’ve ever been a part of. But also on the football side, when it matters, at a World Cup time, I think you could say that a lot of people were impressed with what we were able to do on the pitch.”
When asked about the difficulty of doing all this with a national team as opposed to a club side, with much less time together with the players, Pulisic said in part:
“I think he did a good job showing the team and helping everyone to understand, ‘Look, this is how we’re going to play in a short time.’ And will it be perfect?Of course not.It’s not a national team.Look at Argentina who lost their first game [at the World Cup]. Difficult moments will come and we’ve had a few of them. But at the end of the day… yes, he was a winner.”
How Berhalter helped Pulisic
Pulisic also gave an example that he said he will “never forget”. In March 2019, during his first training camp under Berhalter, he scored in a friendly against Chile but then picked up the latest in a long string of nagging injuries. After a visit to a nearby hospital for a scan, he returned to the USMNT camp late that night, and Berhalter called him to the coach’s office.
“And he said: ‘Look, maybe one reason is that you have to train harder. You have to train more than you play,'” Pulisic recalled. “And after I’ve just scored a goal, I’m like, ‘Who is this guy telling me that?’ [But] this is a moment that has occupied me for a long time. Because it changed the way I look at training, to this day. I want to train how I play. And listen, it wasn’t easy and it took a while, but I said, ‘You know what, let me take this on board.’ And I’ve felt a lot better since then.”
Pulisic said it was an example of “the way”. [Berhalter] deals with players: You can tell he is passionate and cares about his players. He won’t just tell you or what you want to hear. He’ll tell you what he thinks will improve you.”
Pulisic’s take on the USMNT coaching quest
And as for the coach search, which Berhalter says US Soccer could still be involved in, and which depends on finding a new sporting director who will be primarily responsible for selecting the next coach, who may not arrive until the two regional tournaments in June and July?
Pulisic initially said he would “give 100 per cent” to whoever, admitting: “I’m not here to appoint the next manager. It’s not my job.”
But then, after saying that Berhalter was “extremely unhappy”, he spoke out against the extended deadline that US Soccer has offered.
“Do I feel like we should just wait and wait? You know, I don’t think it’s necessary,” Pulisic told ESPN at his home in London. “Because I don’t have the feeling that we’re in a phase like we were after not qualifying [for the 2018 World Cup], where we need a complete rebuild. We don’t need a bunch of new people coming in and this and that. I think we have a strong core and I think a lot of people saw that. And we must continue with that.
“And so – it’s a difficult question for me. Because I think we want to continue that as soon as possible and build on this World Cup, this World Cup, which I think has had a lot of positive aspects, I will say. And I think we want to get started on that as soon as possible.”
He was then asked if, should Berhalter be reinstated, he would be “quite pleased that you have a talented coach, a dependable man, a winning coach and someone who is able to carry on the achievements that you and he all have have scored and are pushing forward,” said Pulisic:
“Yes, no doubt. I think the progress we’ve made with his appointment over the last few years has been evident. I think it’s pretty clear. So yes, I will say that.”
Pulisic, who has recently recovered from injury, will join 12 of his World Cup team-mates and a supporting cast of other young Europe-based players for a brief USMNT training camp in Florida next week, the first since Qatar. But they’re being managed by interim coach Anthony Hudson, a former Berhalter assistant who does the boss work window-to-window.
US Soccer has said it has started the application process for the sporting director position, but has not offered a firm timeline for the hiring. It is also unclear how long the search for a coach would take once the new sports director is in place.
Of course, that process could be sped up if the new sporting director simply decides to bring back Berhalter – who was widely praised by Stewart, the outgoing sporting director, in an interview with Emox News as he prepared to leave US Soccer.
But with Stewart and former USMNT GM Brian McBride gone, and with the baggage of the Reyna saga, the external assumption was that Berhalter is now far from reclaiming the job.
After two games later this month, the USMNT’s next competitions are (probably) the Nations League finals on June 15 and 18, followed by the Gold Cup shortly after. If no new coach is signed by then, his first games of the autumn will be friendlies.