Within the months-long process that led US Soccer back to Gregg Berhalter


LAS VEGAS — U.S. soccer’s 166-day search for a head coach for the men’s national team reportedly stretched across the world but culminated in ten intense hours on Tuesday in New York.

Gregg Berhalter had been subpoenaed for the final phase of a multi-part trial. At a Manhattan conference center, Matt Crocker, athletic director of US Soccer, gave him traditional interview questions, but also conducted Berhalter on a series of drills that went well beyond soccer tactics.

There were psychometric tests, cross-industry tools that could assess everything from personality to intelligence. There were “abstract reasoning tests,” Crocker said, and “logical reasoning” tests. There were “tests where candidates had a chance to prepare for certain elements around the strategy,” Crocker added, and “certain tests where they literally had to deliver at a certain point under pressure.”

It was “grueling,” Berhalter said. He was impressed and fascinated. “Impressed with Matt, impressed with his process,” Berhalter said, and “impressed with the way he was looking at things.” But apparently he wasn’t sure at the time how impressed Crocker had been with him.

Berhalter stayed in New York – where Crocker, who has not yet completed his move from England to Chicago, was based for these final legs. Crocker called Wednesday morning and requested a reunion, in the presence of US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone. They chatted, then said goodbye and Berhalter made his way to the airport, he recalled.

Then his phone rang. It was Crocker again.

“You’re the guy” said the 48-year-old Welshman.

Berhalter’s thoughts first raced to his family. When he told about this moment two days later, the feelings filled him. “It was a great feeling,” he said. “You can imagine how the last six months have been.”

He had spent four years building deep relationships with staff and players. He was proud to watch the little ones, the “kids”, grow into adults and top professionals. He was then forced to put many relationships on hold during the six-month limbo. Now he couldn’t wait to relive them and compete in another World Championship.

About 24 hours later he flew to Las Vegas. Less than 24 hours later, he was reintroduced as USMNT head coach. A few minutes before 1 p.m. Friday, he entered a lobby-level conference room at the team hotel to speak — and to listen while Crocker and Parlow Cone attempted to answer an overarching question:

Why, if Berhalter such a “clear and convincing“Wait, had it taken that long to reappoint him?

Their answers were complicated and full of New Age corporate slogans – and some details, but certainly not all.

What we know about the USMNT’s trainer search

Of course, the Berhalter-Reyna investigation and the departure of Earnie Stewart accounted for at least two of the six months. Cone and Batson then led a months-long search for Stewart’s replacement, with support from Sportsology, and said the new athletic director would subsequently lead the coaching search.

In April they landed at Crocker, who had a contract with English club Southampton until the end of July. Southampton eventually let Crocker leave early at the end of the Premier League season, a move that allowed him to focus full-time on and speed up the search for a manager. But he still had his old job throughout May.

Crocker, who works essentially part-time, first set out to chart the process by which he would select the USMNT trainer. He wanted clearly defined criteria. Before formalizing them, he consulted various people, including players.

Meanwhile, the clocks were ticking – and Berhalter remained in limbo.

However, what Crocker ultimately came up with was a job description and eight “core competencies” that aligned very closely with what Berhalter had been doing since he first got the USMNT job in 2018.

“Gregg pretty much set the data model,” Crocker said Friday. “He was responsible for four years of development around playstyle and pressing metrics. Obviously he has built a really, really young, dynamic and future-oriented team.”

The first step in Crocker’s process was to provide data to identify candidates. He used things like Elo ratings to find quality specimens. As noted above, he also used descriptive metrics to identify coaches whose philosophy could further shape this “young, dynamic, frontline team.”

He also did research and conducted interviews. He had to gauge the interest; And while he and his superiors said there were no financial constraints on the search, he had to be realistic. For example Mikel Arteta probably would not leave Arsenal to coach the USMNT. And even some of the best coaches in the world wouldn’t be the right choice – especially because “it’s not just about coaching the senior men’s team and helping us win,” as Crocker said on Friday.

United States men’s national soccer team head coach Gregg Berhalter, center, answers questions during a news conference Friday, June 16, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Lucas Peltier)

Crocker said he was “really clear and firm” about the details of the role. It requires on-field coaching, but also ‘league/club/coach commitment’ and ‘creativity’.[ing] and maintain[ing] a positive media profile” and “act[ing] as an ambassador for sponsorship activities.” According to a draft released by US Soccer, it will require appearances at educational events across American soccer, the creation of youth trails, and more.

The data, Crocker said, “turned up” a double-digit number of candidates. Talks about the whole of the role “either weeded out some coaches or weeded them out,” he added. What remained came down to what Crocker called “the final evaluation process,” the hours of varied testing that Berhalter underwent on Tuesday.

Crocker said, “These tests gave us an opportunity to get real, rich data. And then it took us some time to effectively reconcile all those numbers.” Crocker and his team, which also includes Oguchi Onyewu, the new vice president for Sports at US Soccer, then rated and scored the candidates in eight key areas: relationship building, planning, self-management, communication, decision-making, innovation, people development, and whether they had a “vision-driven identity” that was consistent with US soccer.

“Over the course of several weeks, candidates were evaluated against all of these filters,” US Soccer said.

However, it is unclear how many candidates there were. Crocker did not name any other finalists in his speech on Friday and did not give any specific figures.

The timeline suggests that Berhalter was the last of them. He “scored phenomenally at every step,” Crocker said. Within 48 hours of his test, he was selected by Crocker and approved by US Soccer CEO JT Batson, and on Thursday he was approved – albeit not unanimously – by the US Soccer Board.

It’s unclear if interest from elsewhere hastened US Soccer’s decision. On Tuesday, when Berhalter was interviewed by US Soccer, reports surfaced that he was a front runner at Club América, the Liga MX club facing its own lengthy managerial search.

Berhalter said on Friday he had held talks with América but told the club: “I have to see this through [U.S. Soccer interview]. Because I would regret it for the rest of my life if I never gave myself the opportunity.”

A day later, on Wednesday, it emerged that Berhalter was no longer a candidate at América – presumably because he had accepted the USMNT job.

Why Berhalter USMNT won’t train until September

Two days later, Berhalter had agreed to a contract until 2026. He arrived at the team hotel in Vegas – but didn’t meet with any players. “I’d love to go into the dining room, hug everyone and catch up with them again,” he admitted. “It’s been a while. But their focus right now is on winning the Nations League,” the regional tournament that ends with a final against Canada on Sunday.

In fact, Berhalter will not coach the USMNT at the upcoming Gold Cup either. Ultimately, he will spend a full nine months without the players. The last two-plus months, Crocker said, will be used for long-term planning – because he and Berhalter both know the team needs to keep improving over the next three years.

Berhalter spent part of his absence thinking about it. “If you look at the World Cup performance as a benchmark,” he said, “there are certainly elements that need to be analyzed.” I didn’t think we were good enough at attacking set pieces at the last World Cup; This is definitely an area of ​​opportunity. I think offensive transitions sometimes let us down at the last World Cup. Our defensive form was excellent, our high pressing was excellent, but when we’re winning the ball how can we create chances on the break more effectively?”

Crocker feared that if he had jumped right back into the team, onto the training field and into the briefing rooms, everything would be business as usual. What Crocker wants is to build on the past four years and aim higher in 2026. He wants USMNT to evolve and wants to work with Berhalter to steer that evolution.

“There’s some really costly stuff around some really strategic stuff over the next few seasons that we need to plan out first,” Crocker said.

He acknowledged the outside perception that time had been lost and that more time would be lost this summer, but essentially argued that this would be valuable in the long run.

“It gives me and Gregg a really great opportunity,” he said, “to spend some real time together to flesh out and put together the framework of this strategy for 2026.”

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