Gregg Berhalter is set to embark on his first World Cup journey as a head coach when he leads the U.S. Men’s National Team in Qatar.
The 49-year-old was hired back in 2018 following the upheaval of the USMNT missing out on the 2018 World Cup. In the wake of that disaster, Berhalter was appointed to steady the ship, and he has ushered in an era of young talent.
The U.S. head into the Qatar tournament with high hopes of building through the 2022 World Cup and into the next four-year cycle, culminating with joint hosting of the 2026 FIFA tournament, alongside Canada and Mexico.
While Berhalter has provided a calming presence in the wake of the tumultuous Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena (Part 2) tenures, not all has been easy, and the U.S. head man has faced his fair share of criticism.
Who is USMNT Gregg Berhalter?
Hailing from Englewood, New Jersey, Berhalter was hired on December 2, 2018 as the head coach of the U.S. national team. There was controversy around his appointment at the time given his brother, Jay Berhalter, was the chief commercial officer of U.S. Soccer, leading some to slam the move as nepotism.
A 45-year-old Berhalter made his debut as USMNT head coach on January 28, 2019, beating fellow CONCACAF side Panama 3-0 via goals from Djordje Mihailovic, Walker Zimmerman, and Christian Ramirez. He went four matches unbeaten to start his tenure, before a pair of friendly defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela.
Berhalter overall has performed well in competitive environments with the USMNT, taking the national team to the final of the 2019 Gold Cup — his first competitive final — before falling 1-0 to Mexico. He avenged that loss two years later, steering a weakened USMNT squad to the 2021 Gold Cup title with a 1-0 victory over El Tri.
He also guided the U.S. to victory in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, hoisting the trophy with a 3-2 extra-time victory — again over Mexico — in the 2021 final.
His tenure has not been without controversy, though. Berhalter has been criticized by a faction of U.S. fans for a perceived favoritism of domestic-based players, with many believing his time as head coach of the Columbus Crew saw him develop a preference for MLS stars. However, that criticism is often unfounded, as players hailing from abroad are heavily featured in his squads and the strength of the domestic-based talent pool continues to increase.
Berhalter has also received criticism for his struggles on the road, particularly against CONCACAF opposition. Through the most recent World Cup qualifying final stage, the U.S. emerged unbeaten at home, with six wins out of seven, but beat only last-placed Honduras away, drawing three and losing three.
An area where Berhalter has succeeded is in player recruitment, a frequently overlooked trait of national team management –especially in the United States, where players often have dual citizenship and can be lured by other federations. He has secured the commitments of several young dual internationals, including Sergino Dest (Netherlands), Yunus Musah (England/Ghana), Jesus Ferreira (Colombia), Gio Reyna (England), Ricardo Pepi (Mexico), and most recently, Gabriel Slonina (Poland). Conversely, under Berhalter, the U.S. has not lost a single high-profile young player to a commitment with another international federation.
Berhalter has also ushered in an era of focusing on top, young talent. The midfield trio of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Musah has excelled under his charge, while exciting young wingers Reyna, Timothy Weah and Brenden Aaronson have played all or most of their international minutes under Berhalter.
The introduction of that new generation has given star Christian Pulisic the support he needs, and helped the national team make the transition to a new era after phasing out veterans like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
Gregg Berhalter tactics and style of play
Berhalter earned his coaching spurs in Sweden when, following a season as Los Angeles Galaxy’s assistant, he was named head coach of Hammarby in 2011.
It was there that he began to develop the style that has served him so well, first with Columbus Crew and now with USMNT, although that journey has not been without its challenges. He was ultimately fired from the Swedish outfit after two years, with the club’s management citing a “lack of attacking play”.
Berhalter has brought a possession-based style of play to the USMNT, preferring a 4-3-3 formation, although he will occasionally slip into a three-CB system in matchup-based situations.
He prefers an inverted triangle in midfield that features a No. 6 to shield the backline and serve as a deep-lying playmaker. He does not play with an outright No. 10, instead choosing to deploy two attacking wingers in support of a central striker.
Berhalter likes to have his teams press, but doesn’t deploy a smothering, high-intensity style throughout the full 90 minutes. Instead, his teams press in specific moments, often using their attacking trio to venture high and push the opposition back into their defensive third.
Recently, Berhalter has transitioned from a more patient build-up to a quicker, more direct, attacking style, based on winning the ball and creating turnovers high up the pitch and then thrusting forward vertically with pace.
A common trait has been his use of friendlies and lower-standard competitions for tinkering and experimentation, often sacrificing long-term chemistry and consistency to instead rotate his squad and give minutes to fringe players, in order to see them in match play.
While Berhalter has done well to usher in defensive unity and midfield cohesion, his inability to find answers at the central striker role continue to haunt his tenure.
Gregg Berhalter salary, contract with USMNT
In 2018, Berhalter signed a four-year contract that runs through the end of the 2022 World Cup, a relatively normal time-frame for national team coaching contracts.
Reports citing U.S. Soccer tax filings from 2021 suggest that Berhalter’s annual salary was just under $1.3 million per year, making him the highest-paid U.S. Soccer employee at the time.
Following the World Cup, U.S. Soccer will evaluate his performance and decide whether to re-sign him as head coach for another World Cup cycle, or go in another direction. The USMNT’s performance in Qatar will, more than likely, play a decisive role in that call.
The next steps for Berhalter will be fascinating to watch. In four years, the United States will co-host the 2026 World Cup, which is set to coincide with the prime of many of the current crop of young U.S. stars’ careers.
Gregg Berhalter record as coach
Prior to being hired with the U.S. National Team, Berhalter coached both domestically and abroad.
His first coaching job was with the L.A. Galaxy, where he served for the 2011 season as an assistant under former USMNT head man Bruce Arena.
Following that spell — where the Galaxy won a domestic double via the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup title — Berhalter was lured abroad and unveiled as the head coach at Hammarby. With the appointment, he became the second American to serve as head coach of a European club, following Thomas Dooley.
Playing in the second tier at the time, Berhalter engineered finishes of fourth and fifth in the domestic Superettan, before he was sacked. In the campaign following his departure, his successor, Nanne Bergstrand, led Hammarby to top-flight promotion in his first season.
After leaving Sweden, Berhalter was hired by MLS side Columbus Crew as the club’s head coach and sporting director. He remained at Columbus for five seasons, guiding the club to the playoffs in four of them and reaching the MLS Cup final in 2015, falling 2-1 to Portland.
Berhalter left Columbus after the 2018 season upon his hire as head coach of the USMNT.
Gregg Berhalter playing career
Prior to his coaching career, Berhalter enjoyed a long playing career as a central defender, making over 350 first-team club appearances and earning 44 caps with the U.S. National Team.
He played college soccer at North Carolina from 1991-1994 under Elmar Bolowich, where he helped lead the side to two NCAA Tournament appearances, scoring twice in a 1993 NCAA Tournament win over arch-rivals Duke.
He began his professional career with Dutch club PEC Zwolle, spending two seasons playing in the second tier before moving to Eredivisie side Sparta Rotterdam. He moved to a third Dutch club, Cambuur Leeuwarden, in 1998 and made 56 appearances before departing in 2000 after suffering relegation from the Eredivisie.
A short stint at then-second tier club Crystal Palace in England followed, before making his way to German side Energie Cottbus, where Berhalter played from 2002-2006, making 111 appearances, more than he did for any other club. With Energie, playing in the Bundesliga 2, he helped the club narrowly escape relegation to the third tier in the 2004/05 season before turning things around and leading them to top-flight promotion, earning the captain’s armband in the process.
In 2006, Berhalter signed for 1860 Munich in the Bundesliga 2, where he was named captain and spent three seasons, making 73 appearances. Eventually, Berhalter returned home to the United States to finish his career, signing for the LA Galaxy in 2009 and making 52 appearances for the club before retirement in 2011.
With the U.S. National Team, Berhalter was a key figure. He made his debut in October 1994 in a friendly against Saudi Arabia.
He earned a spot on the 2002 World Cup roster and started two matches at that tournament in South Korea and Japan. He was also involved in one of the most infamous ‘what if’ moments in USMNT history after his shot in the quarterfinal against Germany hit defender Torsten Frings on the arm, only for the referee to wave away U.S. appeals for a penalty. The U.S. fell to a harsh 1-0 defeat and bowed out, having made their first (and still only) run to the last eight of the World Cup.
Berhalter was also a part of the 2006 World Cup roster, but was an unused substitute in the tournament as the U.S. finished bottom of their group.
Gregg Berhalter trophies won
As a player:
MLS Cup: 2011 (LA Galaxy)
MLS Supporters’ Shield: 2010, 2011 (LA Galaxy)
As a head coach:
CONCACAF Nations League: 2019/20 (USMNT)
CONCACAF Gold Cup: 2021 (USMNT)
Gregg Berhalter wife, family
Soccer runs in the Berhalter family.
As mentioned, Gregg’s brother Jay is an American soccer executive, serving as chief commercial officer of U.S. Soccer at the time of Gregg’s USMNT hire. Jay stepped down from that role in 2020, eventually joining Major League Soccer as executive vice president of properties and emerging ventures.
Gregg Berhalter’s wife, Rosalind, played as a defender for North Carolina and was a member of the dominant UNC Tar Heels women’s team that won multiple national titles. Her teammates on that dynasty included the famous Mia Hamm and Tisha Venturini.
Berhalter’s son, Sebastian, played college soccer at UNC from 2019-2020 before signing with MLS side Columbus Crew. The 21-year-old midfielder also played for Austin FC for a short time before joining the Vancouver Whitecaps this past offseason, emerging as a regular starter before suffering a broken foot in June.