It’s time for the U.S. to move on from Gregg Berhalter, but the players are ultimately to blame

Last night was an absolute failure for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Playing at home in a special edition of Copa América, their last competitive matches before hosting the 20256 World Cup, they failed to meet the most minimum of minimum expectations and crashed out of their group.

Ultimately, head coach Gregg Berhalter will be held responsible, and he should be. After his initially drawn-out hiring process, he did a mostly good job with the team up through the 2022 World Cup, where they went toe-to-toe with England in the group before falling in the Round of 16 against the Netherlands. Then there was the whole re-hiring saga, taking 167 days to bring Berhalter back after the USSF investigation into a 1992 incident between Berhalter and his now wife.

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Scattered into Berhalter’s reign are two Concacaf Nations League wins and a 2021 Gold Cup trophy, all won against the worst Mexico team in the last two decades, and a 2023 Gold Cup loss in penalties to the same Panama team that beat them in Copa América.

In six years under Berhalter, this team has peaked at simply meeting expectations. They haven’t taken a step beyond that, and last night they fell unacceptably short. It’s time to find new leadership.

But we can’t have this conversation without placing much of, even most of, the blame at the feet of the players. The term “golden generation” gets tossed around on USMNT twitter all the time. And I understand the temptation to look the clubs that these Americans play for, clubs that Americans have rarely played for before, and assume that this team should be significantly better than they are.

Dive deeper, though. Other than Christian Pulisic at AC Milan and perhaps Antonee Robinson at Fulham, are any of the core USMNT players under Berhalter actually core pieces for their clubs? Are any of them besides Tyler Adams and Tim Ream real leaders?

We can go down the list. Tim Weah – a rotation piece at Juventus. Weston McKennie – also a rotation piece at Juventus who has never seemed to really be wanted by Juventus. Tyler Adams – a talented but one-dimensional holding midfielder who has spent the last two years injured. Chris Richards – a shaky sometimes starter for a mid-table Crystal Palace team. Gio Reyna – one of the most important players for this national team who started one game for Nottingham Forest since February. Matt Turner – the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper who played himself out of a starting job at Forest and didn’t start a game after January.

This isn’t a golden generation. It’s the first real wave of young talent that has gone over to Europe and are still fighting for minutes on a weekly basis. A lot of them have either stalled or regressed with their clubs since the 2022 World Cup, yet are still first choice for the national team by default. This isn’t the case with the teams the U.S. said they wanted to compete with in Conmebol. It certainly isn’t the case for the teams who will challenge for the World Cup in two years.

Berhalter deserves blame. This teams hasn’t consistently kept an upward trajectory. A lot of the core pieces of our U.S. identity – playing with commitment every match, defending resolutely, never backing down from the biggest teams in the world even when at a major talent deficit – have gone missing. There hasn’t been real competition for places in the team. Perhaps even the youth-heavy selection has robbed the team of veteran leadership. The players certainly seem too comfortable and relaxed in camp.

The players deserve plenty of blame, too. Timothy Weah’s red card likely damned their entire tournament. Consistent missed chances, misplayed passes and inexcusable defending has been a hallmark of their last 18 months. Failure to establish themselves in Europe, to consistently improve themselves, get meaningful minutes and come to the national team in peak form certainly should sound some alarm bells.

Two things are true here. This U.S. team has performed as less than the sum of their parts under Berhalter post-2022. Overall during his tenure, they have peaked at meeting minimum expectations. And simultaneously, we’ve consistently over-rated and over-hyped the quality of the parts. With under two years to go before the biggest moment in American soccer history, we’re left with very valid frustrations, lots of questions, and zero easy answers.

Berhalter likely will be and probably should be fired. But I’m not convinced that bringing in a new head coach fixes their biggest issues.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

Comments

  1. The biggest issue in Berhalter’s tenure is the failure to have the team mentally ready for the opponent. How is it not in the forefront of every player’s mind when playing Panama “DO NOT RETALIATE!”?

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