COLUMN: Everyone needs to relax about Gregg Berhalter


Ricardo Mazalan | AP

Head coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States celebrates after the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.

Yesterday, the United States men’s national soccer team (USMNT) made it through to the knockout stage in the World Cup in Qatar with a 1-0 win over Iran. It’s not groundbreaking for U.S. soccer, but it is a major accomplishment considering the team failed to even qualify in 2018 and entered as the second youngest team in the 2022 tournament.

So why all the hate for head coach Gregg Berhalter?

I’ll be called a Berhalter apologist for this column – and that’s fine – but much of the complaints I’ve seen are naïve and uninformed. Since the World Cup began, criticism for the USMNT gaffer has only intensified – which makes no sense – considering the results.

The USMNT finished in the second spot of Group B, the field’s toughest group by average team ranking. Through matches with Wales, England and Iran, the U.S. did not concede a single goal outside of a penalty kick late in the Wales game. Berhalter’s gameplans going into each game have been spot on, as in all three the U.S. has looked like the better team through the first 45 minutes. 

Yes, I’ll concede that the second halves have been shaky thus far. People seem to think Berhalter’s failure to adjust and sit with a lead are to blame, but I think this is more due to the squad’s youth and inexperience on sport’s biggest stage. 

One major criticism of this team – and a fair one – is lack of goal production from the number nine spot, with the only real weakness of this team being at striker. Josh Sargent has looked the best of the three strikers who’ve made the trip to Qatar, but he’s yet to find the back of the net and has only showed positives through hold up play. Still, a striker’s primary job is to score goals, and the closest he’s come is an off-mark header against Wales. 

The U.S. simply does not have a good striker in its talent pool right now, and I’m not sure Berhalter can be blamed for that. I think he likely thought one would emerge over the past two years, but no one did. 

The knock I’m seeing most is fans clamoring for Berhalter to insert Gio Reyna at the number nine spot, an idea that makes me think that many USMNT fans don’t watch the players’ club games.


At Dortmund, Reyna almost always plays on the right wing as an attacking midfielder, and sometimes behind the striker in the number 10. He doesn’t play as a false nine, target or in the nine spot at all.

Is he able to play a false nine for the U.S.? I think probably, sure. But only after training with the squad in developing a new system of buildup, and Reyna had been held out of the team for the vast majority of qualifying and tune-up play due to an injury sustained in September 2021. He wasn’t available for Berhalter to try and see if he could incorporate Reyna as a false nine.

Berhalter is commonly criticized for his play of MLS players, but thus far, Walker Zimmerman is the only MLS regular who’s seen significant playing time

I’ll admit, when the lineup was released for Iran, I was scratching my head at Berhalter’s decision to start Cameron Carter-Vickers at center back, a guy who hadn’t even played with the senior team through qualifying. But the decision proved to be brilliant, as Carter-Vickers looked like a beast in defense against Iran, beating attackers to the ball and using his big frame to mitigate chances.

So far in the World Cup, he’s shown he knows how to stifle opposition. The U.S. looked dominant for most of the Wales match, stopping the Welsh from getting out on the counterattack and conceding only one goal because of a penalty kick. Berhalter’s game plan held English striker Harry Kane, the Premier League’s second leading scorer, in a game where the U.S. looked like the better team for the match’s entirety.

And yesterday, in a win-or-go-home match, he proved his tactics could both get the U.S. a necessary goal and later weather the second half Iranian storm to record a clean sheet.

Critics need to take a breath and look at what Berhalter has accomplished since taking over in late 2018. He has the highest winning percentage of any USMNT coach in history. He has won a Nation’s League trophy, a Gold Cup and the “Dos a Cero” against rival Mexico in a qualifier last November.

This U.S. team looks better than any expected, and if Berhalter pulls the upset against the Netherlands on Saturday, his critics should eat crow and offer the USMNT coach the praise he deserves.