The USMNT Should Congratulate Gregg Berhalter — Then Hire Someone New

From the start, Gregg Berhalter’s stated goal when he took the job as head coach of the Untied States men’s national team was to “change the way the world views U.S. soccer.”

If Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal represents “the world,” then mission accomplished.

Van Gaal did something we haven’t seen too often following the USA men: He took the Americans seriously from a tactical perspective despite having the superior roster.

The result was an absolute masterclass of a performance by the Dutch in their 3-1 victory over the USA at the 2022 FIFA World Cup round of 16. The Oranje overcame any pride of being the historic power by sitting in a low block and punishing the Americans over and over for their clear weakness at solving it.

And while the expected goals data suggested a more even game, if anything the final should’ve been more lopsided. Haji Wright knew very little about the lone goal he scored for the Americans. And the expected goals data was far more reflective of the Netherlands taking the lead early and being content to defend than of an outcome that ever felt in doubt.

The Netherlands’ convincing win shouldn’t overshadow everything that occurred in Qatar. A young U.S. national team showed more promise for the future than maybe any cohort before it, with its overall group performance and against England in particular in a 0-0 draw. There is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the 2026 FIFA World Cup to be and even 2030 given how young parts of this squad are.

But if the United States is going to become a serious player on the international level, that requires honest assessment of all performances given a talent level is now firmly in the 11th to 20th spots in the world.

In that context, advancing beyond the group stage is a satisfactory achievement not worthy of widespread celebration. And if that’s the case, U.S. Soccer should thank Berhalter for re-establishing the program while also going in a new direction at head coach for the 2026 cycle.

Here’s what some don’t understand about this debate: The bar to retain a manager beyond his first contract in international managing should be far higher than at the club level, given the enormous amount of precedent that shows managing a team through the second cycle is a lot more difficult. And as such, there are two facts that make it unthinkable for a serious soccer nation to keep Berhalter installed:

  1. This is the most elite American team ever assembled in terms of where they play club football.
  2. This is the worst margin of defeat in the knockout since the modern history of the U.S. national team began in 1990.

Since 1994 when the United States reached the round of 16 in a tournament played at home, they had never previously lost a knockout phase game by multiple goals or conceded more than twice. The 2010 and 2014 teams played to 90-minute draws before losing in extra time, the 2002 group famously defeated Mexico 2-0 to reach the quarterfinals, and even the 1994 team narrowly lost 1-0 to eventual World Champions Brazil (although the Americans were helped that day by Leonardo’s red card.)

And in each case where the U.S. results were deemed good enough that the manager was kept in place, the results that followed were worse than in the previous cycle. Bruce Arena clung too strongly to his veterans and saw an old 2006 team earn one point in the group stage in Germany. Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann both had things go so sideways that Bradley never made it to 2014 qualifying and Klinsmann was sacked midway through the eventually failing 2018 qualifying bid.

Berhalter has some advantages on those named above if he stays on — namely that his squad is certain to be more experienced and almost certain to be more talented in 2026 than it is now. But he also faces unique challenges that will make it even harder to pull him mid-cycle if the team isn’t performing well — namely that the United States won’t have to play any qualifiers and therefore won’t have as many honest opportunities to evaluate if a change is needed between now and Matchday 1 of the 2026 tournament held jointly between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

And while Berhalter left many experienced observers questioning an inability to respond to Dutch tactics or build a more balanced squad, he has clear strenghts. The best of those might be in player recruitment, where several dual nationals who came through European youth academies not only chose to represent the USMNT but became nearly undroppable players. Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson and Yunus Musah were three such men who started all four games for the Americans here and are certainly part of the future.

That recruitment, coupled with domestically developed talent that has begun proving itself more consistently in Europe, is one of the reasons folks like van Gaal treated this American squad more seriously than previous ones.

But if the question for 2022 is what the world thinks of U.S. soccer, the question for 2026 is what American soccer thinks about itself. And in this millenium, this was a completely average U.S. performance overall at the World Cup and a below-average effort in the most important game.

Berhalter told us his was a mission to change global impressions. In the end, though, the standards that truly drive elite performance come from within. Keeping Berhalter on board would reflect American expectations that remain static despite two supposed decades of progress.