Training journals, Yaz and making history: 10 things about Gregg Berhalter

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The US national team finally has a permanent head coach for the first time since Bruce Arena resigned from the post on Oct. 13, 2017 after the failed World Cup qualifying campaign: Columbus Crew SC’s Gregg Berhalter has been appointed USMNT head coach

For those who are not as familiar with the US World Cup veteran, we give Berhalter the “10 Things About …” treatment. There’s bound to be something in here you never knew about him.

Style & goals at Crew SC

Let’s get the basic, critical knowledge out of the way off.

As you know, Berhalter joins the national team from Columbus Crew SC. He was head coach and sporting director of the team the last five seasons, making the playoffs four times. Crew SC hosted 2015 MLS Cup final, falling to the Portland Timbers 2-1.

Berhalter’s system of possession-based soccer and strong defensive structure earned the plaudits of fellow MLS managers Tata Martino and Patrick Vieira over the years. The strikers atop his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation have all enjoyed their best goal-scoring seasons with the Crew, from Kei Kamara to Ola Kamara and, this season, Gyasi Zardes, earning Berhalter a reputation as a “striker whisperer.”   

Late start in MLS

Gregg Berhalter and David Beckham with the LA Galaxy | German Alegria/LA Galaxy

Berhalter’s playing career didn’t get started in Major League Soccer. After his junior year at the University of North Carolina in 1994 there was no Major League Soccer (league launched two years later). So he went right to Europe, playing in the Netherlands, England and Germany. 

After a well-traveled 15-year European career, Berhalter signed with the LA Galaxy in 2009, winning two Supporters’ Shields and then 2011 MLS Cup. That season Berhalter wasn’t just a player but also an acting assistant coach, making 10 appearances in his final year in playing boots. He made 52 appearances with the club and turned to focus full-time on coaching after his MLS Cup-winning season.

A natural leader and student of the game, Berhalter didn’t just begin laying the foundation for his coaching career when he was with the Galaxy. It all started in the Netherlands.

Soccer-schooled in Holland

From 1994-2000, Berhalter got his first taste of professional soccer in the Netherlands. A country known for its novel approach to the game, Berhalter has long credited his mental and personal growth while lining up for Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam and Cambuur Leeuwarden.

“There was a lot of discussion in Holland,” Berhalter told Paul Tenorio in a FourFourTwo profile in 2017. “That was the best part about going there early in my career. Because after training, after games, all you do is discuss with teammates about the game. That’s all you’re doing. Tactically. So it’s really interesting. That had a huge part of forming who I am.”

Dutch notes and training journals

The clubs and discussion shaped him so much, Berhalter used to keep journals of his training sessions. 

“The positional play comes directly from Holland,” Berhalter said. “When I was there in my first years, I started writing notes down and writing journals down about the training sessions, about how I saw the ideal formation, what attributes we needed in each position.”

In the Netherlands, he played against current US Soccer general manager Earnie Stewart over the years as their careers overlapped in the European nation. 

European experiences

Gregg Berhalter with Crystal Palace | Courtesy Crystal Palace

Berhalter featured for seven teams across four countries on two continents during his playing career. After his time in Holland, he moved to England with Crystal Palace. 

He made 19 appearances with Palace before swapping England for Germany, signing with Energie Cottbus. With Cottbus he made more appearances than with any other club during his career, a total of 111 from 2002-06.

He stayed in Germany for another few years with 1860 Munich from 2006-’09, featuring 73 times for the club. His time in Germany was his most prolific in terms of goals, finding the net 9 times with Cottbus and 8 times with Munich.  

Denied a World Cup goal

While in England, Berhalter was called into the USMNT squad for the 2002 World Cup. At the tournament, he became the first-ever Palace player feature in a World Cup. 

USMNT as a player

Berhalter made 44 appearances for the USMNT, featuring in that 2002 World Cup where the team reached the quarterfinals against Germany, losing 1-0. He never scored for his country, though should have in that quarterfinal against Germany (watch video above). 

The defender was also selected to the 2006 World Cup roster though he didn’t feature in the tournament.  

Way back with Reyna and Pope

Berhalter goes way back with NYCFC sporting director and former USMNT standout Claudio Reyna. A pair of boys from New Jersey, Reyna and Berhalter featured on the same high school team, St. Benedicts in Newark, NJ. Reyna even served as Berhalter’s best man at his wedding. 

St. Benedicts is a soccer powerhouse, 11-time national champions, and it is also the school that Tab Ramos and Juan Agudelo attended.

Both Berhalter and Reyna flew south for college, with Berhalter enrolling at North Carolina and Reyna at the University of Virginia. Berhalter was teammates with another USMNT standout during his time as a Tar Heel, as he suited up with Eddie Pope. 

Yaz!

Berhalter’s sports connections extend past the soccer pitch: He is the godson of Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski.

Yastrzemski, a Hall of Famer and 18-time MLB All-Star, spent his entire 23-year career with the Red Sox, retiring only after his 43rd birthday. 

First US pro manager in Europe

Gregg Berhalter with Hammarby | Courtesy of Hammarby IF

Berhalter made more history in Europe. When he was appointed manager of Swedish second division side Hammarby in 2011, he became the first American to manage a professional club in Europe. 

With Hammarby, Berhalter continued his learning curve to set him on the path of success in MLS.

“We were the big team in the league,” Berhalter said of his time in Sweden in that FourFourTwo profile. “So every team we played against had 11 guys behind the ball, and to be honest I didn’t know how to figure it out.

“We still had more possession, more shots on goal, all that was there. It was still a possession-based game, but the final product, finishing the attacks, was extremely difficult. I didn’t really know how to solve it, to be honest. And then, as I had the time off after I got fired, I started studying more and more about how I wanted it to be, how I wanted it to look, and then I started defining it more clearly. When I was at Hammarby I was going on what I felt it should look like, and now it’s much more defined.”

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