The sporting director of the U.S. Soccer Federation says Gregg Berhalter’s job as men’s national team coach is safe despite some disappointing results.
Berhalter was hired last December after the Americans failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The U.S. lost to Mexico 1-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in July, was beaten 3-0 by El Tri in a September exhibition and lost 2-0 at Canada last month in the CONCACAF Nations League. The Americans have nine wins, five losses and two draws this year.
“When I evaluate Gregg and the coaching staff and what I’ve seen to date, I’m a pleased man, and an individual result is not going to change that. It’s just not,” sporting director Earnie Stewart said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Stewart, then the men’s national team general manager, made the recommendation to hire Berhalter, which was endorsed by the USSF board of directors. Stewart, who played in three World Cups for the U.S., was promoted to sporting director in August, in charge of the men’s and women’s programs.
To reach the first Nations League semifinals, the U.S. needs wins over Canada on Friday at Orlando, Florida, and against Cuba on Tuesday at George Town, Cayman Islands, and must overcome a goal difference of four against Canada.
“When you look at these individual results of the Canada away game, no, we weren’t happy. We weren’t happy at all. That’s really simple,” Stewart said. “And we have now a moment to rectify that.”
Berhalter has implemented a possession-oriented, play-from-the-back style that American players have at times had difficulty adjusting to. Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup starts in September.
“I have no fear at all that we are not going to qualify for the World Cup. I’m very, very confident about that,” Stewart said. “I’m pleased with the progress. But obviously, when you don’t win games, there’s a certain pressure that comes with that. And we all understand that. That’s part of our business. But that’s also something that our players and our staff and ourselves, we all need to get through and keep doing what we have to do — going on the field every single day, being within our roles and responsibilities and bringing what we have to bring to progress and succeed.”
Berhalter, 46, is the first person to play on and coach the U.S. national team. He coached Sweden’s Hammarby from 2012-13 and Columbus in Major League Soccer from 2014-18. His older brother, Jay, is chief commercial and strategy officer of the USSF and is thought to be a candidate to succeed CEO Dan Flynn, who retired in September.
Stewart lashed out at suggestions that he is not in charge of technical decisions.
“When it comes to the technical decisions within the federation and the role that I have now as sporting director, I want to be clear that I’m the one making decisions,” Stewart said. “So all the conspiracy theories that are out there in my mind are very disrespectful to me, to the individuals — and I’ll just name them: Jay Berhalter, to Gregg Berhalter and myself. When people insinuate these things … I’ve worked a little bit too hard to be in the position where I am today to actually have people think that.”
Stewart also addressed the failure of the U.S. to advance past the group stage at the Under-17 World Cup for the second time in three tournaments. The Americans’ minus-seven goal difference was their worst at the event.
“The result was disappointing,” he said. “Yes, we want to win. Yes, we want to become a world champion. It’s about the development of the individual player, because, and I’ll say it very black and white, you can become world champion, but if there’s not one player that evolves and goes to our men’s national team, we haven’t succeeded in what we want to do.”
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