Gregg Berhalter fired as U.S. men's soccer coach after Copa America first-round exit

Wednesday, July 10, 2024
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Gregg Berhalter was fired as U.S. men's soccer coach on Wednesday after his team's first-round exit from the Copa America flamed doubts he was the right person to remain in charge for the 2026 World Cup, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the U.S. Soccer Federation had not yet made the announcement. The person said an announcement was likely for later Wednesday.

Berhalter's second term as coach was cut short 10 months after he returned to the bench with high hopes and proclaimed the team's goal was "to change soccer in America forever." The U.S. had seven wins, six losses and one draw in his second stint, leaving his overall record at 44 wins, 17 losses and 13 draws.

United States coach Gregg Berhalter looks on prior to a Copa America Group C soccer match against Panama in Atlanta, Thursday, June 27, 2024.
United States coach Gregg Berhalter looks on prior to a Copa America Group C soccer match against Panama in Atlanta, Thursday, June 27, 2024.
AP Photo/Mike Stewart

Sporting director Matt Crocker rehired Berhalter and also will make the recommendation on his replacement. The team next plays in September friendlies against Canada and New Zealand.

Jürgen Klopp, Thierry Henry and Marcelo Bielsa are among those being speculated about as candidates to replace Berhalter, along with Jesse Marsch, Hugo Pérez, Pellegrino Matarazzo, David Wagner, Steve Cherundolo, Jim Curtain, Massimiliano Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino.

Salary could be an issue.

Berhalter earned $2,291,136 in 2022, including $900,000 in bonuses for the Americans qualifying for the World Cup and reaching the second round. A top-level men's coach could put pressure on the USSF to increase the salary of newly hired women's coach Emma Hayes.

Just 23 months remain before the World Cup comes to the United States for the second time and the Americans play their opener at Inglewood, California, on June 12, 2026. The only competitive matches with the full player pool before then likely will be in the CONCACAF Nations League.

Berhalter, who turns 51 on Aug. 1, was the first American to coach the national team after playing for the team at a World Cup. He was hired to coach the U.S. in December 2018 after stints with Sweden's Hammarby (2011-13) and Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew (2013-18).

He led the U.S. to titles in the CONCACAF Nations League in 2020, 2023 and 2024 and to another with a B team in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. His players strongly supported Berhalter, saying he fostered a culture that bound the group.

That support led to Crocker rehiring Berhalter five months after his initial contract expired amid an investigation of a decades-old domestic violence allegation that was brought to the USSF's attention by the Reyna family, which was upset that Berhalter limited Gio Reyna's playing time at the World Cup. A law firm retained by the USSF said there was no legal obstacle to bringing Berhalter back.

His detractors cited lack of success against teams outside the region and struggles on the road against Central American rivals. The U.S. gained the region's final automatic World Cup berth on goal difference, and it had the second-youngest team at the 2022 tournament in Qatar. The U.S. wasted a second-half lead in a 1-1 draw with Wales, tied England 0-0 and defeated Iran 1-0 to reach the knockout stage, where the Americans played poorly in a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands.

Players exhibited a lack of discipline: Defender Sergiño Dest got a red card last November at Trinidad and Tobago for arguing with a referee and winger Tim Weah was ejected from the Panama match for punching an opponent on the head.

U.S. coaches have not fared well in a second cycle.

Bruce Arena led the team to a quarterfinal appearance in 2002, its best since 1930, then failed to advance past the group stage in 2006.

Bob Bradley's team reached the second round in 2010, earning him a four-year contract extension only for the USSF to fire him 11 months later after the Americans wasted a two-goal lead and lost to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

Jurgen Klinsmann replaced him and led the team to the second round of the 2014 World Cup, then was fired after opening the final round of 2018 qualifying with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 defeat at Costa Rica. Arena returned and the U.S. lost at Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of qualifying, ending a run of seven straight World Cup appearances.

While the new coach inherits players such as Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams who have thrived with European clubs, goalkeepers Matt Turner and Ethan Horvath and Reyna have failed to gain playing time with first-tier teams.