It doesn't actually matter how Gregg Berhalter was hired, unless for some reason you buy the theory that Jay Berhalter is the Cardinal Richelieu of American soccer, and Earnie Stewart his catspaw. Sometimes soccer runs in families. Here's some interesting trivia – former US men's national team coach Bob Bradley actually coached his son Michael. And no one ever said a word about that.
For our younger readers – that's a joke. It was brought up once or twice.
Either he wins, and it's a good hire, or he loses, and it isn't. The past is provolone. But wondering why the Berhalter hire took so long has agitated our finest minds since at least Carlos Codeiro's election, and certainly since Stewart's hiring. Not that agitating our fine minds is what you'd call difficult.
And you know what? There might be a good reason why this hire took forever and a day.
Usually when a hiring process takes this long, it's because the job is so undesirable that only someone truly desperate would take it. But we're not hearing about coaches rejecting the offer, or even using the US opening as leverage against other clubs or nations. We are hearing, off the record from Tata Martino's and Julen Lopetegui's camps, and on the record from Peter Vermes, that polite inquiries were shot down like the Red Baron taking out Snoopy's Sopwith Camel.
It's easy to conclude that Stewart was uninterested in hiring a non-American coach. I would listen patiently to those who say this is unwise. I would listen less patiently to those who say this wasn't Stewart's decision – until there's evidence that Earnie is not what his title says he is.
But if you accept the premise that the US men's national team coach has to expand the available talent pool as well as win with whatever talent is available, then you pretty much need a person who is completely familiar with the talent pool. Very few non-Americans answer that description.
You may believe the talent pool for American soccer is in Europe, and not the United States. Couple of things to keep in mind, though. Gregg Berhalter coached in Europe. And Earnie Stewart was just about the original European-born pro who chose to represent the United States. I don't think we're going to close off dual citizens from the national team, and I don't think we should.
I've also never really believed that people who were saying the national team should be fully "American" were saying anything more insidious than "Timmy Chandler sucks." But Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach are not in power, and I find it difficult to believe that Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart would turn down the next Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart.
Now, just because the coach is an American doesn't mean he's going to get every American player. Latino and African-American outreach up and down the soccer system has – I really am trying to come up with something classier than "sucked," but sometimes the mot is just too juste. The USSF has paid lip service to making greater efforts here, and if Berhalter and Stewart don't belatedly fulfill some of their predecessors' promises, well, they damned well better make up for it by winning literally all the time. Making players rich and famous is one way to recruit, after all.
Fine, we had to have a Yank, but why this Yank? Berhalter hasn't won anything.
Well, here's where we get into his previous position. I don't think the coaches who have won Cups and Shields recently are noticeably better than Berhalter on their own terms.
Don't believe me? No, you don't, do you, you miserable little – sorry, overreacted. Okay, fine. Let's look at the coaches who have won things in the US in the past ten years:
2009: Jason Kreis, Sigi Schmid and Robert Warzycha.
2010: Gary Smith, Schmid and Bruce Arena.
2011: Arena and Schmid.
2012: Arena, Peter Vermes and Frank Yallop.
2013: Vermes, Ben Olsen and Mike Petke.
2014: Arena and Schmid.
2015: Caleb Porter, Vermes and Jesse Marsch.
2016: Brian Schmetzer and Oscar Pareja.
2017: Greg Vanney and Vermes.
2018: Either Tata Martino or Gio Savarese, Wilmer Cabrera and Chris Armas (unless you want to give Marsch credit for this year's Shield).
So, how many times did you audibly shout "Nope!" If we were truly going by accomplishment, we'd demand Sigi Schmid finally get his shot. I actually think it's a little poignant that Schmid will (probably) never get his shot, but the national team job isn't a lifetime achievement award.
There are some names we shouldn't rule out, but we should also keep in mind how many popular heirs apparent in the past ten years have vanished from the wish lists. We were about to carry Oscar Pareja to the sidelines on a litter there for a hot minute. Heck, we still might.
And Vermes, who seems so disappointed that it wasn't his time?
Well, now we're back to Earnie Stewart. Berhalter, of course, was not the only candidate with a distinguished national team career. Stewart and Vermes were contemporary teammates. If the one doesn't want to build a working relationship with the other, there's not a lot we as outsiders can do about it. Other than, of course, assume that Berhalter was forced on Stewart by Jay Berhalter ahead of a player and coach of greater qualifications and personal rapport.
Seriously, so much conspiracy mongering, at this point, assumes that Earnie Stewart is the most easily pushed around figure in the history of American soccer. I hate to hang the jury, but I'm going to need a little more to go on.
I might as well stop dancing around this – I haven't asked if Peter's now long-ago DUI probation played a part in the decision, mostly because there's no way I'd get anything in response besides a stony denial. That's the sort of thing a few more MLS Cup wins can counterbalance – and Vermes has kept out of trouble since then, of course.
But as of right now, are you truly more impressed by Vermes' Open Cup win and an MLS Cup (at home, after penalties, and Collin should have been red-carded in the first half, easily the least impressive MLS Cup win since 2010 and only slightly downstaged by Seattle a couple of years ago)? More how Gregg Berhalter guided the Columbus Crew to the second round of the playoffs during a season when their owner was trying to kill them?
Well, if you are, Earnie wasn't.
Fine, Berhalter's the guy. But why did we need to whiz away the entire Year of Our Lord 2018?
Well…why not? Let's say we had gone undefeated, untied and unscored on this year, winning every game by multiple goals, each one a highlight reel classic. Would we be any closer to the World Cup? We would not. No game was going to count this year. I'd have cancelled all the games if it had been up to me.
Besides, I don't think it was a wasted year. Or to be more precise, I think it was wasted for very good reasons.
We'll likely never get an answer on why it took so long to hire Berhalter other than "thorough process".— D.J. Switzer (@wrongsideofpond) December 4, 2018
Why? Because the answer likely is "the optics of us taking Gregg in the middle of the Columbus relocation fiasco were terrible so we let him finish this season." #USMNT
DJ's point is extremely well taken. Every American fan should be delighted that Berhalter was around to coach Columbus this season.
The #SavedTheCrew effort – to me the story of the year in American soccer, and there is no close second – might have succeeded even if this year's Crew had been horrible. But there was no way Berhalter could have known that the Crew would be saved. It was much more likely he was signing his name on one of the all-time dog acts. Even if Berhalter was the initial choice, a season of Chivas USA Ohio would have been a hell of a resume risk.
Not only did Berhalter not join the US men's national team before now, he didn't even skip out on Columbus. I don't want to overstate the attractiveness of my favorite mediocre team, but Berhalter was a near-permanent candidate for the LA Galaxy job.
As it turned out, around the time Earnie Stewart was officially hired by the USSF, the Red Bulls job was available. Berhalter grew up in New Jersey. Chris Armas seems like the right hire, and maybe he was always next in line. But Armas might have crashed and burned.
That's two teams, out of over twenty. Once Anthony Precourt announced his candidacy for Jerk of the Year, Berhalter was the biggest flight risk in the league.
But he stayed at his post.
This is another question I wouldn't expect a straight answer to, at least until Precourt is far enough away from MLS and USSF that he couldn't even reach them with a writ – and that might be a long time, since apparently suing USSF is the cool new thing all the kids are doing.
But there are two possible answers, given the facts in evidence – an interview process from at least August, probably far longer, that nevertheless took in a pool of maybe one and a half candidates. For a highly desirable job that had been open since October 2017.
I think Berhalter stayed in Columbus to help save the Crew. Or at least, to not cause further damage to the Crew. I think he stayed out of loyalty to his players and the club's fans. Unlike most of the team's players, staff and fans, he had options outside Columbus he could have acted on at nearly any point. Instead, he took what I consider to be a considerable risk in staying. I don't think he wanted to be the last coach of the Columbus Crew.
If this is the case, well, as you can tell, I consider this to be hugely admirable by both Berhalter and Stewart. This is the sort of loyalty you dream about in any sport.
Or. Berhalter may well have concluded for selfish reasons that the appearance of loyalty would serve him best. Through Machiavellian calculation, he stayed at a position where disaster would carry no blame, and success would seem miraculous.
Well, if this were the case, then Berhalter is a visionary. Waving off all other offers, risking that Stewart would wave off all other candidates, and gambling he wouldn't be the forlorn guide of Austin FC, indefinitely trying to coach teams built by the power and genius of Anthony Precourt? If Berhalter was guided by self-interest, he bet on a beagle to win the Kentucky Derby. Whether lucky or ingenious, this man has to be our coach.
Only Stewart and Berhalter know for sure. I realize I'm spinning a glorious fantasy out of a federation that deserves absolutely no benefit of the doubt, but I don't see too many other scenarios – and none that don't involve Earnie Stewart being astoundingly lazy and easily manipulated combined with a strange lack of interest from other qualified candidates. Dave Sarachan seemed pretty resigned to his fate, didn't he? Did it seem like he was coaching for his job?
Or, Earnie Stewart is the biggest Carl Yastrzemski fan who ever lived. Maybe there are plenty of potential reasons we haven't thought of, who knows.
MLS CUP PREVIEW:
MLS turns out regular season nobodies as MLS Cup winners with disturbing regularity anyway, and the Timbers seem like an unusually good candidate to join that club. Seattle was the hottest team on the planet before the playoffs. Kansas City isn't the easiest out in the league by any means – I think Peter Vermes had something to prove? I'll try to follow up. I think that was a tougher path than what Atlanta faced – tough enough for me to take the Timbers seriously. Savarese may be a first time MLS coach, but unlike Armas he's not a first time coach. Martino has both feet out the door, and he's probably not the only one who won't be around Atlanta for First Kick 2019. Call it contrariness if you like. I just smell an upset. Portland, 2-1.