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Odds Not in Gregg Berhalter’s Favor As Coach Begins Second Stint with USMNT

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The United States men’s national team will begin the process of preparing for the 2026 World Cup this weekend with all eyes on head coach Gregg Berhalter as he makes his return to the sidelines after U.S. Soccer took what seemed to be an eternity to announce their “new” hire.

After a tumultuous few months in which the organization twiddled its thumbs over appointing a new coach following the hiring of Matt Crocker as its sporting director, they ultimately decided to bring back the 50-year-old with the announcement coming in June. The collective groans of many could be heard afterward. Did U.S. Soccer make the right decision?

The former player-turned-coach joins an exclusive group as he begins a second stint leading the national team. However, the odds are stacked against him as previous coaches in the position have not had a rosy time during their second go-around. So the question is what makes Berhalter think he can get this group of players to excel and possibly make a deep run in the next World Cup?

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see how other coaches fared in their second stints coaching the USMNT.

Bruce Arena

Growing up for a brief time in the Washington, D.C. area, there was only one man who was talked about when it came to soccer. That was none other than Bruce Arena who had success at the University of Virginia before jumping to the professional ranks to coach D.C. United in Major League Soccer.

After the embarrassment at the 1998 World Cup in France under Steve Sampson’s watch (the mastermind of the 3-6-1 formation), U.S. Soccer decided to go with the only man who could right the ship and get the team to play to their strengths. In came Arena and results started to improve.

Entering the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. was in a fairly tough group with the likes of Portugal, Poland, and South Korea. The coach got the world’s attention as they shocked the heavily favored Portuguese with a 3-2 win then followed that up with a respectable 1-1 draw with the co-host. The loss against Poland was heavy, but Arena did the job as they moved to the knockout stage.

A 2-0 win over regional rivals Mexico in the round of 16 led to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Germany (we will never forget Hugh Dallas), but Arena accomplished something that no other coach in the modern era has done — he guided the team to the quarterfinals, the furthest they have gone in the tournament since the 1930 team (remember them?) made it to the semifinals.

Seeing that perhaps the team could build on its success, the New York native was brought back for a second go around. With another Concacaf Gold Cup and qualification for the 2006 World Cup in the bag, expectations were high for them to excel. However, they crashed and burned in Germany as they finished dead last in Group E. Arena took much of the criticism, which was deserved, and he was ultimately replaced by the next man on our list.

Bob Bradley

Following a disastrous showing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, U.S. Soccer appointed the former Chicago Fire coach on an interim basis. Results improved and they ultimately gave him the job permanently in May 2007.

After winning the 2007 Concacaf Gold Cup and taking the team all the way to the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, Bradley completed the most important task when he led the U.S. to a 3-2 win over Honduras to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It would go on to be a historic moment for the team as they finished atop their group that consisted of England, Slovenia, and Algeria. They would find themselves once again being eliminated by their boogey team Ghana, but the point is Bradley and his players erased all memories of that horrendous period in Germany.

The performance earned Bradley a contract extension through to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, U.S. Soccer would look in another direction after the 2011 Gold Cup as their less-than-stellar results in the group stage followed by a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Mexico gave them a good reason to let go of the coach and bring in the glamour signing.

Was Bradley rightly fired from his job? That’s a question that will be debated for a long time.

Jurgen Klinsmann

The United States decided to go for the high-profile name as they sought qualification for the 2014 World Cup. If you want to make a push for the next level, why not sign someone who has won it all? Jurgen Klinsmann would be that man as he was announced as the new man in charge in July 2011.

It didn’t start out well, but the former German international got the team clicking as they recorded wins over Italy and Mexico for the first time at Estadio Azteca. They would also go on to win their fifth Gold Cup crown and qualify for the World Cup in 2013. This led to him receiving a contract extension well ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

At the big show in Brazil, Klinsmann would guide the team to an important 2-1 victory over Ghana and nearly came close to beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal before a last-second goal saw them share the points in a 2-2 draw. The loss to Germany was unfortunate, but they were able to advance from their group for the second consecutive World Cup.

They would go on to lose to Belgium in the round of 16, but once again there was an air of confidence that this team could take the next step come 2018.

However, Klinsmann’s side would be in disarray as they finished a very disappointing fourth in the 2015 Gold Cup. Despite coming through the first round of World Cup qualifiers, they stumbled out of the gate at the start of the Hexagonal with a 2-1 defeat to Mexico at home followed by a 4-0 drubbing away to Costa Rica.

The writing was clearly on the wall as Klinsmann was fired and U.S. Soccer elected to go back to a previous coach, Bruce Arena, to hopefully get the campaign back on track.

Well, that didn’t quite work out as the team failed to qualify.

What can Berhalter expect in his return?

This is not going to be a walk in the park for Berhalter as he returns to the bench on Saturday when the U.S. faces Uzbekistan. The players may have come out to express their support for him to stay on, but he’s going to have to win over some fans who feel he doesn’t deserve to be in the post again.

No, this has nothing to do with the controversy from the 2022 World Cup that led to the prolonged search for a new coach. This has all to do with whether he can take this team to the next level before the 2026 tournament, in which expectations will be uber-high as they play on home soil. Has he learned from the mistakes he made not only in Qatar but also during qualifying? What changes is he planning to make to keep his tactics fresh? What steps is he going to take to mend fences with players he’s snubbed in the past?

If U.S. Soccer is truly serious about putting out a team that will be competitive in 2026, they need a litmus test for Berhalter. That should come at the 2024 Copa America, the most competitive tournament they will play in ahead of the World Cup. This will be the ultimate challenge that the coach needs to prove that his squad has made progress. In addition, they should set a target for him to reach. A semifinal spot should be the goal and anything less than that should make the organization reconsider his coaching position.

With several coaches out there who could have taken this team to the next level, many will hope U.S. Soccer knows what they are doing by bringing back Berhalter. It’s definitely going to be an uphill battle for the coach to avoid the same mistakes his predecessors made while they were at the helm.

Can he succeed? Perhaps, but he’s got his work cut out for him.

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Kenya Brown

Born in America, but raised in Europe and Asia, Kenya has loved soccer ever since his parents put a ball at his feet. While covering some of the top U.S. players around Europe, he loves putting the spotlight on players who are based in leagues off the beaten path. He also interviews coaches and other people in the game to gain more insight.

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