Gregg Berhalter fired as USMNT head coach

U.S. Soccer fired men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter on Wednesday, one week after the USMNT crashed out of the 2024 Copa América with just three group-stage points.

Berhalter departs after five years on the job, over two separate stints, the first of which was reasonably successful. But throughout the first 10 months of his second stint, it became clear that the USMNT had stagnated.

As the team trudged toward an earlier-than-expected Copa América exit, fans chanted: "Fire Gregg!" At least two official U.S. supporters' groups, the American Outlaws and Barra 76, soon called for Berhalter's ouster.

After a post-tournament review that U.S. Soccer said would be "comprehensive," the federation relieved Berhalter of his duties.

Sporting director Matt Crocker said Wednesday that the review considered not only the Copa América but the entirety of the past year. It was "not broad at all — specifically quite narrow," he said, and the conclusion was clear; "benchmarks" hadn't been met.

"There has been progress made," Crocker told a small group of reporters Wednesday as U.S. Soccer announced the decision. "But now is the time to turn that progress into winning."

The USMNT's 2-1 loss to Panama in the 2024 Copa América group stage proved costly, and even more so for head coach Gregg Berhalter than anybody else. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
The USMNT's 2-1 loss to Panama in the 2024 Copa América group stage proved costly, and even more so for head coach Gregg Berhalter than anybody else. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) (Hector Vivas via Getty Images)

Crocker will now lead the search for a replacement to guide the USMNT toward and at the 2026 World Cup, which the United States is co-hosting, and which represents an opportunity to, as Berhalter would often say, "change soccer in America forever."

The search, Crocker said, would be different than the two high-profile ones he led last year — one that landed on Berhalter, one that wooed Emma Hayes to the U.S. Women's National Team.

"I'm 12 months into the program now. I've been in the environment," he said Wednesday. "I think I'm a lot clearer and a lot more confident in what I see. ... I'm in a better place to have much more of a targeted search, where I'll be more inclined to go hard and go early with specific candidates that I feel meet the criteria that we're looking for."

Crocker and U.S. Soccer did not announce any interim coaching plans, because their aim, Crocker said, is to have a new coach in place prior to the next USMNT games in September.

Fans will fantasize about a big-name hire, such as Jürgen Klopp, who recently left Liverpool and said he "probably will not be a manager again." Others who'll be mentioned include Thierry Henry and Mauricio Pochettino.

Among the more reasonable candidates would be domestic coaches like Steve Cherundolo or experienced international coaches like Hervé Renard, the Frenchman who has said he will leave the France women's national team after the upcoming Olympics because he is eying a third men's World Cup. (He coached Morocco and Saudi Arabia at the last two.)

When asked if he preferred a domestic coach or a foreign one, Crocker said: "I just want to get the best coach possible that can help the team win. Whether they're from the U.S. or elsewhere, they've gotta fit the profile, which is a serial winning coach, somebody that can continue to develop this potential group of players, somebody that's got a huge interest and a passion for player development."

When asked if speaking English is a requirement, he did not directly answer the question. "I think effective communication is critical, when you need to get a message across to the players," Crocker said. "That hasn't changed. And we'll be considering a really wide pool of candidates."

Berhalter, meanwhile, will most likely return to club soccer, in MLS or abroad. He also could look for another national team job outside the U.S.

Berhalter first took charge of the USMNT in December 2018, one year after its modern-era nadir, the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In his first year on the job, he struggled to adapt to the international game, and to fill gaps in a player pool that had arguably sunk to its weakest point in over a decade. The U.S. lost to Jamaica and Venezuela that June; lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup final; got embarrassed by Mexico in a friendly two months later, and then by Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League a month after that.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and a mostly empty 2020. By the time international soccer fully resumed, those gaps in the player pool had begun to fill in. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams had matured. Gio Reyna, Tim Weah and eventually others emerged. A so-called "golden generation" took shape.

To some extent, it fell into Berhalter's lap. But he also worked intentionally to usher it into the national team and build strong chemistry, a "brotherhood," within it and around it. He recruited multi-nationals like Sergiño Dest and Yunus Musah to join it. In June 2021, they broke through, beating Mexico in a chaotic Nations League final — the first of what would become three consecutive titles in that competition, and the first of seven games unbeaten against their arch rival.

In World Cup qualifiers beginning that fall, they wobbled, but responded when necessary in Honduras and at home. They went to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, drew England and Wales, beat Iran, and lost to the Netherlands in the Round of 16. It was an acceptable result. To some, including then-U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, it had been a successful campaign. Berhalter left Qatar as a favorite to retain the job for a second cycle.

Gregg Berhalter coaches Gio Reyna against Uruguay at the 2024 Copa América. The U.S. lost 1-0 and was eliminated from the tournament. (Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)
Gregg Berhalter coaches Gio Reyna against Uruguay at the 2024 Copa América. The U.S. lost 1-0 and was eliminated from the tournament. (Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF) (Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/USSF via Getty Images)

What happened next came to define, delay and linger over his now-terminated second cycle. He went to a leadership summit in New York and told a now-infamous story about Reyna. He didn't name Reyna, but when the story got published (without Berhalter's knowledge or permission), dots got connected. Reyna's parents went to Berhalter's boss, Stewart. Their mention of a decades-old domestic violence incident involving Berhalter and his then-girlfriend, now-wife, sparked an investigation, and left Berhalter in limbo for six months.

Berhalter's first contract expired at the end of 2022. As the investigation played out, Stewart left U.S. Soccer, leaving the federation's sporting department rudderless. As it searched for Stewart's successor, who would lead the now-on-hold USMNT coaching search — and even after it settled on Crocker in April 2023 — the external assumption was that Berhalter would not be rehired.

But in June, after a murky search heavy on buzzwords and light on known candidates — and as interim coach B.J. Callaghan, a Berhalter assistant, was leading the USMNT to a Nations League title — U.S. Soccer brought Berhalter back.

He retook charge in August. But throughout the fall and spring, he failed to meet rising expectations.

“If we continue to develop in the way that we have,” Berhalter said at his reintroductory news conference last June, and “if this group continues to go where we think they can go, the sky's the limit.” Instead, they flat-lined, or perhaps even regressed. They had grown from the 34th best team in the world at the onset of the Berhalter era to 14th, per Elo ratings, entering 2022. They are now back down to No. 31.

They lost to Germany in their first big second-cycle test. They needed a "miraculous" own goal to save face against Jamaica in March. They beat Mexico again, but it has since become apparent that this Mexico team, which also slumped out of its Copa América group, is the worst in decades.

A 5-1 loss to Colombia followed. It was a "wake-up call" that shouldn't have been necessary. A 1-1 draw with Brazil stabilized the USMNT entering Copa América. But a quarterfinal berth was the minimum expectation. The U.S. didn't meet it. And Crocker decided to moved on.

Berhalter, in a Wednesday statement to Yahoo Sports and others, said via a spokesman: "I want to thank the U.S. Soccer Federation for entrusting me to lead this team for the past five years — representing our country is a tremendous honor and I am proud of the identity we have built on and off the field. It was very gratifying watching this team improve over the years and I remain grateful for the lifetime bonds created with our players, coaches, and staff members.

"The Copa America result is extremely disappointing and I take full responsibility for our performance. Our approach and process was always focused on the 2026 World Cup and I remain confident that this group will be one of the great stories in 2026.”

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