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We the People of the USMNT


In the current International Break the United States Men's National Team will be facing the world ranked #74 Uzbekistan and world ranked #73 Oman. On the surface these matches are seemingly inconsequential but they will assist in unearthing the very identity and ethos of the so called "golden generation" of the USMNT. The return of Gregg Berhalter to the position of manager has stirred the metaphorical waves to the point of making a few fans seasick. The ill reception for Berhalter from a significant portion of the fanbase emanates from a desire for aspiring to be more. As fans of the USMNT we want to dream for the grandest heights of the international footballing world but this reappointment of Gregg has many feeling that we are simply being bogged down through a failure of internal governance structures that allow for generations of mediocrity to continue within the US Soccer Federation.


Re-Appointing Gregg Berhalter

During the process of searching for the next USMNT manager, following not renewing Gregg's contract post-World Cup, executive representatives of the USSF publicly claimed that they would be able to conduct the hiring search with out any salary restrictions. This claim was made by the newly appointed federation CEO JT Batson in March of 2023 during the USSF annual meeting in San Diego and was repeated during the introductory press conference for Gregg upon his reappointment. The most important member of the USSF hiring team that we must note is that of Matt Crocker, the acting sporting director, who was tasked with fronting the search for the new manager of the USMNT. Matt Crocker made the move to the USSF from British club Southampton where he also worked as their sporting director. During Gregg's introductory press conference a lot that was said, truly nothing of substance, but the main aspect that stood out was the manner in which the federation cultivated their search under the guidance of Crocker. USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone also played a key role in the hiring process through the selection of Crocker for the position of sporting director and assisting with the hiring process of Gregg. The trio of Batson, Crocker, and Cone were the three USSF representatives that were publicly presented as key decision making figures in this process. The requirements upon which they based the hiring framework were seemingly inherently skewed to culminate in the hiring of Berhalter. During the introductory press conference Crocker states, "We structured the hiring model upon a candidate that could crate a vision led identity and someone that was outstanding at building relationships" and Crocker goes on to say, "We do not see this as business as usual, this is an evolution of the program." It must also be noted that Crocker highlighted he kept the players informed on the status of the hiring process while also seeking their input at times, with public statements from Tim Weah and Christian Pulisic advocating for Gregg's reappointment. Repeatedly during this press conference when reporters brought up the interview process each member of the USSF at the table snickered, laughed, or made sideways glances to their fellow USSF members. Take this for what you will but it does not assist in building trust in the "rigorous" interview process that was carried out, in fact it does the exact opposite. Amongst these poorly timed smirks and repetitive use of non-descriptive terminology the entire process reeks of a transparently predestined outcome as all of the best personal traits that Gregg personifies were selected as key parameters for the next manager of the USMNT. Perhaps the best moment to summarize the press conference comes when Crocker is asked about the area in which Gregg most excelled within their data-driven model, "Just regarding the data model, really, Gregg pretty much set the data model as he was responsible for four years of development around a style of play. A lot of the metrics were set around the work that Gregg did with the team over the last four years." This statement must be specifically highlighted for it underlies the systematic failure within the USSF to conduct a through, diligent, and most importantly open-ended process for hiring the next manager of the USMNT. If the competency framework, data-driven models, and leadership skills are all based upon the previous manager logically this necessitates the process is in fact skewed towards one individual and thus not open ended in any respect what-so-ever. Hiding behind non-descriptive terminology such as "data-driven model for competency frameworks" or "leadership metrics" without specifying the underlying variables is highly reductive. In this situation with a predetermined evaluation metrics, it does begin to appear logical why Berhalter was indeed the best candidate. If one were to ask a chef to cook them any meal the chef pleased but then proceeded to only provide them with butter, cheese, and bread it is almost entirely preordained that you are going to end up with a grilled cheese sandwich. This USMNT player pool provide all the right ingredients for success but have been failed by the USSF in not providing the right chef to orchestrate them through the madness and chaos inherent to the international football world. Now, as USMNT fans we must watch the madness unfold in front of our very eyes.

 

USSF Financials

Let's take a look at the financials that underpin the USSF, for this serves to provide background for the issues at hand. The USSF has been transparent that they have been operating within a budget deficit, with an estimated deficit of $9.5m in 2024, but strategically plan to spend double the amount of money they will be bringing in year on year. From the Financial Year 2022 Form 990, The US Federation routinely releases tax documents, we can see that their total net revenue for the tax year was $122,296,409.00, with the vast majority of this coming from program service revenue. In comparison the English FA had an operating profit, revealed in the Annual Report, of £138.6m over the 2022 calendar year, which equates to $173,362,959.00. While this does create a massive difference in available funds across these two federations it goes to show that the USMNT has a long way to go in order to be able to recruit top talent to their organization. In rehiring Gregg Berhalter one of the main discussion points was that the Federation could not afford to hire a top-tier manager because they could not meet the annual salary demands but as mentioned below USSF representatives have claimed financial constraints were not placed upon the process for hiring a new manager. This is one of the key points that we believe increased transparency could better cultivate the relationship between the USSF and USMNT fanbase. If you do not have the funds to recruit world-class managers that is understandable, but projecting that there is an unlimited budget and then selecting Berhalter is highly suspect.


Since we have already made comparisons to the English FA it is only practical to continue that comparison for the salaries of their two respective managers. As of 2022 Southgate makes an estimated $6,221,370.00 per year while Berhalter has an annual salary of $1,340,812.50. In comparison, Jurgen Klinsmann had an annual salary of $3,300,000 million during his tenure as the USMNT manager in 2018, a 146.4% decrease in spending on manager from Klinsmann to Berhlater. Gregg Berhalter was the 13th highest paid manager in the 2022 World Cup, and within this mediocrity we can clearly see one of the main contributing factors for USMNT fans fearing that this cycle will continue to repeat itself. This vast difference in the pay for managers can ultimately play a key role in the difference between making an exit in the first round of the knock stages and progressing to the Quarterfinals and losing to the eventual runner-ups. What this also demonstrates is that the USSF publicly claims to be able to spend capital as they please but the reality is sadly much different. In a sport with minuscule margins, the ability to differentiate from competitors requires maximizing the performance of the entire squad on and off the pitch. Until the USSF is able to provide an annual salary that makes them a top competitor they will inherently be reliant upon finding the next great manager, a figurative diamond in the rough, a task that is reliant upon a significant amount of luck. It is time for the Federation to move into a phase of operation that supersedes any sort of reliance upon good fortune and increased transparency with their fanbase.

 

Tactical Failures

On the grandest stage of the international footballing world Gregg Berhalter made some crucial mistakes as the manager of the USMNT. During the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup the USMNT drew a group of England (6), Iran (26), and Wales (30). This group positioned the United States as one of the odds on favorites to make it to the knockout rounds along with one of the dark horses of the tournament, England. Ultimately, the United States were able to narrowly make it into the knockout rounds thanks to a 38' Christian Pulisic winner that allowed them to capture a nervy 1-0 victory. In this match Berhalter made one of his biggest mistakes as a manager, when facing extended spells of pressure from Iran he decided to make his team more defensive in order to cope with the increase rate of attack from Iran. As we can see with his substitutions of Acosta, Moore, and Zimmerman this invites Iran to continue to attack the United States without fear of any form of potent counter attacking potential.

Berhalter's substitutions against Iran in the final Group Stage match against Iran.

Notably, perhaps the most attacking talent within the USMNT pool, Giovanni Reyna of Borussia Dortmund, sat on the bench for the entirety of the match when he would have been a perfect substitution to use his creative abilities to break down a worn down Iranian defensive line. Instead, the substitutions limited the ability of the United States to extend play out of their final third, resulting in the last 15 minutes of the match almost entirely consisting of clearances without any capability to hold possession or close off the match with a second goal. This pressure crescendoes in the 98th minute, with nine added minutes of injury time, as Iran's backline played a ball into the box from the midline that is then redirected to the penalty spot. Matt Turner steps up to contest the attempt by Taremi but Iran's talisman forward is able to sneak the ball between his legs and slowly redirect it towards the goal. Walker Zimmerman's positioning allowed him to clear the ball off the of line before it is able to cross but in this lies a sliding door moment that could have seen the USMNT fail to make it out of a group they were highly favored to advance through. Inviting a metaphorical tidal wave of pressure reflects the mentality that Berhalter has adopted while managing the USMNT.


Next, the failure of Berhalter to adequately manage the knockout round match against the Netherlands must be addressed. The United States were unable to cope with the width that the Dutch fullbacks offered in their 3-4-1-2 set up, as an be demonstrated through their full backs, Daley Blind & Denzel Dumfries, playing key roles in each one of the three goals that the Netherlands scored. In his post-match presser Dutch manager Van Gaal was surprisingly straightforward in revealing that their tactical plan was to target the US flanks and even went far enough to state, "Team USA didn't adjust, they didn't adapt to the tactical plan on attacking flanks, that probably allowed us to win."

Netherlands player match ratings against USMNT in the 2022 World Cup.

In his post-match press conference Berhalter had this to say about their performance, "What I would say is, when you look at the difference, to me there was offensive quality that the Netherlands had that we're lacking a bit. We have a young group, players beginning their careers and we'll catch up to that, but we don't have Memphis Depay right now, who plays at Barcelona and has played in the Champions League for years. Those are not excuses, that stuff is going to come." There is a lot to unpack here within the quotes from both managers but the message from Van Gaal is clearly evident, he did not see Berhalter make tactical adjustments during the match that altered the manner in which the Dutch were able to play. This is one of the most essential tasks of a football manager but Berhalter failed to recognize the weakness that Van Gaal identified in the run up to their knockout round fixture. Herein lies one of the key weaknesses of Gregg Berhalter as he managers this golden generation of talent for the USMNT, he must grow his managerial skill set in order to get the best out of the squad. His inability to adapt a system to foster the creativity inherent to a lot of the players within the current pool restricts and limits their ceiling. In a world class manager the USMNT would be able to incorporate a system that adapts to the strengths of our best players, as opposed to Berhalter's previously rigid mentality of picking the best players that fit his 4-3-3 system. In the opinion of many USMNT fans, Gio Reyna is the best creative option in the middle of the pitch but because Berhalter prefers a midfield three shape that is not conducive to Gio playing as a #10 we have yet to see him play in this position for the stars and stripes with Gregg as the manager. Reyna did play in the central midfield while caretaker BJ Cohan was residing over the club during the Nations league competition during the summer of 2023, and in this role Gio thrived, especially in the matchup against El Salvador where he played as a #10. The tactical failures of Berhalter during the World Cup were only brought up once in the introductory press conference. This is highly frustrating from the perspective of USMNT fans for we want to know if Gregg is going to innovate his tactics. Failure to innovate and grow his mentality will lead to this group being limited in their overall ceiling as a collective.

 

In the current situation that we find ourselves in as USMNT fans we can sometimes feel helpless to the decision-making that occurs within the USSF. Never forget that your voice matters, if there is something that you are unhappy about within the organization express directly to the USSF how you feel. The most practical route to do so is through their contact page on the official website, which can be found here, as social media websites are perhaps not the best places to enact a change. Engaging with the USSF places a bottom up pressure on members of the organization to strive to be better, and perhaps integrate more transparency in their operating procedures. As we can see with the information above increased transparency would go a long way for benefiting the relationship between USSF and the USMNT fan base. We can ill afford to waste this golden generation of players, for they are our best hope to change the manner in which the world views football in the United States and even more importantly to grow the beautiful game here in the States.



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