Last week couldn’t have gone much better for Gregg Berhalter.
The now-former-and-maybe-future U.S. men’s national team head coach got quite the one-two punch of good news: First U.S. Soccer’s independent investigation found that Berhalter and his wife Rosalind were forthcoming about the details of a 1992 domestic violence incident, and there was no reason to believe any further instances had occurred.
U.S. Soccer concluded that Berhalter “remains a candidate to serve as head coach of the men’s national team.”
But there can be a big gulf between “remains a candidate” and “actually has a shot.” That gap, though, was significantly shortened after an interview Christian Pulisic gave to ESPN.
After calling the affair involving Claudio and Danielle Reyna “childish,” Pulisic was asked if he’d be comfortable with Berhalter getting his old job back.
“Yeah, no doubt, no doubt about it,” he said. “I think the strides that we’ve taken in recent years with him in charge, have been evident. I think it’s quite clear.”
Being cleared by an investigation is one thing, but seeing your normally reticent star give such a clear and public backing will give U.S. Soccer something to chew on.
But there are still quite a few steps before Berhalter gets his old job back. First and foremost, the person who will hire the new (or old) USMNT coach isn’t even in place yet.
U.S. Soccer has said interviews for its sporting director position are underway, with the hope that Earnie Stewart’s replacement is in place before the World Cup kicks off in July.
That would put U.S. Soccer right on its previously stated timeline of hiring a new USMNT coach by summer’s end. That is roughly as far from now as the USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia. In other words: a while!
And much could happen in that span of time, most plausibly Berhalter being offered a different job.
Berhalter’s resume could make him intriguing to clubs in Europe: a lengthy playing career in the Netherlands and Germany as well as experience coaching in Europe with Hammarby. He would also, of course, be an appealing candidate for an ambitious MLS club.
As Berhalter himself said: “There are options.”
Assuming Berhalter isn’t spoken for by the time U.S. Soccer actually gets around to choosing a coach, there are still potential pitfalls to a theoretical reappointment.
One: Do any core players have lingering problems with Berhalter’s now-infamous HOW Institute speech?
Pulisic seems to be fine with it but others, most notably ex-USMNT star DaMarcus Beasley, have pointed to that speech as the moment Berhalter lost the locker room.
Beasley, of course, isn’t in that locker room anymore, but he may talk to people that are. In any case, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said this weekend that USMNT players will be consulted on the hire. One wonders if Gio Reyna would be one of them.
The second issue is even more substantial, and will demand serious introspection from all parties. Yes, it’s about that 1992 incident.
U.S. Soccer’s independent investigation “cleared” Berhalter as much as it could have, but it’s hard to really declare victory when the underlying issue involves a confirmed case of domestic violence.
Should Berhalter emerge as a serious candidate by the summer, U.S. Soccer will have to ask itself an extremely thorny question: Does it want the leader of its national team on the biggest stage possible, a home World Cup, to have anything but a spotless record?
Yes, it was a drunken argument between teenagers, and Berhalter’s behavior since that moment appears to have been exemplary. But: it happened.
Excluding Berhalter on the basis of that moment feels unsettling, in part because it would give Claudio and Danielle Reyna what they wanted. But it would be pretty much the definition of Pyrrhic victory.
Berhalter certainly has options now. But, despite his very good week, there is a long way before coaching the USMNT again is one of them.