They say there’s a first time for everything. Saturday was the first in time in the six-year coaching career of Gregg Berhalter that he was dismissed from a match.
The sending off happened following a 77th minute foul on Columbus Crew SC winger Niko Hansen. Je-Vaughn Watson, the infringing player, was shown a yellow card, but Berhalter believed the clothesline “was a play that doesn’t belong in soccer” and “was a clear attack on one of our players.”
Due to his reaction — the head coach kicked the match ball back onto the field — Berhalter was sent to the locker room and was given an automatic one-game suspension unless overturned through an appeals process.
“After the game, I apologized to the team because I think in one way it’s not behavior that shows a great example,” Berhalter said. “But there is a certain point where I feel the referees needed to take control of that situation and they didn’t do so.”
According to Berhalter, the team will not attempt to appeal that decision and he will sit out Wednesday night’s game with Trillium Cup rivals Toronto FC.
“I don’t know what good that would do,” Berhalter said of an attempted appeal. “I think that the referees have their point of view and they made it clear to me. They said my behavior was inappropriate and they ejected me and I have to live with it. I don’t think it was correct, I don’t agree with it, but they made a decision.”
Referee Mark Geiger said “Mr. Berhalter kicked a ball in protest of the decision of the referee” following the match and the head coach does not argue that part of his ejection. If that is deemed the “irresponsible behavior” for which Geiger sent off Berhalter, an appeal likely would not see the decision overturned.
As for what happens on Wednesday, Berhalter was not sure, but said he will read through the rules before the game. “Obviously this is all new to me.”
According to the MLS Disciplinary Committee Principles and Parameters:
“Any coach or staff serving a game suspension will not enter the stadium tunnel area, locker rooms or field level ninety (90) minutes before kickoff until the conclusion of the game, at which point he may enter his Club’s locker room. He may not sit in the Press Box or grandstands, but can sit in a stadium suite or VIP area. A suspended coach also is not permitted to be in communication with his Team during the course of the game.”
This means Berhalter is permitted to work with the team in the two days leading up to the match and can help prepare the game plan for Toronto, but must not be a part of the in-game decisions. He is also permitted to be in the stadium during the match, but only in the select areas mentioned above.
“Maybe I’ll stay at home in my living room and watch the game from there,” Berhalter joked.
During the game, one of the Crew SC assistant coaches will be in charge. Berhalter said the staff hasn’t decided who will take on the role of acting head coach for the match, but they will make that decision soon.
The Black & Gold have multiple options.
Pat Onstad is a former MLS veteran goalkeeper who had stops as an assistant coach at D.C. United and as chief scout for TFC before coming to Columbus to join Berhalter’s staff in 2014. Josh Wolff is in his sixth season as an assistant after 15-year professional career. He also was with United for two seasons before joining the Black & Gold four years ago. While Nico Estevez is in his first season as an assistant with Crew SC, he was the director of methodology for the Academy 2015-16. Estevez also spent eight year’s in Spain with La Liga’s Valencia CF including two seasons as the head coach of the second team.
While Berhalter wasn’t sure which of his assistants would take over for him, he is confident the group will be able to handle his absence.
“We’re going to make sure we’re prepared,” he said. “It’s about the team, it’s about our performance and we’ll be fine.
“Those guys are going to be fine. They’re great coaches and we have 100 percent confidence in them.”
As for the preparation this week, Berhalter said things haven’t changed much. As usual, the team will prepare together, including the staff which will help set the tactics for the Eastern Conference clash.
Crew SC currently sit three points back of East leading Toronto, who’s only loss this season came three and a half weeks ago to the Black & Gold at MAPFRE Stadium.
In that match, the Reds went up early on a Jozy Altidore header before Ola Kamara and Justin Meram each scored to take back the lead for Columbus before halftime in a 2-1 victory.
Of course in that match, the Black & Gold had the team’s head coach on the bench and now, for the first time under Berhalter, the group will have to adjust to him not being present.