The numbers are not enough to tell the story of Gregg Berhalter as the sporting director and head coach of Columbus Crew SC. Five seasons, four playoff berths, two Eastern Conference Finals trips, one MLS Cup appearance, 67 wins, 58 losses and 45 ties all tell a lot, but they come up short in summarizing the experience the new head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team had over the last five years in the Buckeye State.
When Berhalter joined the Black & Gold ahead of the 2014 season, he was embracing not only his first opportunity to coach in his own country, but also entering a scenario where he would have full authority to implement his way of thinking soccer. And that’s what he did.
“First and foremost, I’m honored to play a part in the history of this club,” he said in a video released by the club. “This is a very historic club, the first club in Major League Soccer, with a great tradition and a great fan tradition. Any part I played in it, it’s an honor. I can only hope that people have a good impression of the work that was done here. I hope that they remember us as working together and being brave and playing our way.”
With him at the helm, Crew SC became a model in MLS. Its unique style of playing the game with a heavy dosage of possession and movement was daily refined under the eyes of no more than a handful of witnesses at the team’s practice facility. Every weekend, however, it would amaze thousands.
But when Berhalter thinks about it, it’s not the final outcome, but the entirety of the long and meticulous process that was needed to get to it, what makes him the proudest about what was accomplished in Columbus.
“When I think about my time here, the first thing that comes to mind is the staff and the players,” he added. “The environment we were able to create together was something special. I think it was a very close team, a very close unit. The staff worked very well together, the players gave absolutely everything and it was as environment of growing and developing and learning together. The process of developing our style of play was very much a collaborative process. When I look back, that’s something I’m proud of.”
At the end of the day, the playing style that was displayed every week on the field ultimately became not only the face of the franchise in MLS, but the mantra to be followed by the entire organization.
The message was always the same, regardless of the situation. It wasn’t about individuals, it was about an effective system.
“As we progressed, I think we developed our style of play, we developed our way of doing business, we became a club that’s about developing players, getting talent in and developing them,” the coach looked back. “We believe in maximizing every bit of potential a player has and then we’re very open to moving them on if that’s the path they need to take.”
The success in Columbus took Berhalter to the top and now he’s ready to test his soccer philosophies against the best on the planet. The road will be tough, after all the U.S. is going through what’s probably the country’s roughest stretch in several decades after failing to qualify to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But he knows exactly where to start.
“First and foremost, it’s creating a culture around the team, creating a style of play and getting people behind us,” the new coach added. “I believe in the diversity of U.S. soccer players and I believe that we can foster this to create a good team. That’s the objective.”
As a former international player himself, Berhalter couldn’t be more excited with the task at hand. A two-time World Cup veteran, the coach knows his work will be measured by the outcome of the qualification process for the 2022 World Cup. And his willing to give everything he has to make his country happy.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he stated. “You work hard and you give everything you have for your profession and you never know when this opportunity is going to come. After playing for my country on various levels, I understand what it means. It’s a great honor and hopefully we’re going to be making people proud.”
And if all goes wrong, he knows about this one place in the world where it really wouldn’t matter.
“When I look back in the time and when I think about this club in general, I think that’s a special club and that I’m always going to have a special place on my heart for this club,” Berhalter said.