If you follow the worlds of soccer, pop culture or entertainment, or if you’ve been on the Internet at some point in the last year, you’ve likely heard the name Ted Lasso. A short, spoiler-free, synopsis of the show is that it follows an American football coach who moves to England to manage a professional soccer team. Lasso is energetic, builds up a positive team mentality off the field and everyone around him is impacted, to their betterment.
The show avoids the usual path of the tropey television sitcom. The usual manufactured, zany problems that TV characters get into don’t happen and people learn and grow. In response, the show’s skyrocketed to the top of many viewers’ streaming queues.
This article isn’t about Ted Lasso. It’s about Columbus Crew forward Miguel Berry, who may be the closest thing to Lasso in the world of Major League Soccer.
Before you click away, follow the logic for a moment.
Berry’s rise to prominence came when the Crew was in dire straits. Columbus was down 2-0, and one player, against rivals FC Cincinnati, which is about as bad as things get in American soccer, on July 9. Berry’s 57th minute substitution came with a match tying goal 20 minutes later in a 2-2 draw. Lasso captured streamers’ attention in August of 2020, as people were in quarantine, watching teams play in front of empty stadiums.
Like Lasso, Berry’s defied expectations. Where Lasso was brought into a sport where he had no previous knowledge, Berry became a professional through the MLS SuperDraft. While getting drafted shows that there’s obvious soccer ability, the SuperDraft is an anomaly in world football where most talent is grown within the team’s Academy or through big contracts and transfer fees. Most MLS draftees don’t turn into goal scoring cult heroes.
Lasso is also known for being nice, almost to a fault. Berry is the same. In any interview, there’s a genuine niceness where it’s not Berry that’s a big reason for positive results, in a sport where personalities teeter on the border of confidence and arrogance.
After Tuesday night’s thrilling 2-1 comeback victory against the New York Red Bulls, capped off with an 88th minute game-winning goal by Berry, head coach Caleb Porter pointed out a couple of ways to fix Berry’s niceness.
“He’s a big good-looking kid, type of guy you want your daughter to date,” said Porter with a chuckle. “But I’d like to see a few more tattoos on his neck and his teeth knocked out around the goal.”
It was that niceness that Porter called out as the reason Columbus sent Berry to San Diego Loyal of the USL on loan each of his first two seasons (which is the equivalent of streaming a show on Apple+). To Porter, Berry came into his rookie season expecting to not play. Part doubt, part humility, led to a rookie without the fire to compete. It wasn’t a tattoo, but the two loans that started igniting that fire needed to compete at the highest level.
Since his last loan spell ended in June, Berry has scored five goals, four in moments where it put six more points next to the Crew’s name in the standings, a precious commodity in 2021 for Columbus. Does that mean that Berry came to the Black & Gold this summer as an angry and grizzled pro? Hardly.
On his Tuesday goal, Berry was instrumental in not only the outcome but the build-up. The forward received a pass on the break with midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and fellow substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips running with him. With options, Berry passed through two Red Bull defenders to Zelarayan, setting the Argentinian up for a rocket of a shot, deflected away by goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel.
The ball fell to Berry, and the 23 year old didn’t rush the shot. Instead, he broke down the New York defense before sending his attempt under the legs of Carlos Coronel, ending with all Berry’s teeth still intact. Asked about the goal, Berry did what he usually does by giving his teammates the credit.
“Harry (Afful) played perfectly around the corner and then from there was either drive or find Lucas, and the whole time Bradley made a great run,” said Berry. “He pulled I think Reyes at the back stick, who allowed my pass to get through.”
From there, Berry praised Zelarayan for knowing a shot would follow, so he moved into an area where he could take on a rebound. Berry even gave credit to a European star for the goal itself. Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, who scored earlier Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, came to Berry’s mind as his motivation, half-jokingly.
Berry’s also motivated by the players around him. To this day, even as goals are being scored at a Lewandowski-esque pace, Berry cheers on the Crew’s starting forward, Gyasi Zardes.
“When I first kind of came here, I wouldn’t think you cheer for someone you’re competing with as much,” said Berry. “I cheer for that guy every single time he’s out. I just want him to score. I have so much respect for him and he put in an incredible shift tonight.”
Zardes wasn’t the only one highlighted. Center back Josh Williams and former Crew Swiss Army Knife Hector Jiminez, now with Austin FC, were part of the Berry praise parade for helping him grow as a professional. It’s safe to say he hasn’t reached bad boy, neck tattoo levels of professional soccer.
That doesn’t mean it’s all green army men and biscuits for Berry. He does hate one thing, and that’s losing. Even though the road’s been tough for Columbus this summer — going two wins and eight losses in the past 10 — Berry’s confident with the Black & Gold’s chances Saturday when taking on the league-leading New England Revolution.
Like Ted Lasso, he believes.
“New England on Saturday, incredible team, they’re 50-something points. They’re playing incredible,” said Berry. “But we can beat that team away from home.”
Columbus played two drastically different halves Tuesday, so bringing the second half to New England will give the Crew a fighting chance.
After Berry scored the goal, celebrated, got doused by teammates in front of the Nordecke, spoke with the media and cleaned up, his night wasn’t over. An hour after the match, when just about every supporter was out of Lower.com Field, Berry was taking pictures with an excited family in the field-level bar at the stadium.