The decision-making of U.S. Men's National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter has been lacking in the tactical department throughout the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. While it pains me to give him any credit at all, the American team he has put together overall is a pretty good one. It's what he's been doing with them throughout the group stage that has left many people scratching their heads.
Simply qualifying for the FIFA World Cup should be a legitimate expectation for the USMNT at this point. Even so, CONCACAF has been getting tougher. Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica are formidable opponents, and they have all had at least one statement match even if the result didn't actually favor them.
Expectations for Group B
The U.S. was drawn against England, Iran and Wales in Group B. England was the heavy favorite to win the group. And while many expected the Americans to find their way through to the knockout stage, it wasn't going to be easy.
Much of this was going to come to fruition through the tactics of the head coach. Berhalter saw some strong first halves in each of the three matches. The second half of the Wales match saw the Yanks drop points. They really should have beaten an England team that was lost at sea. And the Iranian team nearly found its way to a point in the nine minutes of stoppage time.
In the end, the U.S. found its way through the group. It looked absolutely dominant at times. But, in others, it struggled to adapt. Gregg made some substitutes that left people perplexed — but it was the substitutes he didn't bring on that have U.S. Soccer fans downright angry.
The Right Calls
Before I dive into my fury over what goes on in Greggy's head, I want to focus on some things that he actually has not only gotten right but has stuck with. His midfield three has bossed. Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and captain Tyler Adams have been in total control. England scored six against Iran and three against Wales, but they were shut out against the U.S. because of these three players stepping into the spotlight and taking their chance.
Adams was voted captain by the rest of the team, and the way he's running out there has been a sight to see. I know he only recently made his way to Leeds United in the Premier League, but teams are going to be calling. Wes was giving the backline instructions in stoppage time after he'd been subbed out in the third match. And Musah celebrated his 20th birthday with an absolutely stellar performance that helped see the Yanks through.
Matt Turner becoming the No. 1 goalkeeper is exactly what this team needed. Sean Johnson and Ethan Horvath are formidable-enough backups, but Turner has this spot locked down. It's notable that Manchester City backup keeper Zack Steffen, a recent No. 1 for the U.S., was completely left off the World Cup's U.S. roster.
Fulham defensive pairing Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson, as well as Sergiño Dest, have started all three matches so far. And apart from a few boneheaded mistakes from the fullbacks, they have absolutely earned their stripes. Despite the actual mistake that cost a win against Wales, even Walker Zimmerman has played pretty well.
Then the faith shown in Tim Weah has been a revelation on the right wing. And, of course, there's the no-brainer of playing Christian Pulisic. But can we really give him credit for that?
What on Earth is Gregg Thinking?
On to the genuine WTF moments. Gregg can't seem to figure out the attack up top. He's brought Jesus Ferreira, Haji Wright and Josh Sargent along to Doha as his strikers but can't seem to get the right combination. Sargent started the first and third matches, while Wright started the second and was subbed on in the third. They've been OK but have lacked the hunger and directness necessary, and Gregg hasn't really done anything to fix it.
He's been playing Weah as a winger when he could be playing up top. That's the beauty of having versatility in your ranks. But he's been leaving Brenden Aaronson on the bench. Aaronson has been playing extremely well for Leeds, alongside Tyler Adams, but he can barely get a sniff of game time. If Pulisic didn't leave at halftime against Iran following a very unfortunate pelvic contusion, I'm not convinced Aaronson would have seen the pitch until the 94th minute.
Notably, strikers Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi were left out of the squad, and I wonder if maybe giving them spots over Jordan Morris and Luca de la Torre would have been a better shout. They need something to happen up front. Weah is starting to get into a good groove, but other than that Pulisic can't do it all himself.
This Leads Us to Gio Reyna
I don't know what Gio Reyna has done to make Greggy feel scorned, but the 20-year-old has made nothing but a brief cameo appearance against England. Even at a young age, Gio has the ability to be a game changer. He's shown it in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. And he's shown his ability in some limited time with the USMNT. At this point, it seems as though Gregg is leaving him on the bench out of spite.
Meanwhile, U.S. soccer fans everywhere are screaming for his inclusion. If the U.S. is going to have a chance against the Netherlands in the Round of 16, it needs to field the best starting XI possible. Fans, pundits and former players alike are banging this drum. And yet Gregg nearly lost us the game against Iran by making a double defensive substitution and inviting pressure. While this team is good, and Cameron Carter-Vickers was my man of the match, it was a dangerous game to play.
Reyna would have helped provide a different dimension, continued to push forward and stretched out an Iranian team that would have been way better served to sit back and stack the box with 10 men behind the ball. All it needed was a draw.
No Matter How Far We Go, Gregg Berhalter's Time Should Be Up
All of this to say that I simply don't think Berhalter is right for the USMNT job. He can't get out of his own way, and the team made it through to the knockout stage in spite of him. Former USMNT legend Eric Wynalda has spoken out. Fox's crew, including Berhalter fan club president Alexi Lalas, have been left bewildered by the second halves of these games. The number of "Where's Gio?" articles that are popping up says it all.
We're at the dawn of a potential Golden Age of talent for the U.S. Men's National Team. Long have they played in the shadow of the the U.S. Women's National Team. And now, the men may finally have the chance to step out of that shadow and stand tall beside them.
But that's not going to happen without better decision-making. The only true change Gregg has made in this World Cup was naming Carter-Vickers to the team in response to Zimmerman's couple of mistakes. He knew we had to shore up the defense.
That's simply not enough. We need more of Gio and Aaronson, and some smarter subs. If we don't do that against the Netherlands, the headlines won't read "Young American Team Punched Above Their Weight." Instead, the narrative will be asking the question: "What could have been?"
If that's the legacy this World Cup leaves in the United States, what a waste of this young, tough, talented team it would be.
Eyes are on you, Greggy.
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.