By DAN KARELL
The search for a new head coach took a little more than two months but Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt believes he found just the right person to take the club into what he called “a new era.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Crew officially introduced Gregg Berhalter as the club’s seventh head coach and first sporting director at a press conference at Crew Stadium, giving fans and the media a chance to see Berhalter for the first time in person since he was hired on November 6. The former 18-year professional player spent the last two seasons as head coach of Hammarby IF in Sweden’s second division but couldn’t say no to a chance to coach in Major League Soccer.
“I was looking for the right opportunity, it (didn’t) matter where it was,” Berhalter said at the press conference. “I think in this particular case it was a perfect opportunity. When I see the direction Mr. Precourt wants to go, when I see the current roster, when I see the continuity in the staff so far, there’s a lot of positive signs and for me, I wanted to be a part of it. I thought that I could help in my own way.”
Before Precourt even spoke to Berhalter however, the Crew owner had a 90 minute conversation with Gregg’s brother, Jay, formerly the Chief Operating Officer of U.S. Soccer and currently the President of Kentaro North America. Precourt claimed that their meeting was a turning point in the search process.
“I was just so blown away by his knowledge of soccer,” Precourt said. “I said ‘you know what, I know his younger brother is looking for a potential coaching job, I’ve gotta call Gregg, because if Gregg’s anything like Jay, we’ve got to talk’.”
After reportedly interviewing at least a half-dozen candidates, Precourt said that what stood out to him with Berhalter was his passion, hunger, and soccer intelligence. Berhalter’s experience as an assistant with the Los Angeles Galaxy under Bruce Arena and his head coaching stint with Hammarby were two other factors that played into the selection.
“We had a very detailed wish list of over 25 criteria, broadly labeled under leadership, experience, and personality, and across the board Gregg scored the highest,” Precourt said. ”I just think we’ve got a guy who’s really ready to take the Crew to the next level.”
One of Berhalter’s first obstacles to overcome as head coach of the Crew is to convince fans and media alike that his background as a defender doesn’t necessarily equate to the team’s style of play.
The former Crystal Palace, Energie Cottbus, and 1860 Munich player says that he wants to play an attacking-oriented style of play that is entertaining for the fans, but at the same time he expects his team to be organized in defense.
“My ideas about soccer are attacking-minded views,” Berhalter said. “(I want) a dynamic team that can get forward very quickly, that can move the ball quickly, I believe in a possession-based game. I would say that the defensive side of it has to do with the organization. I want an organized defensive team. I wouldn’t necessarily make that link to the team being defensive, my ideas about soccer are very offensive and I want the team to play nice attractive soccer.”
It’s likely been a whirlwind for Berhalter since arriving in Columbus late last week. The Crew head coach plans on staying around permanently while his wife and kids move after they finish school in December. In the meantime, Berhalter says that his life is revolving around the club, getting to know his roster, preparing for the MLS re-entry draft, and putting together a staff to work alongside him.
One member of former coach Robert Warzycha’s staff, Mike Lapper, remains, and Berhalter is set to meet this week with Lapper to discuss if there’s a place on the new head coach’s technical team as they prepare for next season.
Though he has numerous contacts throughout Europe from his playing and coaching days, Berhalter seems committed to developing the Crew academy. Due to injuries last season, the Crew relied heavily on academy products Wil Trapp and Chad Barson, with each of them making more than 15 appearances. Berhalter’s desire to continue to build from within should help his burgeoning relationship with the local Columbus community grow even more.
“I’ve said this before, I believe in the players that Ohio can produce,” Berhalter said. “I think it’s a good soccer player, it’s an educated soccer player, it’s a strong and technically good soccer player. I’m excited about that and I think (the academy is) doing a good job producing players for our team.”
Berhalter has only been the head coach for a few days, but he’s already feeling the love from the community, who are excited about the team’s future moving forward. While Warzycha, a member of the Crew organization since it’s inception in 1996, is gone, Columbus looks ready to stand behind their new man in charge heading into the 2014 MLS season.
“I would say the response from the whole community has been amazing,” said Berhalter. “I think it’s more than I deserve, actually. I’m just a guy here to try to help the club and try to do the best possible job I can.
“The vision I had in Columbus, the idea I had in my mind was a club about community, a club about togetherness, and I’ve seen that in the short time I’ve been here already. That’s something special.”