Berhalter named Crew head coach, sporting director

Gregg Berhalter Hammarby (Getty Images)

By FRANCO PANIZO

A former MLS player has indeed won the Columbus Crew head coaching sweepstakes. It is just not who everyone was expecting.

The Crew have named Gregg Berhalter their new head coach and sporting director, making him the first person in franchise history to hold both distinctions. The 40-year-old Berhalter, a former MLS defender who also played for the U.S. Men’s National Team, is the club’s seventh head coach and first sporting director. He will oversee all player personnel decisions following the club’s restructuring of its soccer operations.

Berhalter beat out not only interim coach Brian Bliss, but also retired attacking player Guillermo Barros Schelotto and current Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel, both of whom were both reportedly being considered for the job at one point. Berhalter now takes control of a Columbus squad that has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

“We are thrilled to conclude this expansive and thorough search for our next leader, a process that spanned three continents,” said Crew chairman and investor-operator Anthony Precourt in a press release. “Gregg’s strong vision, passion, work ethic, intelligence, data-driven decision making, broad soccer network and playing credentials separated him throughout this search. His unique skill-set gives us great confidence in boldly changing the structure of our soccer operations, with Gregg leading as our first-ever sporting director.

“I believe this structure will allow us to achieve a consistent winning culture and best practices that will lead to repeatable success, year-in and year-out. Gregg has been a winner and a leader at every level, and will fit in well with the Crew as a team of firsts. Gregg was a pioneer as an American captain of two Bundesliga teams, and as the first American to manage a European soccer club. I expect great success for the Columbus Crew under Gregg’s leadership in the years to come.”

Berhalter, who holds both UEFA A and B coaching licenses, is no stranger to being a head coach. The Englewood, N.J., native became the first American to manage a European club in 2012, leading Swedish second division side Hammarby IF until he was dismissed during the 2013 campaign. In his two years at the club, Berhalter amassed an 18-11-16 record.

Prior to coaching Hammarby, Berhalter was introduced to the technical side by scouting opponents for 1860 Munich from 2007 to 2009. He was also a player-coach under Bruce Arena during the LA Galaxy’s MLS Cup-winning season in 2011.

“I am excited about the opportunity to join one of Major League Soccer’s original clubs,” said Berhalter in the statement. “The Crew has a strong history of winning and a dedicated fan base, and I aim to bring a style of play that resonates with our supporters and results that will make the city proud.

“I look forward to working with chairman Anthony Precourt, whose passion resonates throughout the entire club. I am also excited to work closely with (Crew president) Mark McCullers, as his experience in the League is a valuable resource. I am eager to get started, and my immediate priority is to reach out to the players and share our new vision for the club as we move forward.”

As a player, Berhalter earned 44 caps for the U.S. and was on the Americans’ 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads. He played for several clubs in Europe during his 18-year career as well, including 1860 Munich, Energie Cottbus, and Crystal Palace.

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What do you think of the Crew appointing Berhalter as head coach and sporting director? Like the move? Think they should have given Bliss a longer chance? Still wishing the Crew had found a way to hire Friedel or Schelotto?

Share your thoughts below.

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29 Responses to Berhalter named Crew head coach, sporting director

  1. Joe from El Paso says:

    Wasn’t he the Hammarby coach?????

  2. reiter says:

    like it. Berhalter was indeed a pioneer. it’s good for the crew and good for u.s. soccer.

  3. Frank says:

    No mention of Bliss?

    • david says:

      according to announcment Bliss is out

      • Frank says:

        Certainly some of the comments just look silly when you don’t know that the article has been updated. Also, I don’t see any mention of Bliss other than he was beat out for the head coaching position.

  4. The Imperative Voice says:

    He does have the Hammarby coaching experience, and maybe he picked up a litle something under Arena’s wing and with the AEG teams. Not the strongest decision but not the weakest either.

  5. Naugles says:

    From the picture I thought they had hired Brad Stevens away from the awful Boston Celtics.

    With no experience he probably could post a higher winning percentage with the next year’s Crew than this year’s Celts.

  6. Strider257 says:

    I would have rather had Tab, but Gregg has some good credentials as well. I don’t know anything about how his coaching went in Sweden. Can anyone supply some info on that?

    • Strider257 says:

      OOPS! Think I only read the first page before responding. Thanks for including the extra details.

  7. Alex says:

    “Berthalter” was also on the 2002 World Cup team.

  8. MikeG says:

    He went to Hammarby and he did not mesh well with some of the biggest egos on the team. Greg wanted to be the hardcore disciplined type coach. Trying to impose a Bundeliga background on the team. Hopefully, he learned a lot, and can apply what he learned to the Crew in a positive way. Hammarby was not very high scoring, but maintained a good defensive shape…A good offense takes pressure off of the Defense and makes the whole team look good. I’m glad he got the job. His credentials are good, but as a coach you are only as good as your last game. Hopefully he has a progressive mind. I am glad he got the job. Good luck.

    • alka246 says:

      Some of this is correct. Hamarby is one of the top clubs in sweeden stuck in 2nd tier football. They just opened a brand new stadium and the pressure was on to perform. Players were lazy and many hurt and the writing was on the wall after too few wins this season. It is a good hire and there will be big changes in the coming years.

  9. bottlcaps says:

    Berhalter was also a player-coach for the LA Galaxy. He was particularly responsible for the organization od the defense and responsible for assisting in evaluating nplayers (defensive) for the team.

    When the Galaxy won the MLS Cup in 2011, it was because of a very strong defensive effort, despite having Becjham, Donovan, Magee. and Keane (half season) as offensive juggernauts. In 2012 Berhalter retired and Omar Gonzales MLS defender of the year had an major injury and the Galaxy got off to a terrible start and only a excellent turnaround midway through the season, saved them, and they barely squeaked into the playoffs. An excellent run in the playoffs saw then capture the MLS cup a second time in a row.

    Many pundits thought that the loss of Gonzales was the cause of the Galaxy’s miserable play and Gonzales return in time from injury saved thee season. This is only partly true. Bruce Arena would be the first to tell everybody, that the loss/retirement of Berhalter, and his defensive tactics and mindset had a lot to do with the Galaxy;s poor performance in the firat half of the 2012 season.

    By the way, Hammerby is partly owned by AEG and they had a big say in his hiring. Berhalter was given a mandate to get Hammerby back into the first division within two years. His first season, he missed promotion by a single point, but the second season did not go as well and when it was apparent that Hammerby would not make promotion, Berhalter was let go.

    Berhalter will be able to build up the Columbus defensive which has been it’s Achilles heel, and if Higuain continues his fine play, Columbus can be a force again in the Eastern conference.

    • alka246 says:

      Excellent comment – must know something about him based on your AEG comment.

    • Michael says:

      + 1 – Berhalter’s importance in the Galaxy resurgence of 2009 – present cannot be overstated. It wasn’t until Arena rebuilt the tattered Galaxy defense that the Beckham experiment had any success on the field, and Berhalter was indispensable in that rebuilding.

  10. Colin in MT says:

    I think it’s great for the development of the league that former players are getting opportunities to be coaches. Inevitably, some will pan out better than others. But overall, the institutional knowledge these former players bring will help grow the league. These former players have seen first hand what has worked and what has not as the league has progressed.

    Developing coaches is, in my opinion, just as important to the future of MLS and US Soccer as developing players. By my count, 12 current coaches have MLS playing experience.

    • Lost in Space says:

      The development of coaches is actually the biggest shortcoming of the US Soccer structure. Having coaches at all levels (U10 on up) who have played the sport at the highest levels is the only way to really develop better players at a young age.
      Coaches who played the game know that the biggest/strongest/fastest is not necessarily the best. They can instill experiences and help players advance Technically and Tactically.
      I wish that more of the past national team players would get into the coaching ranks (even if only at the youth levels).

    • beto says:

      true that.certainly something that is evolving generation by generation..

      in the last few years we have seen so many great members of the early MLS generations become MLS/USSF coaches; Petke, Ramos, Heaps, Paraja, Porter, Vermes, Olsen, Neilsen, Kreis, Berhalter, hell how many imported coaches are left?!?

  11. I like it. GB has experience as a pro (darn you Frings!), studied under and trusted by Arena, and has some experience of European club management. I would love to know why Ramos didn’t work out (he apparantly was interviewed by the Crew), but I for one am happy with this appointment.