Everyone deserves a little clarity

Berhalter Columbus.jpg

It’s been a rough year for US Men’s National Team. On and off the pitch.

First came the culmination of a disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign in October 2017, which forced the Americans to sit out the festivities in Russia last summer. That failed pursuit would claim not only the job of Jürgen Klinsmann but also that of his replacement, a resurrected Bruce Arena. Klinsmann’s offing came far later than some would have preferred, and his replacement a return to the norm that almost nobody was asking for. And the process for naming the next man to lead the charge would, frustratingly, prove to be complicated and lengthy, as well.

Part of that delay was due to a highly contentious US Soccer presidential election that didn’t conclude until February. Pitting outsiders against the establishment, the men’s national team’s woes and future would factor heavily in the debates leading up to the vote. The subsequent election of a federation insider, USSF vice president Carlos Cordiero, was far from the idyllic “fresh blood” for which many had hoped.

Then there’s the small, but highly visible matter of the results of the team. Though there was no World Cup for them to play in on the pitch, there were still matches to contend with while the drama was transpiring off of it. And they tallied three wins, three draws, and five losses to be exact. 

All together, that made for the kind of timeline that did nothing but churn the already turbulent waters of the USMNT’s restless supporter base. Sprinkle in lack of information provided to them and the media throughout it only made the sea thrash more violently.

But despite all the consternation, there remained hope that the dissension, humiliation and public embarrassment would jolt US Soccer into some sort of response. That the powers that be would take the lessons would learn from failures on and off the pitch and use them to point the ship back on course — presuming it was ever pointed in the right direction.

As would be necessary, an interim manager was installed. We would soon learn that a full-time replacement wouldn’t be named until US Soccer first appointed a general manager/technical director, who would in turn then hire a new manager. And it is possible to rationalize both decisions.

Dave Sarachan as an interim was an ideal candidate to navigate the transition. He knew the program and players and would be familiar with USSF officials. Too, Sarachan would know he wouldn’t be getting the job full time — he’s an establishment man, after all — and wouldn’t kick up a fuss about it either.

US Soccer also clearly needed a technical director. A role missing under president Sunil Gulati’s reign, the national team set-up has desperately needed someone with the soccer experience necessary to shepherd longer-term, strategic soccer decisions. You know: like hiring the right manager. Earnie Stewart, given his resume as a player and technical director in MLS and Europe, seemed a logical choice too. 

But both decisions also raised eyebrows. 

The choice of Sarachan, a long-time deputy to the outgoing Bruce Arena, gave the appearance that the national team wasn’t really moving on from its comfortable, yet troubled past. And while the four months that passed from disqualification until the election seemed a given period of inaction, the additional 4 months it took to hire Stewart translated into valuable time lost in the hunt for new managerial candidates.

Insert thinking face emoji:

Were any lessons actually learned from the failures that landed us in this position?
Why has it taken so long to name a new manager?
Who was interviewed?
What has that interview process even looked like? 

With no responses to those questions coming from US Soccer, speculation — aided by reports of who the USSF were not interviewing and the continued run of bad results — did its usual thing and filled the silence. 

Well, that is until (roughly) now.

As had long been reported, former US Men’s National team member and Columbus Crew head coach and technical director Gregg Berhalter appears to have finally been named as US Soccer’s latest chosen one. 

Great as it is to finally have a new coach sorted, Berhalter’s appointment is an answer to just one of those questions. In fact, his appointment itself yields even more. 

For US Soccer to truly help its support move past this dark period in our country’s soccer history, the federation needs to come clean on what’s transpired over the last thirteen chaotic months. And this isn’t just an “it would be nice if they did this” gesture, it’s a “this needs to happen or else” scenario.

Providing some sort transparency into how Berhalter came to land the job, who he beat out, what kind of principles guided his hiring, and what timelines were followed would likely go a long way to healing some deep wounds. 

Berhalter already has his work cut out for him on the pitch. But given that his brother Jay looks set to be gaining even more power within the walls of USSF’s Soccer House in Chicago, providing as much clarity as is possible might help to quell any concerns of nepotism in an organization already facing accusations of being an old boys club. 

While we know who US Soccer didn’t interview — Vermes said as much, it’s been reported that neither Atlanta’s outgoing Tata Martino and former Red Bulls manager and now RB Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch were either, and interest from former Spain and Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui was rebuffed — we don’t know what that actually entailed. Could US Soccer not have done its due diligence? Sure. But it’s also equally likely that they weren’t interested in Vermes after initial discussions, that Martino and Marsch declined to be a part of the process, and that Lopetegui threw his hat into the ring after a decision had already been made.

We just don’t know. This whole process has been conducted in a way that alienated supporters, pushing people away from a team that played a huge role in the tremendous growth in interest the sport in this country.

But by shedding some light on how this all went down — be it dispelling rumors or confirming reports — US Soccer has a rare opportunity to earn back at least some of the trust lost from those they left in the dark. That truth can also help to vindicate those who hung tough and trusted the process, while simultaneously coax back those who had felt abandoned. 

Failing to share once again, however, will only sow more speculation and spread further seeds of discontent.

As for Gregg, he assuredly would have had his doubters regardless of his relationships with the federation. But we don’t need to make his job any harder by saddling him with potentially unfounded conjecture about how he came to be in it. It wouldn’t hurt either to know what type of controls have been put in place to prevent any potential conflicts of interest that might come about due to that Berhalter connection.

There will surely be elements of the process that will have to be kept out of the public eye. That’s how these things always work. But there’s plenty that can be shared that would help so many of us to understand, “what have we been waiting for?” 

But will we get the clarity we deserve? 

Considering this an organization that hasn’t exactly been forthcoming in the past, that might just prove the most important question of them all.

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