Jeff Bradley: In Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew hire a coach who's ticked all the boxes in his career
There are coaching hires that make you scratch your head. You know, when the guy who's been there, failed and been recycled, gets another job. There are others that seem inspired if somewhat odd. The guy who goes straight from the field to the sidelines, for example.
And then there is the one, where you simply nod your head and say, "Yup."
Gregg Berhalter to coach the Columbus Crew? Yup.
In Berhalter, the Crew are bringing in a guy who's covered the entire soccer roadmap. A star at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., where he was a teammate of Claudio Reyna, to the University of North Carolina, where he left after three seasons because he realized it was time to move on to the next level, to the Netherlands and the Dutch second division, then the first division, or Eredivisie as it's known.
Then it was on to England's Crystal Palace and Germany's Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich. He was in Europe from 1994-2009.
And then there were three years in MLS, playing for Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy, who began to groom him for his coaching career, hiring him as an assistant and then pushing him along on his way to making history as the first American to manage a club team in Europe, when he took the head job with Hammarby IF in Sweden.
At Hammarby, Berhalter learned what every coach must learn along the way. You are hired to be fired.
But there's no way anyone can say Berhalter has not paid his dues. In fact, his career path resembles that of Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes, who put a checkmark in just about all the same boxes as Berhalter on his way to becoming the man at SKC.
Now, it's time for Berhalter to put all that experience to work, and the job won't be easy. In Columbus, he's going to be managing a squad – and serving as the sporting director – that falls into the most difficult category known as the "tweener" category.
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The Crew are not so bad that they need to be totally rebuilt. But they are not good enough that they won't need to make significant changes. What's Berhalter to do? It's easy to say you like players like Federico Higuain, Dominic Oduro and Chad Marshall as a core, but when it's the core of a 41-point team – a team that has missed the playoffs now two seasons in a row – a coach must consider building a new core. Tough calls.
Don't expect Berhalter to stand pat. Expect some of his moves to leave you scratching your head. Expect others to seem inspired if somewhat odd. Is he up to the task? Only time will tell. But if the question is, does he deserve a shot to run the Crew?
The answer is, "Yup."