The Columbus Crew on Wednesday announced the hiring of former US international Gregg Berhalter as the club's seventh head coach, and also installed him in a new role as sporting director in charge of all player personnel decisions.
The news marks a Stateside return for Berhalter after a year-and-a-half in charge of Swedish club Hammarby IF, where he made history as the first American to lead a European club. He began his coaching career as a player/assistant with the LA Galaxy in 2011, where he spent the final three seasons of his distinguished 18-year professional career.
"We are thrilled to conclude this expansive and thorough search for our next leader, a process that spanned three continents," said Crew chairman and owner-operator Anthony Precourt in a statement. “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 skillset 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."
Berhalter replaces Crew interim coach and technical director Brian Bliss, who took over the reins midway through the 2013 campaign after the departure of longtime boss Robert Warzycha and led a late-season rally that fell just short of an MLS Cup Playoff place. Bliss departs the club after six seasons of service.
A native of Englewood, N.J., Berhalter was a teammate of U.S. Soccer legend Claudio Reyna at St. Benedict's Preparatory School before starring at the University of North Carolina from 1991-94. He left Chapel Hill a year early to pursue a pro career in Europe, starting at Dutch club FC Zwolle and eventually moving on to a range of destinations including German side Energie Cottbus, where he captained the side as they gained promotion to the Bundesliga, and England's Crystal Palace.
He also earned 44 caps with the USMNT, taking part in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Berhalter began his coaching education in the final years of his club career in Europe and holds both UEFA A and B coaching licenses. He posted a record of 18-11-16 with Hammarby, securing points for his club in 34 of his 45 matches as boss as the Bajen improved from 11th place to fourth position and notched the lowest goals-against average in the Swedish professional system during his tenure.
"I am excited about the opportunity to join one of Major League Soccer’s original clubs," Berhalter said in a 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."
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“I am eager to get started," he added. "My immediate priority is to reach out to the players and share our new vision for the club as we move forward."
The Crew also announced that club president Mark McCullers is relinquishing his duties as general manager to focus on the club’s business side as Berhalter takes over the Crew’s soccer operations.