NEW YORK — A process many American soccer fans complained was agonizingly long came to an official end on Sunday with the announcement that Gregg Berhalter was the new US men's national team head coach.
While many fans and some pundits criticized the nearly 14 months since Bruce Arena stepped down following the failed bid to clinch a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the actual process to find a head coach was significantly shorter than that, according to U.S. Soccer brass.
“We really couldn’t have moved any faster,” U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said at Berhalter’s introductory media conference in New York City's Meatpacking District on Tuesday. “The reality is it's been a very busy year for us. People forget that from February to June, July we were basically consumed by the World Cup bid, which for us was absolutely the very top priority. Notwithstanding that, we were out searching for a general manager. As it turns out Earnie [Stewart] could only start on the first of August. We haven't sacrificed our candidates because of any deadline. We never had a deadline.”
The process to find the new head coach, in reality, started shortly after Stewart became the first general manager for the USMNT. In fact, Berhalter said the first conversation with Stewart about the position happened in late August.
Stewart detailed what he called a “thorough” process that started with identifying “required and desired qualifications for the head coach,” with Ryan Mooney, U.S. Soccer’s chief soccer officer, and Nico Romeijn, the chief sport development officer.
“Those were all the data points I used to score, if you may so, the coaches,” Stewart said.
Stewart said there were many coaches he spoke to, but said two candidates from Holland were not spoken to “because you see them on the playground every single day, what they’re doing with their team, how they’re trying to implement their style of play.”
The initial list had 33 candidates, which was then narrowed down to 11. Stewart said he, Mooney and Romeijn then just looked at what he called the required qualifications for the job, which cut the list down to five, while the top three “had scored very high in that.”
Then came, what Stewart called, “the big conversations” about the technical aspect of the US men's national team and what it is to be head coach of the US men’s national team and try to find out even more about those candidates.”
At that point Stewart said one of the candidates had dropped out of the race to accept another position elsewhere, which left him with a final two, who were interviewed by Stewart, while also meeting with U.S. Soccer secretary general and CEO Dan Flynn and Cordeiro.
Stewart took his recommendation to both Flynn and Cordeiro, while including Carlos Bocanegra, who along with former US women’s national team player Angela Hucles chaired the USSF technical development committee.
That committee, Stewart said, unanimously backed his choice last Wednesday, as did the U.S. Soccer board of directors on Saturday.
“It's probably been the most conclusive and comprehensive search for coach in our history,” Cordeiro said.
Added Stewart: “I think we went through this in a thorough way. It’s an open and clean way we did that.”
As for the process ending with Berhalter’s hiring, Cordeiro has no doubt the ideal coach is in place to lead the USMNT forward.
“Gregg isn’t just the right choice, Gregg is the best choice,” Cordeiro said. “He will push our men’s team forward with an identity and approach that will be uniquely and fiercely American.”