USMNT: Crocker & Berhalter emphasize program "evolution" in 2026 World Cup cycle


Amid a whirlwind two-day period for U.S. Soccer, the federation's six-month search for the US men's national team head coach has officially come to a close, as Gregg Berhalter's return to the sidelines was formalized at a Friday news conference in Las Vegas.

USSF sporting director Matt Crocker, president Cindy Parlow Cone and CEO/secretary general JT Batson joined Berhalter at the introductory event, which came the day after the USMNT's wild 3-0 triumph over rival Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals.

Regarding the lengthy nature of the search, which has been a heavy topic of conversation since Berhalter's original contract expired following the 2022 FIFA World Cup, both Crocker and Parlow Cone maintained they don't see the months-long effort as lost time.

"I think from our perspective it was really important to follow the process," said Parlow Cone. "And we said from the beginning that we were going to hire our sporting director first, and we went through a great process that led us to Matt Crocker. And we said from the beginning that we were going to put this into the sporting director's hands and have them lead the search because we think that continuity and that connection between the head coach and the sporting director was really important.

"And I'm really proud of the process. I think we are, and I think this is a great place for us to be. And I'm looking forward to the future."

Added Crocker, who was hired in April as the successor to Earnie Stewart: "I can't comment [about] before I joined, but what I can say is since I joined there's a real desire internally to make sure that we have a really robust strategy working towards 2026.

"... This is an evolution of the program," he continued. "And we are already working together to identify those things that we're going to continue to develop within the program, to make it even better. It might look like as if there's been a lost period of time, but sometimes you need time to reflect and to move forward. I think it's really been a time for reflection and a time of an opportunity to connect with Gregg and work in partnership with him to take the program forward."

Berhalter's new contract will run through the 2026 World Cup, but he won't re-assume his duties until after the conclusion of the Concacaf Gold Cup, which runs from late June to mid-July. Interim head coach B.J. Callaghan, who's one win away from lifting the Nations League trophy, will also be in charge when the USMNT begin their Gold Cup title defense later this month.

Mending fences

For his part, Berhalter pointed to multiple areas he'll look to address to ensure the program takes a pronounced step forward in 2026, when the sport's biggest event will be hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico. For one, Berhalter said he feels confident in re-establishing a positive relationship with Borussia Dortmund standout midfielder Gio Reyna.

The well-documented off-field turmoil surrounding the coach and the talented 20-year-old became the dominant storyline following the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and Berhalter acknowledged the need to ensure fences are mended and both parties are on the same page.

"I would certainly acknowledge that there's work to do," Berhalter said regarding Reyna. "And Gio is an important player to this team, he's an extremely talented individual and I have the obligation and the commitment to coach him like I coach every other player. I want to get the best out of him, we want to get the best out of him and we know if we can unlock his talents he's going to be a game-changer for this program.

"So there's work to do and part of it is working together with Matt and trying to rebuild the relationship that we know will be important moving forward."

How to beat the best

As for his vision on the field, Berhalter said his mind is already churning with how to improve on the team's showing in Qatar, where the USMNT made it out of the group stage with a 1W-0L-2D record but bowed out in the Round of 16 in a one-sided defeat to the Netherlands.

"Looking at the performance of the World Cup as the measuring stick as to how you can be successful in the next World Cup, there's certainly elements to dissect," Berhalter said. "I didn't think we were good enough on set pieces, attacking set pieces, in the last World Cup. That's definitely an area of opportunity.

"I think offensive transition moments let us down at times in the last World Cup," he added. "Our defensive shape was excellent, our high-pressure was excellent, but then when we win the ball, how can we more effectively create chances on the counter-attack? So, digging into all these things. Looking at different defensive formations, how to press opponents was something that I focused on. And then, speaking to other coaches about the management side of it, leadership side of it, I was able to travel around Europe and meet a number of coaches and walk through some of that. So the time off was actually helpful in some respects to share ideas with a lot of high-level coaches."

Ultimately, Berhalter said, whether the US can reach the point where they're not only competing, but winning, against global powers such as the Dutch is what will define a successful upcoming cycle.

Given the depth of talent now in the player pool, and the experience the young group gained playing on the world's biggest stage, Berhalter said he sees the path forward to achieving those objectives.

"What I would say is that we are a team that's developed, we're a team that's improved," he said. "And we're a team that wants to keep going. And for us, it's how do we continue to win in our region and how do we beat the world soccer powers in knockout games? And we're going to be tested with that: There's Copa America coming up and obviously the World Cup, and we're going to have to learn how to beat big opponents in knockout games. That's the next step for this group."