Pitch Points might try to form megaclub

Running through some links of interest to Nashville and US Soccer. As always, please feel free to follow (and share stories!) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or your social media platform of choice. If you have a story you’d like me to cover in one of these posts, never hesitate to reach out to me on those social channels, in the comments here, or at t.w.sullivan1@gmail.com.

Beautiful Clip Art.png
Club images courtesy those respective clubs. Beautiful graphic by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Major local youth shake-ups. You can read into a couple organizational changes in youth clubs whatever you’d like. I have thought (and continue to think) that by and large the most prominent clubs in the area are trying to position themselves to either be acquired by Nashville SC when it founds its Development Academy team in the not-so-distant future, or at the very least trying to become affiliated clubs.

There have been various mergers (at the very least, consolidating and sharing of resources) in the past year-plus, and Nashville FC Youth and Tennessee Soccer Club are the latest to explore combining forces.

Club leaders said the merger discussion was the product of their collaboration to support the push to bring a Major League Soccer team to the city in 2017-18. Both clubs had coaches and volunteers on the MLS2Nashville Committee.

The clubs stressed the potential merger is designed to provide more opportunities for youth players in Middle Tennessee to develop and play at a higher level. Each club now has approximately 1,500 players at either the recreational or competitive levels with teams based in Davidson, Williamson and Rutherford Counties.

Does it seem weirdly premature to announce that you’re in discussions with another club with the possibility that nothing happens? It sort of does to me. I guess there’s a bit of a responsibility to families already involved with either club, and a bit of a feeling-out of public sentiment, but… still weird.

Meanwhile, Nashville United Soccer Academy is reorganizing its administration, in a way that seems to be geared toward a more “True Academy” and professional structure top-to-bottom. You may recall NUSA was one of the programs involved with a major merger over the summer, joining forces with Tennessee United and Murfreesboro United.

My thoughts on the matter are basically the same as they’ve always been: more opportunities for kids (and particularly more opportunities with good coaching and good development) are aways better. If these moves help do that, great. It’s always possible that a laudable goal is not achieved – fewer distinct clubs could mean fewer opportunities if teams within different clubs are merged as well, etc. – so it’s worth keeping a skeptical eye on, as well.

Obviously, our state doesn’t produce nearly the number of high-level players it should, so anything that can move toward growth is good.

My ideal layout would be more hyper-local clubs whose best players feed into bigger academy-type clubs, and in turn those clubs’ best players entering a Nashville SC in-house academy. I understand the organizational overhead costs saved by pooling resources in a slightly different way, and just hope it doesn’t mean less soccer for anyone out there. More soccer is better.

The Fury-Concacaf saga plays on. Then it ends with minimal fanfare. USL obviously wasn’t particularly concerned about Concacaf’s refusal to sanction the Ottawa Fury for cross-border play in 2019, having released the Championship alignment and schedule, but it had to go  (or didn’t if an obviously CYA and untrue statement from Concacaf is to be believed) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Also, the headline here is, uh, something else:

Is CONCACAF playing its own games with the intention of crippling Fury FC?

No? Of course not? What would their motivation be to cripple the Fury? There is none (other than some semi-wild conspiracy theories in there). They’re enforcing the rules of FIFA and their Confederation. They’re doing it in a way that’s overbearing and not in a sporting spirit, perhaps, but to assume malice when there’s an obvious, non-malicious motivation – even if there’s a selfish one by former Canada Soccer head (now Concacaf head) Victor Montagliani – to get Canadian teams playing in the federation and league they’re bound to by FIFA statute doesn’t seem unfair.

There was basically never a chance that the Fury couldn’t play in USL this year, given that they always had the blessing of both the Canadian and American federations.  It’s more likely a power play by Concacaf to set up the “OK, but for this year only” situation where they force Fury into CPL in 2020 and beyond – which seems pretty fair to me, actually. Of course, it resolved to the positive Friday afternoon.

For whatever reason I’m obsessed with MLS roster rules. Fortunately for our purposes, that will become relevant in about 10 months’ time. For now, we’ll just call it a weird quirk.

Anyway, Paul Tenorio predicts the distant future at The Athletic ($), primarily in the form of trying to decide what the salary cap, designated player, and other roster rules will be within a couple years of the United World Cup:

I think it’s possible that MLS clubs will have a $20 million salary budget in ten years’ time, about five times more than in 2018. In this vision, there are four designated player spots, which allow teams who want to spend substantially more on star players to continue to do so.

There’s obviously a hell of a lot more there, including the reasoning for this structure (and more detail to it).

The Lancaster-ing. This will obviously be a running topic on the site (along with all the other offseason player movement), but it should come as no surprise that Cameron Lancaster’s signing has drawn some big attention. USA Today Sports Network Tennessee spoke with Lancaster the day his signing was announced:

“I was really impressed with the vision and ambition they (Nashville MLS GM Mike Jacobs and Nashville SC coach Gary Smith) had with turning Nashville SC, already a top USL club, to a top MLS team,” Lancaster said in an email to the Tennessean. “After facing Nashville last season and seeing the improvements they made each time, and then to make the playoffs in their first year as a team, I knew Gary was a top manager. He had a good group of players, and that excited me.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal discusses the Englishman’s departure from LCFC.

Bundimericans. Gregg Berhalter has been on a tour of Europe, checking in on US Internationals in the various overseas leagues. The Bundesliga’s official site caught up with him to talk about some of the key Americans plying their trade in Germany’s top flight.

On Christian Pulisic:

“I’m not too concerned about where he’s lining up. We want him affecting the game, we want him playing between the lines, taking on players one on one, and it will be up to the team to get him in, and find him in, those positions.”

Weston McKennie (after making fun of Schalke for the bizarre – and ongoing – center forward experiment they’ve been subjecting him to):

“I would say central midfield. I think he’s very good, [he has] a very good ability to win balls. That’s [at] a high level, I think he’s seen that at Champions League level, winning the ball and playing to his teammates.”

And channeling his inner Klinsmann:

bundesliga.com: How important is it for you that these players are playing in Germany, as opposed to the MLS for example?

Berhalter: “The Bundesliga is a top league in the world so that’s taken into consideration when you consider a player’s performance. For us to be a top team in the world we need players performing in top leagues in the world, so that’s one of the issues we’re faced with. This is a high-level programme and if you can perform here that means you’re a high-level player.”

Plenty more in there on a few other key Americans (John Brooks, Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, Haji Wright) in Deutschland. On this side of the pond, putting together the January camp with almost exclusively MLS players is always an interesting task ($).

Etc.: Ian Ayre’s move across the pond sees the Liverpool Arena and Convention Center name a new chair to replace him. … Nascar will be joining soccer at the Fairgrounds after a long hiatus. … Richie Ledezma transfer to PSV shows that USL (Real Monarchs in this case) can be a path to Europe, though there’s probably something to be said for the MLS team that invested in his development losing him on a free transfer being bad for the long run. … Learn how to build a club. Surely it’s very easy.

As always, thanks for reading. Share buttons below.


Pitch Points has a busy offseason

Running down the links of interest to Nashville SC and US Soccer fans. Please follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook if you don’t already, and if you like what you read here, share with a friend and encourage them to follow as well!

Daniel Ríos & John Ingram in front of Nashville skyline
Courtesy Nashville MLS

Busy offseason for Nashville SC. A little self-promotion here, but there’s been a ton going on over the past few weeks. Here’s a greatest-hits from some of the signing-related content I’ve been publishing:

Nashville SC offseason tracker. Signing profiles for Daniel Ríos, Ken Tribbett, Darnell King, Kharlton Belmar, and Connor Sparrow.

Given that I nailed the Tribbett and Belmar signings, you may want to re-visit these two posts, though I will say that NSC seems to be even more ambitious that I’d expected, so they may be obsolete by this point.

The Berhalter-ing. Who will be in the January USMNT camp? It’s always an MLS-heavy one, so keep that in mind when making your guesses.

Berhalter spoke with the MLS Extra Time pod about his vision for the USMNT. It’s not super-heavy on details, but certainly the generalities sound pretty good, and he’s quite obviously a very, very bright soccer mind. The tactical talk they did with video rather than just audio, on the other hand, is extremely informative:

I think just about everybody is excited to see the beginning of a new era for the US Men’s National Team after the yearlong interim tenure of the new North Carolina FC coach, and I for one anticipate it to be a very positive era (yes, that puts me outside of the constantly-pessimistic USMNT mainstream).

More from an interview with Alexi Lalas. And little fluff, primarily focusing on his love for tactics and analytics (without giving many specifics on either).

MLS thinkpieces. This was published before Atlanta United’s win in MLS Cup, but that make it all the more important (because it was obvious, title or not, how far ahead of the curve the Five Stripes are). MLS owners can’t agree over how best to grow the league($).

MLS now has a stability never before achieved in American soccer. It has strong markets with stadiums and training facilities built across the country. And it has a relatively diverse group of owners, many of whom are investing hugely in the sport.

Yet some owners expressed caution about whether the league is truly prepared for the next era of growth, especially if that growth is predicated on unbridled spending.

The sides are (somewhat simplistically, but perhaps fairly) divided into the progressive, “let us spend” types and the “don’t let the other guys spend because then I’d have to” stodgy types. I think it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of American soccer fans side with the former. Certainly a lot of the regulations have allowed clubs to survive and the league to remain stable and grow, but if others want to spend more, so be it.

Interestingly, Don Garber also admitted in his State of the League speech prior to the title game that MLS should be willing to become a selling league… something that he personally had been opposed to in the past. Of course, you don’t want to only be a selling league, but certainly embracing that side of the transfer market would be a positive (and profitable). League rules make it tough for that to be worth teams’ while all-too frequently, so hopefully some of the regulations about who keeps what portion of a transfer fee, how that see can be used (right now, my understanding is a team gets $750,000 max, only in TAM, for any non-Homegrown sale).

MOAR MLS. Speaking of Garber changing course on things, it sounds pretty likely that the league’s expansion will not stop at the previously established limit of 28 teams. Major League Soccer will get to that mark within the next year (Nashville and Miami will be Nos. 25 and 26, so two more bids are on the table), and then there will be a re-evaluation.

Looking simply at who makes geographic and demographic sense, stopping at 28 would be a mistake:

  • Phoenix (this one is a must for me)
  • Sacramento
  • St. Louis
  • San Diego
  • (The above plus Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Raleigh are the known bids for spot 28).

With Austin effectively promised No. 27… there’s not a ton of room there. Yes, USL can fill some of the gaps in the first tier, but the size of our country sort of precludes sticking to the “smaller top division” that you’d see in England (20 top-flight teams in a country smaller than the state of Michigan – and that’s with Northern Ireland and Scotland included, even though those constituent countries of the UK have their own top-flight leagues).

I’m all for as much expansion as the market(s) can support, and would assume there’s probably an MLB-like split at some point where the two leagues don’t play each other in the regular season with any regularity, though it’d be an East-West split rather than the semi-arbitrary divisions that baseball has. “But there’s interleague play all the time now!” is true, but the growth of soccer in the country and the logistics of cross-country travel for a sport that’s a little more physically demanding would make that sensible to me.

Etc.: Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre is behind an anti-scalping ticket measure based on Blockchain technology. … #OptaProSoccer conference in Chicago Jan. 9 should be a good one, but it’s invite-only :(. … A little history lesson on Atlanta-area soccer. … Zack Steffen‘s transfer to Manchester City is official. … Podcast with Liam Doyle from his homeland (I’ll admit I haven’t had a chance to listen yet).

If you come across something you’d like me to share in a Pitch Points (or any other type of post), feel free to drop me a line via the comments here, or the social channels linked at the top of the post.

Learn about Gregg Berhalter with Eliot McKinley of American Soccer Analysis

“What if,” you ask yourself, “there were someone who 1) is incredibly intelligent and analytical about soccer 2) spends a good portion of that analysis on the team from which the USMNT hired Gregg Berhalter, and 3) he even lives in Nashville, thus having an additional connection to the subject matter of this blog?” You ask yourself weird things.

Fortunately for you, the weird thing has come together. Eliot McKinley has been a Columbus Crew SC fan since 1996, lives in the Music City, and writes about (and even pioneers!) soccer analytics at American Soccer Analysis, the Columbus Crew at Massive Report, and both on his Twitter account, @etmckinley. I asked him questions about what the United States Men’s National Team is getting in head coach Gregg Berhalter, and he was kind enough to not only answer, but include links to more in-depth resources.

Follow him on Twitter for tons more about American soccer, soccer analytics, and much more.

Courtesy Columbus Crew SC

For Club and Country: If you could boil down Berhalter’s style to one distinct principle or phrase, what would it be? What are the statistical markers that indicate that style?

Eliot McKinley: Gregg Berhalter’s style can be boiled down to one sentence that he has used countless times during his time in Columbus: “Our aim is to disorganize the opponent through ball possession to create goal-scoring opportunities, and it will always be that.”

The simplest way to look at this philosophy is possession percentage. Since Berhalter took over in Columbus, the Crew have been near the top of MLS in possession. You can’t disorganize the defense with possession if you don’t have possession.

FCAC: He’s been well-known for his 4-2-3-1 formation. What sort of flexibility – both within that formation and using others – allows him to accomplish game-specific goals? Are there other ways in which he’s shown to not be married to a system (or maybe ways in which he’s proven to be stubborn)? [I merged these]

EM: Berhalter has his possession based philosophy that is typically based upon a 4-2-3-1 formation which he used almost 90% of the time since 2015. However, formation does not equal tactics (see New York Red Bull’s pressing in a 4-2-3-1). Within the 4-2-3-1 Berhalter has many tactics, and if you ask him, he’ll be sure to tell you (correctly) that they change every game. Typically his team will play out of the back, but will go more direct against teams that press high. He has fielded his right back as a false fullback, depending on the winger he can have them play wide (Ethan Finlay) or tuck in as inverted wingers). Multiple times this season he has played a 4-4-2, despite the boxscore saying 4-2-3-1, most famously in the first half of the Crew’s home playoff game against Red Bulls. Without a good option at right winger in 2017 after the trade of Ethan Finlay he even shifted to a three center back formation for a run of games. While early in his time in Columbus he was criticized for being too married to his tactics, recent seasons have shown much more flexibility. This will come in handy at the international level where the quality of opponent varies widely and the tactics needed to succeed can be very different.

FCAC: He’s been known as a striker-whisperer for a few years now, and the 2018 season for Gyasi Zardes seemed to indicate there’s a little something to that. What is it in Berhalter’s scheme that allows for so much success at that position?

EM: In Berhalter’s primary system, the striker’s offensive utility is there to finish off the attacking movement from the rest of the team, usually a one touch shot. Columbus’ strikers over the last few years are near the bottom of the league in expected buildup [https://www.americansocceranalysis.com/asa-xgoals/], so are not asked to create chances but to get into dangerous spots and get a shot off. Zardes has been widely maligned (unfairly in my opinion) for having a bad first touch, but if that touch is a shot it matters a bit less.

FCAC: The Crew’s attack has tended to be heavily dependent on Federico Higuaín since he joined the team. Do you see someone in the US player pool who can take on that role, or can Berhalter’s teams score without it?

EM: Pipa has be integral to Columbus’ success since he arrived in 2012. When Pipa is playing well, the Crew played well. The only time Columbus missed the playoffs was 2016 when Higuain missed time due to injury. Finding a 10 for the national team may be problematic if Berhalter wants to play a similar system as he did in Columbus. Finding a creative attacking midfielder has been a long term problem for USMNT, and perhaps Christian Pulisic can slot in there, but if not Berhalter may have to change his system a bit, something he hasn’t had to do over the long term in Columbus.

FCAC: One of the biggest feathers in Berhalter’s cap has been more about overachieving compared to roster spend than it has been actually winning the big one. Is there part of his style that gives you pause about potentially scaling up to one of the most resource-heavy teams in Concacaf, or is it all just added value for a guy who has done it with less before?

EM: Given that the Crew have consistently had one of the lowest payrolls in MLS, the narrative about Berhalter overachieving is not wrong. Given his success, despite financial limitations, I don’t see any reason why scaling up to the resources of US Soccer should be any problem. Additionally, Berhalter has plenty of experience operating within a turbulent organization and that can only help with the national team.

Separating process from results with the Berhalter hire

20181202 MNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter Announce Blue.jpg
US Soccer

There’s been a common refrain in the past 24 or so hours from some of the… less-reasonable… corners of the soccer internet: “Who cares who the USMNT coach is, it took too long!”

I touched on this a bit yesterday, but it really is an important piece to hammer home: the process stunk, the timeline of the process stunk, and maybe Gregg Berhalter would have taken the job if offered a year ago. Alas, unless you’ve got Doc Brown on speed dial, there’s nothing that can change the way the way the process played out, in timeline or otherwise.

Now, what’s left to care about is the result of said process, and Gregg Berhalter will be the United States Men’s National Team coach. Would he have been considered (yes) or gotten the job (maybe!) if his brother weren’t in a high-ranking (albeit non-technical) position in US Soccer? I understand the questions being asked, for sure. But that doesn’t change the outcome, and to imply that Berhalter himself – or his tenure, before it even really begins – is somehow tainted by that process is unfair to a guy who didn’t choose to be selected and hired in that way.

A few notes on the process

As noted above, it was far from ideal. I’m not in excuse-making mode here, but I think there are some reasonable arguments that is wasn’t quite as bad as it’s been portrayed. Again, I’m not defending it in the big picture here. Still, some things to consider:

  • Oct. 13: Bruce Arena resigns as USMNT head coach
  • Dec. 4: Sunil Gulati announces he will not seek USSF Presidential re-election
  • Dec. 10: USSF announces establishment of National Team General Manager positions

By the time Arena resigned, essentially nobody (in the public, at least) was behind Gulati anymore. If he’d hired the new head coach while effectively a lame duck – or actually so after Dec. 4 – there would have been riots in the streets. Maybe not literally. Who would have been leading those riots? In many cases, the same folks who are up in arms about how long this process took. The General Manager position was established (and actually wasn’t selected by the president, but rather a six-member committee and approved by the Board of Directors), but the sentiment would have been the same.

  • Feb. 10: Carlos Cordeiro elected president of US Soccer
  • Feb. 28: USSF gives an update from CEO Dan Flynn on GM hiring process, the first since Cordeiro’s election
  • June 6: Earnie Stewart hired as USMNT General Manager
  • June 13: United Bid for 2026 World Cup defeats Morocco in FIFA congress
  • June 14-July 15: FIFA World Cup 2018
  • Aug. 1: Earnie Stewart begins in GM role
  • Oct. 22: The Washington Post‘s Steven Goff reports that Flynn will retire from his position
  • Nov. 11: Crew SC eliminated from MLS Cup Playoffs
  • Dec. 2: Gregg Berhalter’s hire announced

This is the stretch where some actual complaints can be made (which, uh, given that it’s under the “new and improved” US Soccer, is not encouraging for the future). The selection process for a General Manager should have been expedited. Certainly, Cordeiro was occupied with the United Bid for the 2026 World Cup, but based on publicly-available information, at least, it was Flynn, Sporting Director Ryan Mooney, and a search committee involved in the GM search: a bit of division of labor would have allowed the search and the United Bid’s lobbying to happen concurrently.

Then, when Stewart was hired away from the Philadelphia Union, he still spent two months – including during the World Cup, which might have been a nice time to scout coaches or at least network, if he’d begun the position immediately – cooling his heels before taking over the role officially.

The length of time it took Stewart to hire “the guy he was always going to hire anyway” is probably unfair to both he and Berhalter. Despite innuendo to the contrary by the pessimistic sections of the fanbase, four coaches were formally interviewed (the only other one publicly known is outgoing FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja), and several others had less-formal conversations with Stewart. Would you have liked this to happen more quickly? Of course. If Stewart always had his eye on Berhalter, though, the length of time would have been reduced. You can’t want both thoroughness and and expedited timeline. Complaints about the lack of the latter necessarily indicate a willingness to sacrifice the former (and complaints about each are approximately even, and coming from the same places).

The time between Cordeiro’s election and Stewart’s official beginning in the job are major problems to me. The length of time Stewart himself took in making the decision… well, until proven otherwise, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in that regard (without needing to reiterate my Tata Martino debunk in every post about the USMNT coach). You can also take exceptions – and I take pretty big ones here – about the scope of the GM job, which includes no technical direction through the youth ranks, and seems to be just a one-man search committee for head coaches.

So, is anyone happy about the time this took? Probably not. Does understanding the timeline make it a bit more reasonable? Certainly. Your mileage may vary in terms of which you prioritize.

Back to Berhalter

So: US Soccer has hired the most-capped (44) manager in its history, and a guy who has taken a meager roster spend in MLS terms, and turned it into decent results. One problem here is that there doesn’t appear to be much correlation between roster spend and success in MLS (Berhalter’s 2018 Crew in red):

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 10.54.48 AM.png
Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The trendline is a little skewed by a couple data points. The Red Bulls (top left corner) set an MLS points record despite a similarly unimpressive player budget, while Toronto FC (far right) were below-average despite spending more than half-again as much money as the No. 2 team in budget.

There are explanations for those two outliers: Red Bulls have an awesome academy and are dedicated to building their first team through it, while Toronto had major injuries this year and probably overspends for two of its DPs (Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore) in terms of on-field performance because they’re USMNT stars. It’s going to be way too much work to bash together two databases to calculate spend per minute played for each team: Toronto would still be up there, but with Altidore out most of the year, for example, they’d at least come back to the pack a bit.

Still, even taking those two data points out of the picture, the positive correlation between player salaries and points earned isn’t that strong. Columbus was still above the trendline in either respect, and without the benefit of a strong academy system (and with an owner that spent most of the season trying to undermine his team’s local support and possibly even results, in order to justify a move).

In terms of “doing more with less,” there’s an argument for Berhalter to be a great coach, and underrated when you look only at his teams’ finishes in the standings (third, second, ninth, fifth, fifth in the East) and playoffs (conference semis, MLS runners-up, DNQ, conference final, conference semifinal).

His teams are defensively stout, and he has a reputation as a striker-whisperer (a reputation that was only increased by Gyasi Zardes’s increase from two goals with LA Galaxy last year to 19 this year, and an increase from 4.2 xG to 20.6 xG in the same stretch, according to American Soccer Analysis.

Certainly the former aspect is something that had traditionally been a hallmark of US Men’s National teams (hard-working, great goalie, solid defense), and you’d hope that the latter turns into a bit more of a goal explosion for a side that scored a record-low .91 goals per game in 2018 under interim manager Dave Sarachan.

Berhalter doesn’t have the high-flying offense of Tata Martino (though, in terms of how it translates to the international level, I’d contend that the US doesn’t have the high-flying talent of Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez), and he doesn’t have the high profile of others that fans were interested in: former Spain and Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui (about which: agreed.) or… well, here’s where the lack of transparency in the process has been used against Berhalter. The assumption is that he was the only legitimate candidate, and that puts unfair expectations and even blame on him.

However, in the interest of our enjoyment, let’s give the man a clean slate and let him earn the accolades (or criticisms) he receives, rather than placing external issues at his feet. You may not be happy with the process, or even the result. But that’s not Berhalter’s fault. His tenure should stand on its own merits.

Stay tuned in the coming days for much more on Berhalter’s product on the field.

Gregg Berhalter officially named USMNT coach

At long last, the worst-kept secret in American soccer is revealed: Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter will move on, and become the headman for the US Men’s National Team.

20181202 MNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter Announce web.jpg
US Soccer

From US Soccer release:

CHICAGO (Dec. 2, 2018) – The U.S. Soccer Federation has appointed two-time FIFA World Cup veteran Gregg Berhalter as the new head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Berhalter, with 25 years of experience as a player and head coach for clubs in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States, becomes the first U.S. World Cup veteran to take the reins of the U.S. Men’s National Team. In addition, he is the first U.S. MNT boss with experience as a player and a coach both domestically and internationally.

Chosen by U.S. Men’s National Team General Manager Earnie Stewart following a thorough search process, Berhalter’s appointment was officially ratified by the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors on Dec. 1 by a unanimous vote.

“We are excited to announce Gregg as the next head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team,” said [USSF President Carlos] Cordeiro. “As an experienced former National Team player and highly regarded professional coach, we are confident he is the best person to guide our program forward. We are looking forward to formally introducing him on Tuesday in New York.”

Known as a fiercely competitive and intelligent player, a natural leader and a detailed, forward-thinking manager, Berhalter spoke of pride in returning to lead a team for which he earned 44 caps and had the honor of representing at two FIFA World Cups, including the USA’s memorable run to the Quarterfinals in 2002 in Korea/Japan.

“This is a tremendous honor,” Berhalter said. “Having played for the National Team I know what it means to represent our country.  I believe in our players and our program, and together we will work to build something special and develop a team that will make our supporters proud.”

The 45-year-old has eight years of coaching experience and has earned a U.S. Soccer PRO License and a UEFA “A” License. Most recently he has served in the dual role of Head Coach and Sporting Director with Columbus Crew SC. During his five seasons in Columbus, Berhalter oversaw all soccer operations for the club, leading the side to the MLS Cup Playoffs four times, as well as the 2015 MLS Cup Final and 2017 Eastern Conference Final.

Unlike many of his peers, Berhalter went abroad to begin his career in management, guiding Swedish club Hammarby from 2012-2013. Berhalter began transitioning to the technical side of the game towards the end of his playing career, first working to scout opponents while with German club 1860 Munich from 2007-09. His first official technical role came when he served as an assistant coach during the final season of his playing career with the LA Galaxy in 2011.

“After a very thorough process, I am absolutely convinced Gregg is the right man to lead the National Team program moving forward,” Stewart said. “He ticks all the boxes with his background as a person, a successful coach and an accomplished former international player.”

Berhalter was chosen as MNT head coach after an extensive selection process led by Stewart, who worked alongside U.S. Soccer’s Chief Sport Development Officer Nico Romeijn and Chief Soccer Officer Ryan Mooney in developing the profile for the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team.

And so on, and so on.

There’s not a ton to ruminate on with hot takes, since everyone has either understood that Berhalter would become the coach for quite some time and is happy about it, or the same but is upset about it. Certainly he was one of the top two or three domestic options available, though it can be troubling that by all appearances, there wasn’t much of a broader international search.

(Side note on that regard: having covered coaching searches in college athletics for a while, the way this search was covered had some head-scratching moments. If you actually think the Federation didn’t make contact with Tata Martino and his representatives – rather than that being the standard “we only considered one guy” cover-your-ass stuff that happens in the wake of any coaching hire – I’ve got some news for you. So bizarre to me that something obviously untrue is being taken as gospel (to say nothing of Tata pretending not to speak English the whole time he’s been coaching Atlanta United, probably an indication of the interest he had in the job and told USSF early in the job that he’d have)).

Berhalter is known as a system guy – play out of the back, get a ton of easy looks for the striker with meaningful possession – who has some tactical flexibility though he prefers a 4-2-3-1 setup when possible. Implementing a solid system is probably what this team needs after the relentless tinkering of Jurgen Klinsmann and the “mail it in, folks” lack of identity under Bruce Arena’s second tenure. Is it the highest-upside strategy? No. But it’s not too ceiling-limited, and the floor is certainly as high and as stable as any other coach may have been able to bring.

The great issue, now, returns to the development of talent in our country (as you may recall, one of the initial strong focuses of this blog, before the USL season got underway), and how best to ensure that a failure to qualify doesn’t recur. At the very least – whether happy or sad with the outcome – there’s one less moving piece that’s a huge question mark for the future of the program.

Pitch Points plays catch-up

Hey! It’s been a while since one of these posts. Herein, I round up links of interest in the world of Nashville and US Soccer. If you ever find something you want me to include, you can hit me on the socials or via e-mail. On with the show.


US Soccer taking notice of Nashville. This was a hype piece for the US Open Cup game against Louisville, but it ages pretty well.

“Coming in from Sporting Kansas City, the Open Cup, and what it means to American soccer, is just part of my DNA,” said [Mike] Jacobs, an understated front-office wizard who had a large hand in finding the talent to fit the needs and desires of coach Smith. “We’re making a statement in the Open Cup in our first year and that’s massive for the equity and credibility of this club and for the future of soccer here in Nashville. We’re showing we can compete with teams from all levels of the American soccer scene.”

Nashville aren’t just competing with teams higher up the food chain, they’re beating them

Yes, the loss to Louisville stunk. It prevented NSC from getting the national hype that Cincinnati received for its Open Cup run. However, some of that groundwork has hopefully already been laid, and the club can grow from it.

There may be positives in terms of reduced fatigue down the home stretch as well, though I’m sort of skeptical that playing two extra games really tired FCC out all that much last year: they were just the sixth-best team in the East, and earned a deserving first-round playoff exit.

Of course, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Nashville SC’s trajectory, including inaugural season ticket record. Hopefully that means we don’t have to have extended season ticket discussions ever again (unfortunately, “Twitter” and “the FC Cincinnati fanbase” still exist, so that’s a pipe dream).

World Cup on the way. It doesn’t feel like the World Cup in the United States is eight years away – the level of celebration has been higher than something not happening for nearly a decade – but that’s fine. It’s going to be a massive positive for the United States, no matter how far off in the distance it is.

Sorry for subjecting you to the absolute nightmare that is SI.com. How have they not hired new web designers?

Anyway. It’s a big first step for USSF president Carlos Cordeiro (along with hiring Earnie Stewart as the GM for the MNT), and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where his focus goes now. He campaigned largely on a platform of “change but not too much change” and “landing the World Cup is very important.” Will he focus on development? Stay on the side of building finances for the federation? A lot about the future of US Soccer depends upon where he goes with it.

So far, the federation has been more “let’s stay focused on this big win“-oriented, which is fine for the short-term.

The striker whisperer. I’ve actually been higher on Gyasi Zardes than literally every other USMNT fan ever, so it shouldn’t surprise that I’m very happy to see him thriving in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter.

Perhaps no team in the league has as defined a system as Crew SC. Columbus play one of the more consistent, recognizable styles in MLS. They’re committed to playing nearly everything out of the back, they almost always dominate the ball and they’re very rarely out of step with each other. The system makes them better than the sum of their parts – and it regularly serves up gorgeous chances for their strikers.

That… also sounds like a system that you’d like to see the USMNT play, yeah? Berhalter has been one of the most-mentioned names for the managerial position, and he and Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls) have probably emerged as my top two, if General Manager Earnie Stewart intends to hire domestically.

Bobby Wood could certainly use a guy to generate scoring opportunities for him schematically to help snap out of what feels like a two-year slump (but is actually only one year and ticking).

Hot takes are dumb. It sucks when your team doesn’t make the World Cup. There’s a lot of blame to go around in the case of the USMNT in 2018. “The team lost its fight,” however, is a dumb hot take. However many former US Internationals (or current US Soccer staffers!) say that, it’s a level of analysis that you expect from a sports talk radio caller, not someone who’s actually interested in identifying or solving the problems.

Again, it sucks. How many countries made the previous seven World Cups in a row, though? (Hey, time for me to make a Sporcle quiz!). Evaluating actual weaknesses that you can take action upon (like don’t hire somebody to be coach and technical director if you’re not willing to implement his plan, don’t then fire him only to hire a worse coach, etc.), rather than “DURRR GRITTY GRIT” is preferred, thanks.

Etc.: All sports is political. Part 2. … US Soccer feature on Timothy Weah. … A country that’s the subject of “hey, not quite as racist as you think, but still really racist” columns is currently hosting the World Cup, by the way. Not that the US is a whole lot better these days. … Entracht Frankfurt opening an academy in the States. … Livin’ the blog dream.

Pitch Points goes D-3

The USL’s second division moves toward its 2019 launch with its first team announcement, pro-rel on the horizon, women’s soccer, and much more!

tormenta fc usl d3 division-3 soccer
Soccer-specific stadium on the way for the first official US D3 squad.

Who will be in USL D-3? For starters, Tormenta FC will move up from the PDL. SB Nation’s Orlando City blog has a few other likely choices. A healthy third division is important for the growth of soccer in this country (in addition to a healthy second division – the NASL never was, which is why the league to the “fail then sue” business model), and yes, for the dream of pro/rel to even be a reasonable consideration, much less realistic future.

Speaking of USL and pro/rel, league president Jake Edwards is making some noise about a potential future in it between the two divisions once D3 is launched:

I think it would be very interesting to look at pro-rel between those two divisions. We certainly could do it now and I think there’s an interest to do it among our board. We are going to experiment with precursors, such as maybe some sort of inter-league competition, an inter-league cup. We’re going to look at options like that to see if that works.

To be sensible, we’ve got to get the structure and the quality right first at the Division 3 level. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right owners; stadiums that are the right size and the right quality; and we’ve got a number of teams, and maybe a structure, that’s maybe a bit more aligned and mirrored of the second division.

That second paragraph is a major important piece (as I alluded to above), and one that is often overlooked among the zealotry fringe.

Edwards also spoke with Four Four Two, though there’s a lot of overlap between the two pieces.

MLS makes a positive change. I haven’t seen this officially announced anywhere, but evidently teams are allowed to keep 100% of profits for selling homegrown players. My rough translation of the French (by which I mean “Google’s rough translation of the French”):

Better, the Impact will not have to share the transfer money with the league. Until last season, MLS kept 25% of the total sale of a club-trained player. A rule that has obviously changed to reward training clubs, which today change the face of the Garber circuit.

With 100% of the transfer money in their pockets, the Impact will be proactive, with President Saputo having decided to use it to strengthen the squad … to the extent permitted by the league. Indeed, the MLS rules only allow clubs to reinvest a maximum of $ 750,000 (formerly $ 650,000) of the amount of a transfer in the improvement of the first team. This sum then takes the form of a basic monetary allocation (GAM).

An incentive to develop players and sell players will help the league enrich itself and grow.

Piggybacking off that, an interesting take on why German clubs seem so much more willing to play youngsters (including several well-known young Americans):

It used to be that coaches were scared of throwing in new players. Older players got priority and older coaches stayed in the system. An interesting development is that in the meanwhile there is less reliance on older coaches and the older coaches aren’t automatically hired. To the chagrin of the older coaches, who don’t believe that’s good at all.

But young coaches are arriving in their early 30s and late 20s, because those in management have realized that’s the better, the right, the innovative way.

There’s going to be a point in the development of the American soccer culture where the coaches are people who have come up through academies, have been coaches by those who picked up interest in the game when it boomed in the late 80s (and when they came up, the access to high-level coaching was even lower), and I think that inflection point is going to see more of a boom than many realize.

It won’t be like a switch flipping, but it’s certainly an area where college soccer – giving people the ability to remain involved in the sport even if they don’t have professional playing options in the long-term, for example – is going to play a crucial role in developing the next generations.

Obligatory USSF presidential section. In Four Four Two, Beau Dure runs through a comprehensive look at the eight presidential candidates’ performances (word choice intentional by me) at the Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. He doesn’t make it clear whether his consideration of Wynalda as the front runner is just the vibe he gets from their appearances at the event, or actual discussions with voting delegates (which seems unlikely to me).

The role of Soccer United Marketing has been a hot topic in the presidential race, and SI’s Grant Wahl seems to have gotten some straight answers (at the very least as enlightening as we’re going to get) from MLS commissioner Don Garber. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot in there that Garber hasn’t previously explained – and folks have already made up their minds on whether they want to believe what he says and what the intentions of SUM are.

Advanced stats in soccer. I’m big on advanced statistics (and you’ll find that over time with me here if I haven’t already made it obvious), and Opta is obviously at the forefront in this particular sport. An over-arching stat is difficult in a sport such as this, though, and I’m super-excited to see how it develops.

Opta does provide official stat-keeping for USL, though at least based on last year’s numbers, I’m not sure how much depth they provide. Tons and tons of individual passing, shooting, etc. stats (as you’ve likely seen in my player profiles), but is xG going to be available, for example? I’d love to see the data continue to develop, at the very least.

Whatever’s available, I’m hoping to bring it to the coverage here.

Women’s soccer ups and downs. NWSL club Boston Breakers has folded. If the United States is to remain the hegemon in international women’s soccer, a healthy pro league is important. It provides career opportunities for the outstanding athletes who otherwise wouldn’t be able to devote as much time to their craft in keeping the USWNT globally dominant. With other countries starting to catch up to our emphasis on girls’ youth sports (and in some ways, passing us on the women’s professional side), there are potentially dark times ahead for remaining on top of the global structure.

It’s tough with MLS teams not cracking a profit other than the money that comes through SUM, but I’d like to see every MLS squad own and operate an NWL side – with the full youth structure below it, as well. Soccer has been one of the few sports (tennis is the only other I can think of) that has comparable economic viability for women as for men in the United States. Having twice as many events to fill a soccer-specific stadium in the Summer seems like a good economic opportunity – and of course leads to a closer-knit soccer culture in the places that are fortunate enough to have that chance. I think Nashville SC’s ownership group in particular should get into the NWSL game as quickly as possible (it would be one of my top priorities after establishing an academy structure that services youths of both genders).

All of this is actually a topic I’ve been planning to write an entire post about for a little while, but since it seems I’ve jumped right into it, there’s an interesting exploration of where NCAA women’s soccer (which obviously is part of what set us ahead of the world on the women’s side in the first place) appears to be at a bit of a crossroads itself.

North Carolina Courage draft pick Morgan Reid crafted a story for Players Tribune highlighting the complicated tightrope walk that being a high-level female athlete can entail. Is being considered sexually appealing a good thing (the sports information department at Duke certainly saw ways that was the case), bad thing (that it overshadowed her sporting achievements is probably not positive), irrelevant? It’s something that is so much less a consideration for men.

It’s a combination of a societal topic and one that relates directly to soccer, and there are no easy answers for anyone involved in the discussion. Hopefully, we can progress to a point where stories like this don’t have to be written for people outside of that scrutiny to understand.

Etc. Gregg Berhalter for USMNT manager? … The MLS Draft isn’t going anywhere, though a de-emphasis of it inherently means better things for soccer in our country. … Speedway Soccer Podcast coming your way soon. … I’m with Music City Soccer on the (non-sporting) importance of the Martim Galvão signing. … NSC in the top five USL teams on Twitter. … Linking this story primarily so I can use my Anthony Precourt insult tag. Also because he’s bound and determined to demonstrate on the daily that he’s just a piece of human trash.