By FRANCO PANIZO
A former MLS player has indeed won the Columbus Crew head coaching sweepstakes. It is just not who everyone was expecting.
The Crew have named Gregg Berhalter their new head coach and sporting director, making him the first person in franchise history to hold both distinctions. The 40-year-old Berhalter, a former MLS defender who also played for the U.S. Men’s National Team, is the club’s seventh head coach and first sporting director. He will oversee all player personnel decisions following the club’s restructuring of its soccer operations.
Berhalter beat out not only interim coach Brian Bliss, but also retired attacking player Guillermo Barros Schelotto and current Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel, both of whom were both reportedly being considered for the job at one point. Berhalter now takes control of a Columbus squad that has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
“We are thrilled to conclude this expansive and thorough search for our next leader, a process that spanned three continents,” said Crew chairman and investor-operator Anthony Precourt in a press release. “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 skill-set 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. Gregg was a pioneer as an American captain of two Bundesliga teams, and as the first American to manage a European soccer club. I expect great success for the Columbus Crew under Gregg’s leadership in the years to come.”
Berhalter, who holds both UEFA A and B coaching licenses, is no stranger to being a head coach. The Englewood, N.J., native became the first American to manage a European club in 2012, leading Swedish second division side Hammarby IF until he was dismissed during the 2013 campaign. In his two years at the club, Berhalter amassed an 18-11-16 record.
Prior to coaching Hammarby, Berhalter was introduced to the technical side by scouting opponents for 1860 Munich from 2007 to 2009. He was also a player-coach under Bruce Arena during the LA Galaxy’s MLS Cup-winning season in 2011.
“I am excited about the opportunity to join one of Major League Soccer’s original clubs,” said Berhalter in the 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.
“I look forward to working with chairman Anthony Precourt, whose passion resonates throughout the entire club. I am also excited to work closely with (Crew president) Mark McCullers, as his experience in the League is a valuable resource. I am eager to get started, and my immediate priority is to reach out to the players and share our new vision for the club as we move forward.”
As a player, Berhalter earned 44 caps for the U.S. and was on the Americans’ 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads. He played for several clubs in Europe during his 18-year career as well, including 1860 Munich, Energie Cottbus, and Crystal Palace.
What do you think of the Crew appointing Berhalter as head coach and sporting director? Like the move? Think they should have given Bliss a longer chance? Still wishing the Crew had found a way to hire Friedel or Schelotto?
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