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Players laud Gregg Berhalter's return: 'A father figure for all of us'
FIFA Club World Cup

Players laud Gregg Berhalter's return: 'A father figure for all of us'

Published Jun. 17, 2023 11:35 p.m. ET

HENDERSON, Nevada – During the Friday press conference that U.S. Soccer convened to announce the return of Gregg Berhalter as the men’s national team coach, sporting director Matt Crocker revealed that senior players had significant input throughout the search process that led to the 2022 World Cup boss being rehired.

A day later, several of those players spoke for the first time since the news became official. All of them offered their support for Crocker’s final decision – not that that should be any surprise. Of course nobody would publicly state that they didn’t want Berhalter back even if that’s how they felt privately.

What did raise eyebrows, though, was just how effusive some were in their praise for the USMNT’s new/old leader.


"He's kind of like a father figure for all of us," said starting winger Tim Weah, noting how Berhalter had coached much of the squad since they were teenagers. "I think he's an amazing coach. And I think he's definitely the piece that puts all this together."

"I think that's something we can all get behind," left back Antonee Robinson said of Crocker’s decision. "Gregg's the right guy for the job. I think he's gonna take this team forward like he has done in the past. And I think a lot of players are really excited to work with him [again]."

Even Ricardo Pepi, who has every right to hate Berhalter after the coach left the now 20-year-old striker off his 26-man roster for Qatar 2022, seemed committed to repairing the pair’s fractured relationship.

"To be honest, it's great for the squad," said Pepi, who admitted that "not going to the World Cup is always going to hurt."

"Personally, I think that everything that happened between us stays behind us," Pepi continued. "Probably we’ll sit down, me and him. We used to have a good connection, and talking to him won't be a problem to me. I know we'll make up."

'I was really motivated to come back' - Gregg Berhalter on returning as USMNT manager

But first, the USMNT has Sunday’s CONCACAF Nations League final to play in, against Canada, just off the Las Vegas strip. Interim coach B.J. Callaghan will lead the squad in that one and through the three week-long Gold Cup, which kicks off next weekend. Berhalter will return to the sidelines for a pair of September friendly matches against foes to be announced later.

Crocker informed the players of Berhalter’s return at a team dinner following Thursday’s 3-0 pantsing of chief rival Mexico.

"The best way I can describe the environment when the players and staff found out that evening that Gregg was coming back was a very professional approach," Callaghan said later Saturday. "When you have clarity, there is a sense of calm. Because now everybody understands how this is going to proceed forward."

After not having a full-time coach all year, there is also a sense of relief that all the drama and uncertainty is finally behind them.

"I’m happy that it kind of quiets down and we can focus on what our main goal is – I think everyone in general has a main goal to progress towards that 2026 [World Cup]," Weah said. "This is the first step."

Even one of Berhalter’s rivals, Canada manager John Herdman, is pleased to see him back.

"I thought it was a great decision," Herdman said Saturday. "I got to know Gregg pretty well over that [2022 World Cup cycle]. He’s just a wonderful human being. I think he’s done a very good job. You can sense the players have bought in to what he was doing. I think he takes a lot of grief off the fans here, for what reason I’m not sure."

It’s true that not everyone is thrilled with the appointment. Surely that includes several players. We still don’t know how Gio Reyna feels, as Reyna – whom Berhalter almost sent home from the World Cup because of his initial refusal to accept a role off the bench – has not been made available for comment since the news broke. Overall, though, Berhalter appears to have a critical mass of support within the locker room.

"I think a lot of the guys are happy," said Weah. "When you build a personal relationship – not with only a certain group of players, but everyone – I think it's super important. And that's what Gregg has done. I mean, we've accomplished a lot.

 "It's a family," Weah added. "He was a huge part of this family. He was a key. So it's definitely good to have him back."

 Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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