By FRANCO PANIZO
The Gregg Berhalter era has begun for the Columbus Crew, and what an era it could shape up to be.
Berhalter was surprisingly named the Crew’s new head coach and first sporting director on Wednesday, and he is tasked with turning around a club that has lost some luster in recent years.
For Berhalter, the decision to join Columbus was an easy one. The 40-year-old former defender came away impressed after going through an interview process that began when new Crew owner Anthony Precourt called Berhalter out of the blue. Berhalter liked the direction of the club, its history, the fan base, and the roster’s combination of youth and experience, and all of those factors excited him about the prospect of being the team’s next head coach.
It also did not hurt to be given the title of sporting director, which will allow Berhalter to have the final say on most, if not all, player transactions.
“My role will give me the flexibility to structure the technical side of the organization as I see fit,” said Berhalter via a conference call on Wednesday. “It will streamline the decision-making process and integrate the player acquisition with the technical department, and this for me is crucial because we want to be efficient, we want to be able to make fast decisions and we all want to be on the same page. Tying this together will do that nicely.”
While making roster moves is undoubtedly on Berhalter’s to-do list, he also stated that he believes the current group of Crew players has a strong enough core to make some noise in MLS. Sure, pieces need to be added but he does not envision a complete overhaul this offseason.
“I see good pieces, to be honest,” said Berhalter. “I see some good quality within the team, and I think that the team can be relatively successful in a short period of time because the pieces are there. There’s technical players, there’s players with speed, there’s players with strength. It’s a good mix. Of course we’re going to look to improve the roster, but I’m pretty pleased with what I see already.”
Another topic Berhalter touched on during the conference call was what he has been up to since parting ways by Swedish second division side Hammarby. Berhalter was the head coach of that club (and the first American to manage a European team) for the entirety of the 2012 season and part of the 2013 campaign before being fired in July.
“After I was dismissed from Hammarby, I took a step back and I evaluated basically the year-and-a-half of work to see what was good and what could have been improved,” said Berhalter. “Then after that I went throughout Europe and studied different clubs. I met with a lot of different people in Europe. I studied youth academies, I studied first team, I studied the structures within the teams and within the clubs. It was a good time. It was a good time to get away.
“After my (playing career) and starting to coach I haven’t had a break like this in over 20 years, so that was beneficial for both me and my family. Then, after talking to Mr. Precourt, right away I think we were on the same page in terms of where he wants to go with the Crew and how he thinks it needs to be done. This is something that obviously we have first team success as a first and foremost goal in mind, but it’s also developing the whole structure of the club. We’re looking forward to doing that, bringing a real structure, a real professionalism in to the Columbus Crew.”
Berhalter’s preferred style of play was something that was discussed as well. Berhalter—who added that Bruce Arena is the coach he took the most from—said he prefers an offensive system that stresses possession and moving the ball quickly.
Of course, that type of system is easier to talk about than implement, but Berhalter sounds confident in his abilities to do so.
“By putting players in the right positions and getting them to think about their positions on the field you can achieve that,” said Berhalter. “It’s an offensive orientated style. I want fullbacks to get forward and really push the attack, and finally when we lose the ball I want to create pressure so that we can win the ball back quickly. I think that’s an important aspect of it.”
There is no denying that Berhalter has a tall task ahead of him, but all indications are that he is ready to meet the challenge. That is why he took the job and why the Crew are banking on him to bring the franchise back into the limelight.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Precourt. “We’ve found an author for our new book, which is about getting back to our winning ways, building a consistent culture, having repeatable processes in place to be a relevant team in Major League Soccer again. I’m thrilled.”
What do you think of Berhalter’s appointment? Do you see the Crew playing the type of offensive soccer that Berhalter would prefer to implement? Expecting some growing pains for him in 2014?
Share your thoughts below.