HARRISON, N.J. — If the rumors that have been swirling for months are to be believed, Gregg Berhalter just coached his final game for the Columbus Crew.
Berhalter and the Crew were bounced from the playoffs on Sunday night after losing in lopsided fashion to the New York Red Bulls in the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. The 3-0 defeat at Red Bull Arena not only ended the Crew’s postseason run in a disappointing manner, but also placed the topic of Berhalter’s uncertain future in Columbus firmly back into the spotlight.
Berhalter has been linked for months as the front-runner for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s head-coaching job, which has not been filled on a permanent basis since the Americans’ notorious failure to miss the World Cup last October. The 45-year-old manager was reluctant on Sunday to talk about that as well as what the future had in store for him.
“I don’t think we need to talk about that right now,” said Berhalter. “I think what’s in Columbus is identity, a way to play, giving the players belief and making players better. That’s what we did for a long time.”
If he is ultimately appointed as the next U.S. head coach by current general manager Earnie Stewart, Berhalter will take over a team that is in the midst of a generational change. Interim boss Dave Sarachan, who is expected to lead the charge in this month’s friendlies vs. England and Italy, has relied almost exclusively on a plethora of youngsters since being handed the coaching keys last November.
Berhalter would bring with him a familiarity with that American player pool but not any previous experience at the international level. Berhalter also does not have any championships under his belt as a head coach, though he won an MLS Cup as an LA Galaxy assistant in 2011.
The Crew teams he has managed himself have been competitive in league play, with the club making the playoffs in four of his five seasons in charge and reaching the MLS Cup final in 2015 before losing to the Portland Timbers. This season, Columbus finished in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 14-11-9 record.
“I think we see his team is different, and this year even more than ever (with) the way they’ve defended” said Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas. “They’re very organized, they’re very stingy. Statistically that shows up. The amount of goals they’ve given up, maybe 43 on the year, and the reality of trying to break them down is not always so easy.”
When asked his opinion of Berhalter taking over as U.S. coach, Armas praised the Crew boss.
“Gregg, he’s just a student of the game,” Armas said. “We were national team teammates and I know him well and he’s just a pro, so his team carries on that way. Then of course with the ball you can talk about how good (the Crew) are. They can unbalance you, they can give you fits. He’s a tremendous coach. Their staff, they just make our job difficult preparing.