After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, reaching the round of 16 in 2022 was a landmark moment for the United States, despite ending in a less-than-stellar 3-1 loss to the Netherlands. It was a growth experience for the team, but with With Gregg Berkhalter’s contract expiring this December, it’s fair to ask if he should return as national team coach for the 2026 World Cup cycle as host country.
There are reasons to keep Berhalter in the lead as he has surpassed high US expectations by winning the Gold Cup, the Nations League and making it to the round of 16 of the World Cup – something that shouldn’t be taken for granted after he missed out on the World Cup in 2018. but it is fair to wonder if he could have done better with the talent at his disposal. Most of the decisions, such as dropping Zach Steffen from the roster to make Matt Turner the number one goaltender and putting Tim Rome and Josh Sargent in the starting lineup, were confirmed by their performance.
But others, such as his substitution schemes, the exclusion of Jordan Pefok from the roster when he would be useful against the Netherlands, and the ambiguity of Gio Reina’s playing time are all reasons to explore a possible new look for the team. Reina’s situation in particular is odd as Berhalter revealed that Reina aggravated a hamstring injury ahead of the Wales match before playing just nine minutes against England. Reina said he was healthy and available for Wales, although he also admitted to the injury. Reina did play the second half against the Netherlands, but partly he played in a false nine before Hadji Wright came in, allowing Reina to go wide and influence the game, once again showing Berhalter’s odd substitution patterns.
Margins at the World Cup are fine and Berhalter’s every decision was put under the microscope, but he also lived up to expectations by advancing out of the group stage. So while sporting director Ernie Stewart and US Soccer are fine looking for someone else, there needs to be a lot of focus on who gets hired because Berhalter has raised the bar for this team by setting a new standard. Just being competitive in Concacafe is no longer good, as the team has surpassed Mexico and is now looking to fend off Canada. It’s time to dominate the region.
“Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to sit down, clear my head and think about what’s next,” Berhalter said. when asked about his future.
According to ESPN, Berhalter will be set to negotiate a contract with the US Soccer Federation, but he is also interested in exploring options for European clubs that could be win-wins for both US Soccer and Berhalter. The second cycle of the World Cup may end in stagnation, but Berhalter has also earned the opportunity to leave his job on his own terms due to the team’s trajectory shifting.
With USMNT hope to return to America’s Cup in 2024 For the first time since 2016, this will be a good chance for any coach to test himself against the strongest opposition of Conmebol. In the 2016 edition, USMNT finished in fourth place, eliminating Ecuador in the quarter-finals and then losing to Argentina and Colombia. Without having to qualify for the World Cup in 2026 as they host it, it’s the kind of competition they’ll have to face going into 2026. Playing friendlies against European countries is difficult due to Nations League commitments, but with America together there is certainly room for growth.
If Berhalter is not in charge of these matches, let’s look at some of the possible candidates:
Hugo Perez, El Salvador
He is currently coaching El Salvador after rising up coaching his youth, Pérez has played a big role in raising the team’s talent level through the recruitment of dual nationals. With so much talent in Konkakaf that suits more than one country, the recruiting arms race is important. He had a flexible style with the team and was also able to draw the team against the United States in a Nations League game.
The former coach of the US national team and the US youth team, it seems that Pérez needs to at least win the Gold Cup with El Salvador before he takes on a position of this caliber. A move to a front office or youth position in the United States would be more likely right now, but with his Concacafe connections, it cannot be ruled out.
Jim Curtin, Philadelphia Union
Having turned the Union into a force within the MLS, Curtin’s name rose year after year in the coaching ranks. By helping develop Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, as well as many other youth-trained players, Curtin will get to know the bulk of the team by 2026. Berhalter in a new style without a major overhaul.
Players will also chase Curtin through the wall as he is a great motivator and gets along well with his team. Picky about my game, he has the same struggles as Berhalter, with predictable substitutions that sometimes come too late in matches to change anything, but with the talent at his disposal, this did not stop Curtin from winning Fans Shield or make it to the MLS Cup final.
Jesse Marsh, Leeds United
March is cool. Like Curtin, he is likely to have a smooth transition due to his familiarity, but he will probably not be available unless he is sacked from Leeds United. This is possible as the team is only two points above the relegation zone in the Premier League, but Marsh has struggled to improve the team’s defense, which has been a strength for the USMNT under Berhalter. That’s not to say Marsh can’t set up a defense like he did in Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls, but the team could have problems with Marsh. The score and substitutions would have been better, but Marsh’s system is also prone to individual errors allowing for easy goals, while Berhalter’s more conservative approach protects the team.
If he is available and the team wants to make changes, Marsh should be considered the leader, but things may not go as smoothly as expected.
Roberto Martinez, Unattached
After being knocked out of the group stage with Belgium, Martinez is now available and will attract interest from various clubs. On the one hand, he led Belgium to third place in the World Cup, but on the other hand, he did not cope with a talented squad. Martinez is a good example of why a World Cup second cycle doesn’t work for most coaches, but he was too devoted to the aging Belgian stars to pay the price.
Having already lost one golden generation, it’s hard to keep Martinez running the United States as key players enter their prime. Add to that the fact that a foreign coach has never won a world championship and the intricacies of understanding Concacafé, then everything lines up avoid, avoid, avoid.
Brian Schmetzer, Seattle Sounders
To be the first coach to lead an MLS team to win Conacaf is a great achievement for Schmetzer. In doing so, as well as managing injuries and constantly changing the scheme, Schmetzer becomes legendary. While he will lead Seattle to play in the Club World Cup in 2023, after that, what else does Schmetzer have to do in MLS? He won the MLS Cup twice with the CONCACAF Champions League, so technically he can claim the title in the Open Cup, but he has nothing else to do in Seattle. Now that general manager Garth Lagerwei is in Atlanta as president and chief executive officer, if there’s time for a reset in the west, it’s now.
The United States doesn’t really need a coach until 2024 if they play in the America’s Cup, which coincides with when Schmetzer is available. Statistically astute manager, if I had to make one call to replace Berhalter, it would be a call to Schmetzer.
Applicants for the role of coach
If the United States wants to take a bright path to fill the vacancy, Brazil’s Tite, former German coach Joachim Low and French coach Didier Deschamps may be available after this World Cup. While not a job that would normally interest managers at their level, the rise of USMNT along with the America’s Cup and hosting the World Cup on American soil may be enough to attract them if they don’t sell out. club teams before receiving a call.