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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Should Gregg Berhalter continue as USMNT coach for the 2026 World Cup?

Many expected the US men’s national team’s 2022 World Cup campaign to go so badly that Gregg Berhalter would have no choice but to take responsibility. After all, the 49-year-old was a frequent target of criticism before the USA arrived in Qatar.

Instead, Berhalter’s team held their own by making the Round of 16. They accomplished what they set out to achieve by advancing out of the group. Now a decision must be made on the manager’s future.

In a sense, abject failure at the 2022 World Cup would have made the decision easier for US Soccer. Equally, progression past the Netherlands to the quarter-finals would have made the call for them. A last 16 exit, however, makes it difficult to draw the line between success, failure and the grey space in between.

Berhalter is reportedly out of contract at the end of the year. Most now accept the 49-year-old played a role in reviving the USMNT after its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but there is a debate over whether he is the right man to help the team take the next necessary steps before the 2026 tournament.

“I’ve only been focused on the World Cup, achieving things with this group,” Berhalter said when asked what his future as US men’s national team head coach will hold following the last 16 exit from the 2022 World Cup. “In the next couple of weeks, I’ll clear my head and think about what’s next.”

US Soccer’s decision on Berhalter might depend on the alternatives to Berhalter they can source. The USMNT aren’t in such a desperate position that any manager would be a better option than their current head coach, but there’s still a sense that an upgrade could be found. US Soccer has a duty to explore the market. Here are six top candidates for them to consider.

Top USMNT Head Coach Candidates

Jim Curtin

Jim Curtin has been mentioned as a potential future USMNT head coach more than once in recent years. The Philadelphia Union have become a Major League Soccer force over the last few seasons, but some doubt whether the 43-year-old is ready to take the step up to the international level. What is clear is that Curtin knows how to build a program with a strong foundation and add ingredients many others overlook in order to set his side apart.

Steve Cherundolo

Steve Cherundolo is another MLS coach who could be on US Soccer’s radar. Not only did the LAFC coach lead the club to a title in his first season in charge, but the former defender was a mainstay on the US men’s national team, having earned 87 caps between 1999 and 2012. He’s intimately familiar with what is expected of a coach and player at both club and international level.

Roberto Mancini

Jurgen Klinsmann’s five-year tenure as USA manager might have ended in acrimony, but a foreign coach could get more out of the current squad. Roberto Mancini is under pressure following Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup with reports in the country claiming Fabio Cannavaro has already been lined up as a replacement should the Azzurri stumble again. Mancini could be on the market again soon.

Roberto Martinez

Roberto Martinez is already on the market following his resignation as Belgium manager. The Spaniard stayed too long in his role as head coach of the Red Devils, but he boasts a great deal of major tournament experience nonetheless. Martinez could be tempted by the prospect of another project. 

Kasper Hjulmand

Kasper Hjulmand is another manager whose stock has fallen after the 2022 World Cup, but his body of work as Denmark boss is still strong enough to make him an attractive option should he be open to a new job offer. There is, however, a belief Hjulmand will return to the club game at some point in the near future – Premier League clubs have been linked in the recent past.

Marcelo Bielsa

Then there’s Marcelo Bielsa, who is reportedly ready for a new challenge after leaving Leeds United earlier this year. Uruguay are thought to be keen on hiring the legendary Argentine after the departure of Diego Alonso as national team manager, but there is reason to believe the USMNT would give him more to work with.

The US men’s national team job will be an attractive one given the young talent within the squad right now and the looming presence of the 2026 World Cup, which the USA will co-host, on the horizon. This could make a vacancy attractive to a whole host of foreign coaches beyond the list above, raising the possibility that US Soccer could lure a big name.

Part of the problem for US Soccer is that in order to thoroughly explore the managerial market they will probably have to make a decision on Berhalter first. They must also act quickly to maintain any momentum built at the 2022 World Cup, while properly evaluating what is best given the current player pool and the limited changes expected to the core group of players. The 2026 World Cup might be three-and-a-half years away, but there is no time to waste.

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