It's been a few days since Gregg Berhalter's appointment as U.S. men's national team head coach, but the news is still pretty fresh. And of course, given the prominence of the job, it will remain in the news for some time.
Stuart Holden, a Fox and TNT soccer analyst who's also a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation's influential Athletes' Council, recently spoke with the Inquirer and Daily News to share his thoughts on the Berhalter hire and the circumstances around it.
Are you satisfied with what you heard at the recent press conference that U.S. Soccer hosted with Berhalter, men’s national team general manager Earnie Stewart, CEO Dan Flynn and president Carlos Cordeiro?
As much as you can be, yeah. Look, I think Gregg Berhalter - even in his answer about the way he wants this team to play and his style of play - he’s a coach with a clear vision, with a clear understanding of how he wants his team to go about it. He’ll have a clear understanding of his player pool.
The process, as much as U.S. Soccer will defend the timeline, yes, it took too long. But I think still, the net result is that they got the right guy. I firmly believe that. I think there are a lot of qualified candidates that would have been in the mix, but I like Gregg’s balance of his tactical understanding of the game as a coach; [and] his methodology.
And then also, every player that I know that has played for him and his teams that I have seen, they fight for the coach and they fight for the team. And to me, that’s really important to re-instill again what it means to play for this national team, and to have the pride of, every time you go out, understanding what it means. That it is a privilege and an honor, and not just a chore, to play for this national team.
There is a sense out there that the group of four men that we saw on the press conference podium was not as diverse as some would like it to be; and that the ways in which U.S. Soccer has gone about things are not as diverse as people would like. What do you think of that?
I think U.S. Soccer has made serious strides in its diversity, both at board level and throughout U.S. Soccer. They're trying to make something that's more representative of what this game looks like nationwide. Carlos Cordeiro is an immigrant to this country, and that is the leader of our Federation, so it doesn't get any bigger than that.
Could it be more diverse? Yes. I think you could say that, across numerous things. I think as far as the way it’s trending and the way this organization is looking at things and making that a priority, I think that’s the most important.
The point was raised during the event, and it’s no secret, that Gregg Berhalter’s brother Jay is a high-ranking business-side executive in the Federation who has also had some influence on the soccer side of things. For you, as a member of the Athletes' Council, what do you make of Jay’s role in technical matters?
I think U.S. Soccer was well aware that this might be a potential conflict, and went well out of their way to make sure that Jay was not involved in the direct hiring of his brother - knowing that his brother would be considered a serious candidate for this.
I think Jay Berhalter is a great businessman. He’s been with U.S. Soccer for a long time. He’s had a lot of influence on the growth of the game in this country. And Gregg Berhalter is a good coach. So I don’t think that people should get too caught up in trying to see that Gregg got the job because of his brother.
Because, yes, Jay was involved in the hiring of Earnie Stewart, but he had no influence on Earnie Stewart in hiring his brother. And in fact, the restructuring of U.S. Soccer as an organization has separated the business from the soccer side.
It will be interesting, because Jay Berhalter is involved heavily in deciding where the national teams play, and Gregg Berhalter will have his say on where the [men’s] team will get its best performances. So that’s maybe the only issue you have between two brothers when they cross each other’s paths. I see it as a non-issue, to be honest.
You seem convinced that Jay Berhalter’s role in hiring Stewart was not a problem. There are others who are not so convinced.
Because I know that committee was led by Carlos Bocanegra, who is a member of the U.S. Soccer Athletes' Council along with me.
And in having conversations with Bocanegra and [committee member Angela] Hucles, and Nico Romeijn and Ryan Mooney [U.S. Soccer technical-side bosses who were also on the committee] - knowing that process, yes, Jay was on the committee, but he was not the one that was leading that.
It was a soccer person that took the initiative on that, and it was soccer people once again making the decision to hire Earnie Stewart after going through a new process and a thorough process.
Again, I think you could overstate his influence, but it’s not as much as the perceived influence that Jay Berhalter would have in trying to draw parallels with that and the hiring of Gregg.
Should Jay be recused from becoming U.S. Soccer’s next CEO, at least for such time as Gregg is the men’s national team coach?
I think it’s an interesting one. Knowing the way that Carlos Cordeiro conducts business as part of picking the next CEO and running them through a search committee at the board level - that process will take that into account, and would take into account the potential conflict there.