Gregg Berhalter’s name has been circulating for months now, so his appointment will come as no surprise. Actually, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if U.S. Soccer had sprung it on us right after the February election of its new phantom president, Carlos Cordeiro.
No surprise, because it is a decidedly orthodox appointment.
For a start, Berhalter is American. But the new coach had to be American. After the Klinsmann fiasco, that was a given. Beyond that, there are, for all that I can espy, no overwhelming or particularly cogent reasons why Berhalter should be the anointed one.
There are plenty of good things to say about his 15-year career in Europe -- he was one of the first to make a success of playing abroad -- and his coaching spell at Columbus. But nothing outstanding. Most of his playing days were spent at the second-division level, and his coaching has not brought any trophies to Columbus.
But he is highly regarded as -- probably -- the best of the younger American coaches, someone who studies the game and brings intelligence to his coaching.
Also in his plus column is an important minus, for while there is nothing spectacular to be said pro-Berhalter, there is also really nothing of any consequence to register as an anti-Berhalter factor.
Am I saying that Berhalter is viewed by U.S. Soccer above all as a safe choice? Up to a point, yes. I do feel that the mess left by Jurgen Klinsmann (yes, him again) and the recent poor results have had too much influence. The consequence has been this orthodox appointment. Orthodoxy inevitably entails adherence to the status quo. Both terms speak loudly of a reluctance to change. Both mean ... caution.
And that is where I have a strong objection to Berhalter’s appointment. That it reeks of caution, that it appears as the safe decision of scared minds.
I need to make this clear: I am not objecting to Berhalter himself. He may well do a good job ... but I have my doubts that it will be the job that needs to be done. I’ll come back to that shortly.
My main reason for not looking kindly on a Berhalter appointment is because there is another candidate. One who is much more likely to introduce the fundamental changes in mindset that are essential to shift the USMNT from its current ad hoc existence to a team with style, flare and consistency.
I’m talking of Tab Ramos. One of U.S. Soccer’s own coaches, currently in charge of the U-20 men’s team. If the pressing issue for U.S. Soccer is the World Cup, they can reflect on the fact that no American has more experience of World Cups than Ramos -- as a player and a coach at youth levels, as a player and as an assistant coach at the senior level.
The knock on Ramos is that he has never coached the seniors, always youth teams. That could have been corrected in 2015, by putting him in charge of the Olympic team -- a job that went, (what ever was Sunil Gulati thinking?) to Andreas Herzog, whose only qualification was that he was Klinsmann’s pal. Ramos was ignored, and Herzog made a frightful hash of things.
Ramos continues to be ignored. Possibly because he is still seen as lacking experience with adults. But there is another Ramos quality that is evidently considered controversial: his Hispanic heritage. He is, in fact, the only Hispanic among the eight head coaches of U.S. Soccer’s various men’s teams.
That factor -- the very one that, for me, uniquely recommends him for the national team job -- would seem to be what scares the ostriches at U.S. Soccer.
At the moment, who among those ostriches, is going to make sure that the huge, and hugely important, Latino presence in American soccer gets the attention and the opportunities that it deserves and demands? Are we supposed to believe that General Manager Earnie Stewart -- who, on being appointed, could not even manage to acknowledge the Latino presence -- will do the job?
Let’s get serious. Apart from the apparently un-promotable Ramos, there is no one. Ramos is the one man who -- given the necessary authority -- can introduce the changes I’ve already suggested are vital to producing a reliably successful USMNT program.
These are, admittedly, changes of paradigm shift proportions. They will not come from the ostriches, people who refuse to even acknowledge the Hispanic presence.
Ramos is, to me, the obvious -- indeed, at the moment, probably the only -- choice to lead such a revolution. But he needs to be given sweeping authority, to be fully backed by the ostriches. It’s not a reassuring thought.
Which brings me back to Gregg Berhalter. He has yet to be heard from on the Latino issue. It could be -- and it would be enormously significant -- that he makes his first move by insisting on Ramos as his No. 1 assistant. And what if his second move were to insist that Earnie Stewart be replaced by someone more receptive to Latino influence?
Of course, I’m getting rather carried away here. But it does seem to me that Berhalter, appointed for the wrong reasons, can -- by getting the ostriches to open their eyes and minds to the necessity of Latino influence -- prove that he is the right man after all.