Commentary

Berhalter, a safe choice, has the chance to shake up the U.S. Soccer ostriches

The long and tedious wait for the crowning of a new U.S. men’s national team coach must surely be approaching its climax -- though after this long delay it’s going to feel more like an anti-climax.

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.

37 comments about "Berhalter, a safe choice, has the chance to shake up the U.S. Soccer ostriches".
  1. Hany Hosny, November 27, 2018 at 8:24 p.m.

    Good insights, thank you!

  2. Steven Harwood, November 27, 2018 at 8:30 p.m.

    Agree completely with your comments. Agree that Tab Ramos should or should have been given serious consideration given his track record; and if not him to disregard Tata Martino makes no sense particularly after his immediate success in MLS notwithstanding what others may think about Klinsmann’s reign. 

  3. Steven Harwood, November 27, 2018 at 8:30 p.m.

    Agree completely with your comments. Agree that Tab Ramos should or should have been given serious consideration given his track record; and if not him to disregard Tata Martino makes no sense particularly after his immediate success in MLS notwithstanding what others may think about Klinsmann’s reign. 

  4. J Richard Osborn, November 27, 2018 at 8:54 p.m.

    Yes, Ramos, as soon as possible please, for all the reasons you've given.

  5. Wooden Ships, November 27, 2018 at 9:07 p.m.

    You’ve hit on a number of truths that go back decades Paul. My first choice has been Hugo Perez, force of personality, which is needed for this generation. Tab and Hugo had/have the game we need. Im
    not optimistic, even long term, with the layout of votes as they stand. Power will not cease through enlightenment. A better, quicker option might be to have two parallel programs to unseed the quo. 

  6. Ginger Peeler replied, November 27, 2018 at 10:31 p.m.

    WS, my thoughts exactly!

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, November 27, 2018 at 10:31 p.m.

    I agree with you WS. Critics against Ramos ignore that Ramos was also an assistant coach for the senior team. He has more relevant coaching experience and won more competitions than Berhalter has.

    If Ramos were hired (as far as I know he hasn't even been interviewed or considered), Perez would be a great replacement for him as technical director and U20 coach.

    Sad.  

  8. Ric Fonseca, November 27, 2018 at 9:43 p.m.

    .....Quien es Gregg Berhalter????

  9. Arnold Ramirez replied, November 28, 2018 at 1:46 p.m.

    Y Gregg Berhalter puede decir Quien es Rick Fonseca?  

  10. Ric Fonseca replied, November 28, 2018 at 10:56 p.m.

    Arny Ramirez?  THE Arny from way back when??? Si, mucho gusto en ver tu nombre!!  Si no. quien es Arny Ramirez  Saludos cordiales!  

  11. Kevin Sims, November 27, 2018 at 11:34 p.m.

    I sincerely hope that the matter of Tab's ethnic background in no way devalued his candidacy for the job. I would like to think that the content of his character, his coaching, his passion for US soccer, his knowledge of the game and his experience were given full consideration as the decision was based purely upon merit. I choose to be an optimist and choose to believe in the good faith efforts of US soccer leaders. Tab has served US soccer well and has earned his stripes. Here's urging all of us to support fully the next coach as well as all coaches of all teams representing the USA.     

  12. Wooden Ships replied, November 28, 2018 at 6:42 a.m.

    Kevin, I do and will support all coaches. I wish them and players success. That’s true of any team at any level and in all countries. Soccer is truly the planets game. What Paul is addressing has largely remained a closed system. There is some level of prejudice, which is an individual thing and character does matter, but we are talking soccer skills and how to play the game to be competitive at the highest levels. For a majority of the stakeholders, establishment, there is a jealousy (conscious or not) of the more skilled player. It takes literally several minutes (eye test) to see the technical range a player possesses. This is the crux, when will we select managers/coaches that will select those players. Take my word for it, they’re here and have been. 

  13. Kevin Leahy, November 28, 2018 at 8:28 a.m.

    Hugo & Tab have a great track record. All the more reason they are ignored. It is a system of cronyism and looking outside the box is taboo. I think that, is where the diamonds are.

  14. frank schoon, November 28, 2018 at 9:59 a.m.

    I agree with Paul, but what "REVOLUTION" is Tab suppose to lead...this is where I get off. To me Tab doesn't seem the type to lead a "revolution" , he's been quiet and just does his job.
    As much as I would like to see Tab or Hugo if we're going to choose an American coach, I have not heard of anything of what Tab thinks about or what he would do to change  American player development.  At least I've heard somethings coming from Hugo, but not much either as far as what direction he would like to go in.
    I don't expect anything from these two guys as far as making NEW changes in player development, philosophy and training, but instead coach the National Team and do their best. That's it! It will make those happy and mollify them seeing either Hugo, or Tab as MNT, but that is not enough for me.  I want to see some major changes, new impetus toward the player development the and I'm afraid that won't come about. Earney Stewart is a waste, just like Cordeiro, its all about politics, the easy way out. As far as I'm concerned, it is same old garbage in ,garbage out....

  15. Timothy Hudson, November 28, 2018 at 10:10 a.m.

    Tab is another Jersey good old boy. There is no way he is getting snubbed for his Latin heritage and, frankly, I’ve seen no special ability from him in attracting, and keeping, Latino kids in the system. (Jona and Efra say hi).  Between Ramos and Beerholder it would pretty much be a wash in terms of safe choices. 
    Hugo, on the other hand, would be an inspired choice for youth director and U-20 coach. His continued exile smacks of the worst sort CYA corporatism and incompetence and is the real victim of the Feds anti-hispanic bias. 

  16. Frank Copple, November 28, 2018 at 10:27 a.m.

    After living in Brazil and going to Mexico for the 1986 WC, I write many letters recommendating a Pro League just for the Southern tier of cities and hiring mostly Latino players. 
    We have a Latino heritage here. I’ve always wondered why Tab Ramos was not picked for coaching of our under 23 teams, Olympics and USMNT? At s minimum an assistant coach. All these years and opportunities have passed without Tab getting his experience st higher levels.
    Yes, IMO there is a definite bias.

  17. Kent James, November 28, 2018 at 11:52 a.m.

    PG makes some very good points (as usual). Tab Ramos has always impressed me, and I could certainly see him as a national team coach.  It's a little unusual for a guy who's worked for US Soccer as a coach forever to lead a revolution.  Most national team coaches have also coached in the highest professional leagues, so if Tab does not get the assistant's job (which does seem like a good idea), maybe he should leave US Soccer and coach a professional club, then come back to it.  But if Berhalter's the man, I wish him well.

  18. Michael Saunders, November 28, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    Ramos:  The right choice for so many reasons ..... 

  19. Michael Saunders, November 28, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    Ramos:  The right choice for so many reasons ..... 

  20. John Soares, November 28, 2018 at 12:50 p.m.

    Unless you have "inside" information. Which you should have revealed. The race comment was completely inappropriate.
    Other than that, I agree with you.

  21. R2 Dad replied, November 28, 2018 at 1:27 p.m.

    I don't think it's that race is inappropriate in this conversation; I just don't think it's race per se that is the "problem". Rather, it's the ability of Hugo and Tab to speak another language (Spanish) that makes them suspect in the minds of the paranoid old guard. Really--I think that's all it is. Am curious on Ric's take on this Hispanic/Spanish differentiation, as he has lived this type of qualification in the sport.

  22. Ric Fonseca replied, November 28, 2018 at 11:14 p.m.

    R2D2, "hispanic," "Spanish," "Latino", "Latin American," "Hispanic American" etc., are dsignations or someone else would call them "labels" that have been spoken and discussed for years upon years, upon decades. It is usually - correct me anyone if I err - referred to someone from "the Americas" and one must remember that the entire Western Hemisphere was "terra incognita" before and after the Europeans arrival, you know, Cortez, Pizarro, Balboa, the Pilgrims, Brits, Portugese, et. al, and Amerigo Vespucci's map of the Old World that eventually became known as america.  So, the entire Western Hemisphere was referred to as America that was eventually divided into thirds, North america (Canada, US, Mexico) Central America and South America.
    As for designating me, for example, I am Mexican first and Latino-Hispanic-Latinamerican Chicano second.  Apologies for the history chat, but the fact of the matter is, that both Perez, Ramos, or Reyna are proud Latinos (yet another term) that just happen to play el jogo bonito.  Out of curiosity, can anyone out there name at least five Latino-Hispanic-Latino American Football greats (collegiate and pro-ranks) and yet not a peep was made as to their ethnicity, instead they focused on their ability to play/coach the game? What about basketball players, also collegiate/pros, etc?  I hope I was/am able to addo some kindling to the fireplace of discussion...  

  23. Arnold Ramirez, November 28, 2018 at 1:41 p.m.

    Gregg was lucky to have two Latino Coaches in his youth. Leo Battaglia coached him with Bergen Kickers up to age twelve and then Miguel Reyna coached him with Union County from age 12 to 16.  I am sure he will do a good job.

  24. John Soares, November 28, 2018 at 2:03 p.m.

    r2d, I did not mean to imply that Paul is racist. However as you touched on. Everytime "Hispanic", "Latino" or any other "race identity" comes up, the conversation usually moves away from soccer. Or as you put it "paranoia"
    Ramos is qualified based on experience and acomplishments that were well described. That should be ALL that matters.

  25. Bob Ashpole, November 29, 2018 at 7:46 a.m.

    The talk about ethnicity and race are distracting from the real issue. The issue is whether official soccer in the US embraces a change to give more emphasis to technical skills and tactics. In very general terms, CONCACAF has very physical play and less dependence on skill and tactics than do CONMEBOL and UEFA.

    In the USA, pay-to-play is part of a 15-billion dollar youth sports industry. Tournaments and match results drive alot of that consumer spending. The USSF Development Academy is at the top of the pay-to-play hierarchy. MLS marketing includes marketing the clubs' "brands" (and shirts) to youth players. That represents a huge vested interest in not changing the emphasis on match results over player development in youth sports. The focus is on short term profit versus long term player development and better senior soccer.

    Combine those vested interests with an organization's inherent tendency to resist change and you have a huge roadblock to every change. It is human nature to defend your own views. Few people use and few disciplines involve systematic self-assessment and improvement. Coaching is supposed to be one of them.

    This is the problem, not prejudice against a person's race, rather prejudice against a soccer culture.

  26. Wooden Ships replied, November 29, 2018 at 10:32 a.m.

    Correct Bob, or shall I say well said. However, the changing of said culture in the US does and has had an ethic bias. Ric referenced the truism which is the Western Hemisphere history and that denial of a comparatively young Unites States is still at play. How many non Europeans of origin are in the USSF coaching ranks? 

  27. frank schoon replied, November 29, 2018 at 11:27 a.m.

    Bob, you made some good points, there. Ships, remember Cubillas. Can you imagine if he were granted his B-license from the Anson Dorrance and his people who ran the USSF coaching school, and remained in the US helping, coaching and teaching ,for that's what he wanted,  and later became head of USSF technical development. I'm willing to bet we would much further along in player development....

  28. Bob Ashpole replied, November 29, 2018 at 6:42 p.m.

    WS, I agree with everything you said, although I prefer to say "cultural bias" instead of "ethic bias". While I think the phrases mean the same, cultural bias is a phrase used in anthropology and sociology regarding groups so I think that phrase would be familiar to more people. 

    The significance of what we are all saying is that how we play soccer is to some extent cultural. Not a new or original idea by any means, but it is why how we play the game is so hard to change.

    Maybe no one else will agree, but in my lifetime I have seen the "Latin" style evolve by adding the best parts of Northern European soccer. Not just professional clubs in other parts of the world, but in amatuer adult clubs here in the US. The path for better soccer for all of us is already blazed.  

  29. Bob Ashpole, November 30, 2018 at 3:06 p.m.

    Friday, November 30th, and not a peep out of anyone. Complete silence.

    USSF knows that when you hold a press conference, it doesn't do much good to miss press deadlines. It is past 3pm on the East Coast. I don't expect an announcement today or on the weekend. Makes you wonder: what is going on? 

  30. frank schoon replied, November 30, 2018 at 5:22 p.m.

    Bob, that's news to me, what press conference? I wonder what major news will they be issuing? Is Cordeiro resigning ?; USSF is totally changing their youth training'development format; USSF admits pay for play is a joke;  A woman is to coach the USMNT, etc...

  31. Bob Ashpole replied, November 30, 2018 at 8:14 p.m.

    My point is that there is no USSF press conference scheduled. No web page announcement either. There is no news from USSF, just silence on this topic. Press speculation as to who USSF is likely to hire continues. 

  32. frank schoon replied, November 30, 2018 at 9:16 p.m.

    Bob, I got a feeling nothing will be said until January. 

  33. Bob Ashpole, November 30, 2018 at 9:45 p.m.

    Since they let the interim coach go, who is supposed to be handling the January camp? The January camp is only 5 weeks away. 

    This coaching vacancy and hiring freeze situation is beyond belief. It is as if USSF is trying to destroy the MNT program through neglect.

  34. frank schoon replied, November 30, 2018 at 10:22 p.m.

    I can’t believe it either, Bob. Cordeiro is a total joke!

  35. Bob Ashpole replied, December 1, 2018 at 6:21 p.m.

    The media is still reporting Berhalter as a done deal (of course he was the only coach USSF considered--they reportedly also interviewed Pareja but I think the interview was just for show and he was expected to go somewhere else). This approach actually gives Berhalter a powerful bargaining position. I suspect USSF will offer money instead of freedom to manage the team. 

    But then the same press is describing the current player pool as "the most talented generation of young, American players." (Forbes.) Cough, cough, choke. We youth teams didn't qualify for the last two Olympics, but some reporters are apparently easily impressed. Sigh.  

  36. Brian Yaney, December 1, 2018 at 7:34 a.m.

    How come nobody ever talked about John Hackworth as a possible Usmnt coach? I was always impressed with his judgement when he was coaching those kids...

  37. Right Winger replied, December 2, 2018 at 8:39 p.m.

    You are joking .  Right.

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