It’s easy to get lost in the juicy details of the Gregg Berhalter and Gio Reyna drama. The constant statements from those involved are hard to ignore. But what they obscure is a sadder, scarier reality.
We are three years from a North American World Cup. Yet, US Soccer has no plan for how to maximize the opportunity in front of it.
The US Soccer Federation has no problem coming up with arbitrary deadlines for projects. Some of us older fans remember when the Bradenton Academy would win us a World Cup by 2010. We are not hearing firmly from the Federation, though, that 2026 is our goal to win a World Cup. Some of that may be lessons learned from 2010. Some may be fear of being too aggressive.
The problem is there will never be a better chance at winning a World Cup than the one you are hosting, or co-hosting such as in 2026. We tend to think nations having a “golden generation” or strong youth programs always have a chance to win a World Cup. In a sense, yes, the Englands and Spains of the world are always competitive. But, outside of Brazil, no nation is a favorite in every World Cup. In reality, you need a confluence of factors to truly compete. The next World Cup in 2026 brings those factors together for the United States.
Why 2026 is the best opportunity for the United States
The US finally has a pool of talent both domestically and internationally that allows competition at every position. The 2022 squad showed we Americans have a player pool diverse enough to fill out a competitive squad. It should be deeper and more experienced in 2026.
The second biggest factor is location. Hosting a World Cup does not guarantee success. Still, history shows it definitely helps. Whether its comfort with surroundings or home crowds, hosting tough international matches gives a team an advantage.
The Federation, however, is treating this like just another World Cup cycle. While Berhalter is taking in Premier Leagues matches and current players are opining on the controversy, US Soccer is saying the plan is to hire a GM first before turning to the head coaching position. While that may make sense in another cycle, your priority now is positioning yourself to win. Not hiring a manager until you’re three years out. Doing so deprives the senior squad time to change if you make the wrong first hire.
What should the Federation be doing if it was serious about winning a World Cup in 2026?
The potential plan for US Soccer ahead of 2026
1. Say it publicly.
The CEO and President should hold a joint press conference to announce a new initiative, slogan and logo showing publicly their commitment to winning the men’s World Cup. Make it clear to everyone how important this is and how you realize you have been given an opportunity you may not get for decades to come.
2. Publicly end the Berhalter saga.
Is it fair he loses a chance at the job based on what’s happened? In any other situation, absolutely. But in an “all in” situation, his presence is a distraction. If he’s rehired, every time he and Gio Reyna are on the pitch together is a distraction. You need to minimize distractions. Distractions lose World Cups. USSF should thank him and say they will serve as a job reference for a professional club, but he should not be a candidate for the job until after 2026.
3. Interview now for coaching candidates and do it loudly.
Federations love to do things quietly, to avoid any blowback. In this case, you want to air everything to avoid distractions (again) after the hire. Leak every interview. Forget to redirect photographers standing outside interview rooms. Be blunt you will not hide anything because you want your eventual candidate to have been unofficially vetted by fans and the media.
4. Hire the coach you feel will win you a World Cup regardless of their background or experience.
Don’t put qualifiers on your candidates like they need to have MLS experience or speak Spanish. Let them hire a staff to fill in any gaps. Interview many candidates and spend time using preset, honest criteria finding the person who is the best for the men’s national team from 2023-2026. Don’t worry about 2027 or 2013, worry about 2023-2026. And make sure the people advising you or running the search have diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
5. Every decision on the men’s side is focused on winning a World Cup.
Be bold, be brutal, and be controversial. But make every decision as a federation with one question in mind: “does this win us the 2026 World Cup?” If the answer is no, go another way or choose another course.
The Federation needs to move past this drama now and set their sights on the obvious goal. It may not be fair to all involved and it may be tough to do, but it’s the smart and right plan for US Soccer.
PHOTO: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire