Gregg Berhalter lent class and gave direction to Columbus Crew, USMNT

In November, 2018, as the Columbus MLS franchise was in the process of being saved from a cake-eating horse thief, Gregg Berhalter hung tight to the reins. The front office had been gutted by the outgoing owner, the sale of the team to the Haslam and Edwards families was not yet rubber-stamped and the organization was in chaos.

There were roster decisions to be made, scouting reports to be written, camps to be conducted, draft preparations to be made. There were also searches underway to find replacements for Berhalter, the Crew’s coach and sporting director. January training was right around the corner. It was a crazy time.

Meanwhile, the job of US Men’s National Team coach remained vacant and fans were howling about a lack of progress. Howling. This was in the wake of the disaster that was the Americans’ failure in 2017 to qualify for the World Cup. There was talk that Berhalter was to take over for Jurgen Klinsmann (or, to be more accurate, interim Bruce Arena). But the process appeared to be dragging.

On Dec. 2, 2018, Berhalter was finally introduced as the coach of the USMNT. Fans continued to howl because they saw US Soccer as a puppet of MLS – and they weren’t exactly wrong. Many viewed the hire as a nepotistic act, because Berhalter’s brother Jay was, at the time, a high-ranking official in the federation. Social media screamed.

Crew coach Gregg Berhalter waves to fans following a game on Aug.  11, 2018.

Here in Columbus, we had a different view. I did anyway.

What Berhalter did with the Crew from 2014-2018 marks him as the best coach in franchise history. Is it sacrilege to say that? Sigi Schmid, for whom the MLS Coach of the Year award is named, led the Crew to its first MLS Cup title in the magical, Massive year of 2008. We will always love Sigi (RIP). But don’t forget: He left for Seattle about half a minute after he raised the Cup in Columbus. There was no shame in this. Sigi got to return to the West Coast, and he got paid. But he still left.

Berhalter stayed when he was most needed.

The cake-eating horse thief of a former owner already had plans to steal away with the Crew by the time Berhalter led the team to the MLS Cup final in 2015. By the start of the 2017 season, there was a tweet by Grant Wahl ( RIP), and it was all out in the open: The league was conspiring with the cake eater to rip the MLS’s first chartered team to Texas.

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