Why U.S. Soccer needs to move on from Berhalter after Copa America failure

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Gregg Berhalter addressed the media in the wake of the United States men’s national soccer team’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay, a result that eliminated it from the 2024 Copa América in the group stage, he was asked if he was the right voice and the right person to lead the Americans into the 2026 World Cup.

He responded with a barely audible, “Yes.”

Berhalter’s answer wasn’t surprising. While resignations during news conferences aren’t unheard of, the manager who won’t back himself in a moment like that is rare indeed. That said, Berhalter’s response flew in the face of the available evidence. The U.S. is out of the 2024 Copa America at the first hurdle, a tournament that it was not only hosting in front of supportive crowds, but one in which it was given an utterly manageable group that, in addition to Uruguay, included Bolívia and Panama.

Yet not even those tailwinds were enough to push the U.S. into the knockout rounds. Instead, what was on view was a team that hurt itself with backbreaking mistakes and couldn’t find a way to grind out the results that it needed.

Do the players deserve some of the blame? You bet. But Berhalter has to own this performance as well. As a consequence, the U.S. Soccer Federation needs to move on and find a new manager who can better generate the kind of momentum that the 2026 World Cup has the potential to provide.

To be clear, there are broader reasons for calling for a new manager than the results from just one tournament. The most damning is that the U.S. hasn’t made any discernible progress from the encouraging displays at the 2022 World Cup, when a young team reached the knockout stages. The expectation was that the young core of the team would improve, and take the next steps to joining the world’s elite.

Instead, the USMNT looks like it is going backwards, even with the addition of forward Folarin Balogun — arguably the U.S.’s best player in the tournament — as well as a more involved Giovanni Reyna. The gap between the U.S. and Concacaf teams not named Mexico appears to be narrowing. At the time, the second-leg defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in the Concacaf Nations League (the U.S. still prevailed on aggregate) and the performance in the CNL semifinal against Jamaica, when it took a fortuitous own goal in second-half stoppage-time to ultimately prevail in extra time, seemed like blips. With the benefit of hindsight, they now seem like harbingers of things to come, whether it was the defensive breakdowns, lapses in discipline, or a lack of creativity. Add them up, and it makes for a team that looks disjointed and inconsistent on the field.

That was evident on Monday night. The U.S. started brightly, and gave Uruguay — currently second in South America’s World Cup qualifying standings — all it could handle. And there was a minute, seconds even, when it looked like the U.S. just might sneak through into the knockout rounds. Bruno Miranda had just equalized for Bolivia in its game against Panama, and with the U.S. tied 0-0 with Uruguay, it was poised to advance on goal differential. What was seemingly beyond its grasp heading into the match was all of a sudden within touching distance.

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Moreno explains what USMNT got wrong against Uruguay

Alejandro Moreno believes the United States had the wrong game plan against Uruguay in their pivotal Copa América group stage match.

And then it was snatched away. Uruguay defender Mathías Olivera cleaned up a rebound from Ronald Araújo’s header to put La Celeste ahead in the 66th minute — a play that looked on replay as being offside. Panama soon reclaimed its lead against Bolivia. And with Uruguay’s notoriously physical play grinding the U.S. into dust, the goal of advancing in the Copa America was out of sight.

But this was just one in a series of missed opportunities by the U.S. in this tournament. There was the inability to punish Bolivia with more goals in the opener, the better to pad its goal differential. Then there was the catastrophic red card to Timothy Weah early against Panama. That incident by itself is not on Berhalter. But the fact that the U.S. actually went ahead in that match through Balogun, only to cough up the lead immediately, and ultimately a late winner, was another instance of this team underachieving. Too often it seems like the U.S. put itself into position to make progress only to show itself unable to make those opportunities count.

Both Berhalter and some players highlighted that the intensity that the team started the game with needed to be there the whole time.

“I think we need to do better amongst ourselves,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said. “We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We have to have that baseline of intensity that we showed in this game in every game and every minute. Because in tournament style, play, every decision, every call, every shot that you miss, every shot that you save, every shot that you don’t block, everything is magnified tenfold.”

After five years of Berhalter being in charge, why is that? Berhalter didn’t really have an answer to that question. Neither did Turner. One reason that doesn’t wash is the team’s relative youth. These are players in their prime with plenty of accumulated experience. Playing with intensity shouldn’t be an issue, and yet it still is.

The team’s relative lack of creativity continues to be a problem as well. Against Uruguay, there seemed to be a touch that was just the slightest bit too loose, or shot that took a smidgen too long to get off. Credit Uruguay; they defended tenaciously, which is the ethos which has been the backbone of their success for over 100 years. It used to be part of the U.S.’s too, but for some reason it now comes and goes. That is on Berhalter as well.

To a man, the players still back Berhalter. There was plenty of self-criticism.

“I don’t think this tournament really had anything to do with the staff or the tactics or the way we play,” Reyna said. “I think it was more individual mistakes and I think the staff can only do so much. I think at the end of the day, the players sort of have to take initiation on the field and I think at the end of the day the players didn’t do enough to go through.”

There is some truth in this. This current generation of players has been highly touted for going on five years now. Given what some of them have achieved at club level, there is some justification. But there has also been some stagnation. Some players aren’t getting the needing playing time with their clubs, which is where the bulk of their improvement comes from.

But there also seems to be level of comfort inside the team that is unhealthy. There is usually a tension within national teams when there is a big tournament on the horizon. Is a player in the coach’s plans? How does he stay there? If he isn’t, how does he get there? That doesn’t seem to be present at the moment. Changing the manager every cycle recalibrates that tension, as everyone starts over. That’s part of why a change in manager seems necessary now.

So what’s next? After the match, U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker issued the following statement: “Our tournament performance fell short of our expectations. We must do better. We will be conducting a comprehensive review of our performance in Copa America and how best to improve the team and results as we look towards the 2026 World Cup.”

This sounds suspiciously similar to the process that was used after the U.S. women were bounced from the Women’s World Cup last year in the round of 16, its earliest World Cup exit. A few weeks later, then-manager Vlatko Andonovski resigned. It won’t be a surprise if Berhalter suffers a similar outcome.

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