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U.S. Soccer fires men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter

Calls to fire U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter had grown louder after the team's loss to Panama in this summer's Copa America tournament.
Hector Vivas
Getty Images
Calls to fire U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter had grown louder after the team's loss to Panama in this summer's Copa America tournament.

U.S. Soccer has fired Gregg Berhalter from his position as coach of the U.S. men's national soccer team, the federation announced Wednesday.

Berhalter's firing follows a disappointing finish for the men's national team at this summer's Copa América, its last major international tournament before co-hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

The move sets off a major shakeup for the USMNT amid high ambitions for the next World Cup. Now, with less than two years until the tournament kicks off, a daunting challenge awaits U.S. Soccer — and its future men's head coach — to prepare a squad that can perform to expectations in the world’s biggest sporting event.

"I want to thank Gregg for his hard work and dedication to U.S. Soccer and our Men’s National Team," said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, who added that federation officials would now work to "find the right person to lead the USMNT into a new era of on-field success."

The U.S. men's national team has long struggled on the world stage. The men's best finish in the modern era of the FIFA World Cup was a quarterfinal appearance in 2002.

But with the U.S. set to co-host the tournament in 2026, along with Canada and Mexico, hopes were high for Berhalter to lead the U.S. to match that quarterfinal finish — or better. This summer's Copa América was viewed as the last major opportunity for his team to gain experience in a high-level international tournament before 2026, and the No. 11-ranked U.S. was widely expected to at least reach the quarterfinals, if not the semifinals.

Instead, the U.S. was eliminated in the group stage. The team managed a win only against lowly Bolivia, ranked No. 84 internationally, before suffering a crushing loss to No. 43 Panama that was due in part to an uncharacteristic red card on winger Tim Weah early in the game that forced the U.S. to play shorthanded for most of the match. Then, on July 1, the U.S. lost yet again to No. 14 Uruguay.

"We're bitterly disappointed with the results. We know that we're capable of more. And in this tournament, we didn't show it. It's really as simple as that," Berhalter said in a press conference immediately after the loss to Uruguay.

Asked whether he was still the right person to lead the team into the 2026 World Cup, Berhalter answered with one word: "Yes."

Then-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter applauds fans after the team's defeat during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 against the Netherlands in 2022.
Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Getty Images
Then-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter applauds fans after the team's defeat during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 against the Netherlands in 2022.

But as the days passed, calls mounted to remove Berhalter as coach, including by former USMNT stars like Clint Dempsey, who said after the game that Berhalter was "wasting" the current generation of players. The American Outlaws, an organized fan group of the U.S. national soccer supporters, wrote in a statement that the U.S. "cannot miss this incredible chance to create a lasting impact on the game of soccer in this country" by allowing Berhalter to stay on as coach through the World Cup.

His termination ends a rocky tenure for Berhalter. After the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he was brought on to lead the team. He helped rebuild the squad with new, younger players and guided them through the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, in which the team made it to the knockout round but was defeated by the Netherlands in the round of 16.

Berhalter's original contract expired that year. Not long after the team's loss in the World Cup, U.S. Soccer began an investigation of Berhalter after a domestic violence accusation surfaced involving a 1991 incident between Berhalter and the woman that would become his wife that took place outside a bar in North Carolina while both were freshmen at the University of North Carolina.

The accusation, it was later revealed, had come from the parents of a promising USMNT player, Gio Reyna, who had played very little during the Qatar tournament. Reyna's parents — one-time USMNT star Claudio Reyna and women's national team member Danielle Reyna — had long been friends of the Berhalters.

Months after opening the investigation, U.S. Soccer cleared Berhalter, and he was eventually reappointed as coach. In total, he compiled a 44-17-13 record in 74 matches as the team's head coach.

After the USMNT's early exit in this month’s Copa America tournament — a tournament being hosted in the United States for the first time — there were renewed calls for his ouster.

In its announcement, U.S. Soccer said the federation "is committed to doing what is necessary to ensure our success on the pitch and we are dedicated to fostering a culture that leads to winning." The search for a new coach has already begun, the statement added.

Speculation over who could be the team's next head coach has included names such as outgoing Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, Canadian national team coach Jesse Marsch and Los Angeles FC head coach Steve Cherundolo.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.