Gregg Berhalter made over 100 appearance for Energie Cottbus in his time in Germany, which included a spell with 1860 Munich. - © gettyimages
Gregg Berhalter made over 100 appearance for Energie Cottbus in his time in Germany, which included a spell with 1860 Munich. - © gettyimages

Gregg Berhalter: the USA head coach who honed his craft in the Bundesliga


Gregg Berhalter became the second-fastest USMNT coach to reach 10 wins in November 2019, with the help of Bundesliga stars such as Schalke's Weston McKennie, RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams, Werder Bremen's Josh Sargent and Fortuna Düsseldorf's Zack Steffen.

The 45-year-old learned more than a thing or two about man management during his seven-year stint as a player in Germany, during which he captained both Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich. He also completed a coaching licence at the renowned Hennes-Weisweiler Academy in Cologne in early 2013. takes a closer look at the American looking to take the Stars and Stripes into a bright new era having become something of a cult hero in Brandenburg and beyond…

Now the coach of the USMNT, Gregg Berhalter (l.) has a lot of appreciation for Bundesliga-based American players like Zack Steffen (r.). - gettyimages

Berhalter arrived in Germany in 2002, just before his 29th birthday, having spent almost a decade plying his trade for various clubs in the Netherlands and English outfit Crystal Palace. It was in Cottbus that the no-nonsense centre-back enjoyed the best moments of his playing career, as he captained Die Lausitzer back to the Bundesliga in a memorable 2005/06 campaign.

"The promotion was fantastic for the city, for me personally, for the team," Berhalter told the Lausitzer Rundschau in 2012. "It was the result of three years of hard work, and definitely the highlight of my time in Cottbus. I'll never forget it."

In his final Bundesliga 2 game for Cottbus, Berhalter scored a penalty in a 3-1 win over the team he would join later in the summer of 2006, 1860 Munich. Such was the American's natural authority that he was immediately chosen as club captain of Die Löwen by his new teammates, just ahead of the experienced Torben Hoffmann – who had already played 121 league games for the club at that point.

Gregg Berhalter played alongside Torben Hofmann at 1860 Munich. - gettyimages

"Gregg and Torben emerged as captains over the course of pre-season," explained coach Walter Schachner. "They displayed exemplary behaviour on and off the pitch, passion, and leadership. I've never seen such a tight election in all my coaching career. It just goes to show the excellent reputation both players have within the team."

"It's an honour for me to be captain at one of Germany's great traditional clubs," Berhalter himself enthused. However, against a backdrop of financial woes off the pitch, 1860 never seriously threatened to return to the Bundesliga over the following three seasons. Their captain ended up leaving in April 2009 – the club had to insist that it wasn't an April Fool's joke – returning to the United States and LA Galaxy after 15 years in Europe.

In total, Berhalter made 196 competitive appearances for Cottbus and 1860, scoring 17 goals. He also turned out 44 times for the USA, and was called up to the Stars and Stripes squad for the FIFA World Cup in 2002 – where they were knocked out by Germany in the quarter-finals – and 2006, where they exited at the group stage.

Gregg Berhalter had a fair few run-ins with the German national team, including facing the likes of Miroslav Klose. - imago

The New Jersey native began to demonstrate a flair for coaching in his final season as a player in Los Angeles, when he also acted as an assistant for boss Bruce Arena – the man he has officially replaced as USA head coach, following Dave Sarachan's interim spell. In 2011, he helped to guide a Galaxy team containing David Beckham and Robbie Keane to their fourth Supporters' Shield and third MLS Cup.

After kicking off his coaching career proper with a reasonably successful two-year stint in charge of Swedish side Hammarby, the former Bundesliga 2 stalwart was tempted back to Germany to take an intensive coaching course in Cologne.

"One day I would like to work as a coach in Germany," he mused at the time. "The Bundesliga is a fantastic league, and so is Bundesliga 2. And I feel very good here, in terms of the culture. That's why I would like to return to Germany. But I still have goals with Hammarby, and I won't leave until I have achieved them."

Gregg Berhalter may return to the Bundesliga as a coach someday, following in the footsteps of players such as RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams. - gettyimages

In the end, Berhalter returned to the MLS in 2013 to take charge of Columbus Crew, where he remained until US Soccer came calling in late 2018. But there is no doubt that the 45-year-old was heavily influenced by his time in Germany – which should come in handy when he calls on Bundesliga-based American stars like Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Zack Steffen and Josh Sargent.

"I am disciplined, but also relaxed," Berhalter said during his Hammarby days, when asked to describe his coaching style. "I communicate a lot with the players. I don't have many rules, but the rules I impose must be followed. Training is the most important time; I believe in preparation. I want discipline on the training ground and I want the players to fight hard. I feel like part of the new generation of coaches who talk a lot but still demand discipline."

Berhalter must now apply his German-flavoured knowledge and experience to the USA national team, who are still coming to terms with their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Can he be the man to finish what Bundesliga legend Jürgen Klinsmann started when he was in charge of the Stars and Stripes between 2011 and 2016?

Gregg Berhalter - with a Bundesliga background and Bundesliga stars in support - could be leading the USMNT into a bright new era. - imago images / Icon SMI

According to veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who has just won his 60th cap for the USA, the former Cottbus and 1860 captain is the perfect man for the job.

"Gregg is a manager that has a plan, that has ideas about how he wants his team to play," the 34-year-old told Sports Illustrated. "And he's able to get the best out of them, which is going to be huge, especially with the group of players that we have in the national team. So to have someone like him in terms of his philosophy, his ideas, it's going to be important."

Andy Smith