As well as captaining Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich, USA head coach Gregg Berhalter (l.) played 44 times for the Stars and Stripes. - © 2006 Getty Images
As well as captaining Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich, USA head coach Gregg Berhalter (l.) played 44 times for the Stars and Stripes. - © 2006 Getty Images

Gregg Berhalter: the USA head coach who learned to lead in Germany


Gregg Berhalter is the first US national to play and coach his country at a World Cup finals, and it was during a seven-year stint in Germany where he honed his craft.

The former defender captained both Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich in the 2000s, and also completed his coaching licence at the renowned Hennes-Weisweiler Academy in Cologne in early 2013. takes a closer look at the American who became something of a cult hero in Brandenburg and beyond…

Berhalter (c.) played against the likes of Hamit Altintop and Bayern Munich during his time in Germany, and even shared a dressing room with a young Lars Bender (r.), now Bayer Leverkusen captain. - 2008 Getty Images

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 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."

Berhalter (front l.) was immediately named 1860 Munich captain in a side that also included future Wolfsburg star Marcel Schäfer (r.). - 2006 Getty Images

"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.

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.

After leaving 1860 Munich in 2009, Berhalter had a two-year spell at LA Galaxy, where he played alongside David Beckham. - imago sportfotodienst

"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."

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 49-year-old was heavily influenced by his time in Germany – which should come in handy when he calls on Bundesliga-based American stars like Gio Reyna and Joe Scally at the 2022 World Cup.

"I'm 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 have a point to prove after missing out on the 2018 World Cup. Having overseen triumphant CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League campaigns, 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?

Watch: Berhalter called up Gio Reyna and Joe Scally to his World Cup squad

Berhalter's time in Germany has certainly given him a solid grounding, while he is also known to be a meticulous worker, leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence.

“We’ve had Skype calls with tactics on the Skype call, which I didn’t even know you can do,” former RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams told ProsoccerUSA, referring to transatlantic chats with Berhalter about his unfamiliar role at right-back in the national team.

“He’s ahead of time in his technology phase. But it’s been good. There’s graphics and things like that. The movements and stuff like that so I can try to understand and grasp the role before I come into camp [...] He’s helped me so much in the little details of trying to figure everything out."

And, according to goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a veteran with over 60 caps for the USA, the former Cottbus and 1860 captain is ideally suited to steering his country to success.

"Gregg is a manager that has a plan, that has ideas about how he wants his team to play," the 38-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."