REACTION: Berhalter the clear-cut choice to lead Black & Gold
When the Crew parted ways with former Head Coach Robert Warzycha on September 2, rumors spread like wildfire on the internet and social media with names of who would be the man to lead the Black & Gold in 2014.
However, until about 10 days before his appointment, Gregg Berhalter's name rarely came up in the internet chatter.
For club Owner-Operator and Chairman Anthony Precourt, Berhalter became a legitimate contender for the job when Precourt met with Berhalter's brother and former U.S. Soccer Federation Chief Operating Officer, Jay, in Chicago.
"I had the opportunity to meet with [Gregg’s] brother Jay," Precourt recalled. "We had a drink together in Chicago and, after I think 90 minutes or close to two hours, I was just so blown away by his knowledge of soccer that I said, ‘You know what? I know his younger brother is looking for a potential coaching job…I have to call Gregg. If Gregg is anything like Jay, we've got to talk.’ So I would say that it was my interaction with his brother that really was an important moment."
With the help of a search committee comprised of President Mark McCullers, Crew Juniors Executive Director Andrew Arthurs and Brand Ambassador Frankie Hejduk, Precourt interviewed several highly qualified candidates along with Berhalter over the next few weeks. Following an in-depth and articulate presentation from Berhalter, the choice was clear: the former Hammarby IF manager and pupil of Bruce Arena was the man to lead the Black & Gold.
"It was a very detailed presentation, probably an inch-thick print out. It was very well thought-out," McCullers said of Berhalter's interview. "A lot of the things that we had inferred and expected from Gregg, he delivered and then some in his presentation to us. Not only was it packed full of detail, but he was able to actually walk through it and speak to it.
"It was extremely impressive and I think that was the moment that he really took the lead, for me, over the rest of the guys."
In his interview, Berhalter broke-down and analyzed the Crew's 2013 performance using stats and other data to present his vision for improving the club. Berhalter's eye for detail immediately set him apart from other candidates.
"[Berhalter's presentation] was just well prepared and extremely thought-out," Arthurs said. "It's not to say the other candidates didn't bring that, but I think the way Gregg could articulate his vision on and off the field, in the locker room and what his vision and experiences were on the youth side of things -- all of it together, we didn't feel like there was anything missing."
But don't confuse Berhalter's attention to analytics and data for the 40-year-old being a total numbers nerd. Closing his career out as a Player-Coach and Vice-Captain for the LA Galaxy in 2011, Berhalter knows what it takes to manage personalities and prepare his team for battle week-in and week-out.
"He's very thorough and he's very organized in everything he does preparing for games," Hejduk said of his former U.S. Men's National Team cohort. "To see him bring that know to the coaching level and to bring that same attitude and that professionalism, that knowledge of soccer culture here even more so than it already is will be great."
The two-time MLS Cup winner continued: "In terms of the numbers and the stats, that's all very important when you're looking for players and what positions you need, which players get more touches or less. He's second to none in his knowledge of that, but that only goes so far. You have to reach the player on a mental and human level and being able to manage the players. He is definitely going to be a player's coach. He's very hands-on with players. He wants to talk to the players and the main thing for me is that he wants to teach the players. He wants players to be better, complete soccer players all the way around.
"That's part of that soccer culture. He's going to bring the best out of every player that we have on our roster and he's going to teach them as well."
Having studied the structure and academy systems of Europe's most successful clubs such as FC Barcelona and Chelsea, Berhalter's ambition to oversee all soccer operations for the club was an added bonus for Precourt.
"In terms of [Berhalter's] vision, a number of the candidates we spoke to are great coaches, but some of them said they didn't want to deal with the roster or scouting," the Chairman admitted. "I think the fact that he wants to deal with all that makes him a multi-dimensional coach."
As part of his Sporting Director duties, Berhalter will oversee the Crew's youth development system. Berhalter will look to build on already impressive Crew Soccer Academy that has produced Homegrown players like Wil Trapp, Matt Lampson and Chad Barson that have all contributed to the First Team in an evolving MLS landscape.
"He knows how important [youth development] is," Arthurs said of Berhalter. "We've done really well so far, but he knows the future of the League and certainly from a Crew perspective over the next five to 10 years, the Homegrowns and youth system will be even more critical.
"He recognizes the importance of [youth development] and he's excited to jump in and offer to help. He's even suggested training the Academy team once a week. He's just engaged."
From the First Team in 2014 to developing youth talent for years to come, Behalter's hiring represents a change in the guard and a new era in Columbus Crew soccer as only the second outside hire behind Sigi Schmid in the club's history. He inherits a load of responsibilities in his new role. That load would be far too much for some men to carry.
But if his interview to impress the Head Coach search committee was any indication, the new Crew boss will be more than prepared for the road ahead.