Bonus time beckons Bergen County native Gregg Berhalter, coach of the United States’ World Cup men’s soccer team. The pressure is finally off for Berhalter, who was born in Englewood and grew up in Tenafly.
Saturday’s Round of 16 match against the Netherlands (10 a.m., Fox) accomplishes two things. First, it gives the American team a chance to duplicate its 2002 performance of reaching the quarterfinals. That’s a team Berhalter played on as a defender.
Second, it lets Berhalter try to exceed a lofty mandate.
For as a Glenn Frey song once said “The Heat is On.”
Gregg Berhalter’s road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup
Reaching the World Cup and advancing through the opening stage has been a minimum mandate for Berhalter since 2018. That’s when he was thrown into the hot seat with a high-profile hiring that had two roots.
One, the United States had just failed to reach the World Cup. That aroused critics of the program.
Two, the critics labeled his hire as nepotism. Gregg’s brother Jay was the chief commercial officer of U.S. Soccer at the time. Jay resigned in 2020.
Through it all, Berhalter succeeded. The United States went 1-0-2 in the opening World Cup round, tying Wales 1-1 and highly-regarded England 0-0 before toppling Iran 1-0 on Tuesday.
A loss to Iran may have cost Berhalter his national post. But he pulled through.
It would be logical for the American soccer program to retain Berhalter at least until 2026. That’s when the United States, along with Mexico and Canada, will host an expanded World Cup, which will grow from 32 teams to 48. That will also be the first World Cup to be hosted by three countries.
President Biden rooting for USMNT
President Joe Biden recognized the team after delivering remarks on his economic plan in Bay City, Michigan Tuesday night. He returned to the podium to announce the final score, which was followed by loud cheers from those in attendance.
Big wins mean big announcements. Way to go, @USMNT. pic.twitter.com/tLXLYwN6pY
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 30, 2022
The US World Cup journey includes a strong Garden State connection
Berhalter assembled a mixture of young talent that includes Medford midfielder Brenden Aaronson, the “Medford Messi.”
According to ESPN, the American team, at an average 24 years, 321 days, was the youngest to have begun a game at this World Cup.
Anchoring the team is 28-year-old Park Ridge N.J. goaltender Matt Turner, one of the best netminders in the World Cup’s entire opening round.
The Bergen County native made several timely saves and allowed one – exactly one – goal in three games. Even that was on a penalty shot he nearly turned away against Wales in the 1-1 Cup-opening draw.
His excellence, coupled with an offense that did just enough in scoring two goals, guided the U.S. through the Group Stage. It was an impressive achievement.
So how did Berhalter’s team succeed? They played aggressively in the first half of all three games. They authored a bend-but-don’t break second half.
The American team nearly blew opponents out in the first half of its games. The team hung on for dear life at the end of each game. That seemed endless in the finale, for which it had to endure nine minutes of extra time.
And here is this young team, playing in the second round of a tournament it did not reach in 2018. Berhalter praised the team’s accomplishments after Tuesday’s win over Iran, but propelled them forward.
“Now you have to flip into competitive mode,” he told them, “Because in the knockout round, anything can happen.”
A look at Saturday’s USA vs. Netherlands FIFA World Cup game
The knockout round is different than the group stage. There has to be a winner.
If a game ends in a tie, the teams play 15 extra minutes. If they are still tied, they go 15 more minutes. Should a tie remain, penalty kicks decide the winner. Using World Cup odds to handicap the relative strength of the teams, the Netherlands is +1600 to win the World Cup at DraftKings Sportsbook. The United States is +9000 or 90-1.
That’s why DraftKings has the American team is listed as a +340 underdog for this game. A $100 bet on the United States would return $340 profit. On the flip side, the American team tied England, one of the Cup favorites at +900. It does not have to feel overmatched against the Netherlands, which went 2-0-1 in its group against lesser competition.
However, as the Americans prepare for Saturday’s game, here are two wild cards the Berhalter’s team must be ready to handle:
- The American team has never trailed in a game during this World Cup. What happens if they have to play from behind
- Cody Gakpo’s three goals for Netherlands in this tournament out number the entire US team (two). Gakpo is the playmaker the American team must contain.
Who is Gregg Berhalter?
After growing up in Tenafly, Berhalter was a high-school teammate of Claudio Reyna at Saint Benedict’s Prep School in Newark.
New Jersey soccer fans know that Reyna, who hails from Livingston in Essex County, captained the New York Red Bulls in the MLS. Reyna played on a number of Olympic teams and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012.
Berhalter went on to play college soccer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Berhalter later played on the U.S. World Cup teams in 1994, 2002 and 2006. He played MLS soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy. As a defensive player, he shares credit for the team cutting its goals-against totals in half over previous years. He has carried that defensive strategy over into the World Cup.
In 2011, he retired to become a coach. He is 49 and now lives in Chicago. Berhalter also is the godson of Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame player Carl Yastrzemski.
Of course, New Jersey soccer fans are still rooting for Berhalter.
New Jersey has not one…not two…but three of our very own representing New Jersey for the @USMNT in the 2022 #FIFAWorldCup !
We know you got this. Best of luck today to:
⚽️Matt Turner – Park Ridge, NJ
⚽️Brenden Aaronson – Medford, NJ
⚽️Coach Gregg Berhalter – Englewood, NJ https://t.co/bgp6zQRfjf
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 21, 2022