Columbus have thrown themselves into the managerial merry go round of postseason sacking and hiring. The franchise have moved away from the Robert Warzycha era and ushered in a new one under the leadership of Gregg Berhalter. While the fashion is to fire and hire, the Crew’s decision is the standout. Warzycha was synonymous with the Crew for eighteen years, starting with his seven-year spell at the club. The new direction emphasized by new owner Anthony Precourt meant there was to be no place for sentiment and history.
The new man chosen for the job holds an interesting record. He was the first American to be hired by a professional European team as a manager. Berhalter’s spell in Scandinavia saw him manage Sweden’s Hammarby IF. He lasted two seasons at the club, going away with an unremarkable record of 18-11-16. This obviously gave the American good experience as the Precourt told of his strengths:
”Gregg’s strong vision, passion, work ethic, intelligence, data-driven decision-making, broad soccer network and playing credentials separated him throughout this search, his unique skill-set gives us great confidence in boldly changing the structure of our soccer operations, with Gregg leading as our first-ever Sporting Director.”
The faith shown in Berhalter is monumental. He is not only head coach, but is also the sporting director. This move means that Berhalter is in total control of player personnel and the decisions surrounding the squad. Berhalter recently expanded on the importance of this decision, telling the local and national media:
“My role will give me the flexibility to structure the technical side of the organization as I see fit. It will streamline the decision-making process and integrate player acquisition with the technical department. This is, for me, is crucial because we want to be efficient, we want to be able to make fast decisions and we all want to be on the same page. I think tying this together will do that nicely.”
While the club’s ambitions and the job outline is plain for all to see, Berhalter himself has also been open on what he will bring to the struggling team. He’s nailed his colors to the mast of offensive, quick-paced football. While the Crew possess players of that ilk such as Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro, the team was found to be of a pedestrian pace going into many games and this often became their fatal flaw. For Berhalter to implement his style, the side will need plenty of work and lots of changes.
Although the previous may be a concern, Berhalter also has a quality that is extremely rare in MLS. The league has shown that to succeed in MLS you need to have an experience and a deep understanding of the league. As a former player, Berhalter has this. What separates him from the rest is that he has plenty of European experience. This opens the club up to ventures and possibilities from Europe, without the repercussions of the failed Scandinavian experiment that New York had under Hans Backe for example.
Berhalter won’t have an easy task. The Columbus Crew squad can definitely be described as a more defensive than an offensive outfit, and the pieces are there for the new manager to alter. The duo of Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro are attacking delights that most MLS teams would love to have. For the new squad, it is a case of supplementing the duo, and taking some of the pressure off of them both. This could be done with an alteration to the midfield, with the Crew severely lacking guile and creativity on the wings and the center.
On the other hand, Berhalter had lost an integral piece of the Crew before he even began his job, with the announcement of Eddie Gaven’s retirement resulting in a huge blow to the club. The man who was the youngest to reach 250 MLS matches, at the age of 25, takes away a huge amount of experience, leaving a void for someone else to step into. Berhalter will join the MLS club with lots of confidence, but he has a very large task on his hand under a new look, ambitious, ownership that seeks to catch up to the top teams in MLS.
Written by Tom Errington