World Cup: Chicago-based USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter makes his best pitch

His U.S. squad will face the Netherlands on Saturday in a World Cup round-of-16 match, putting them a step away from the quarterfinals.

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Gregg Berhalter was hired after USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Once hired, Berhalter made the bold decision to make his home in Chicago, where the United States Soccer Federation is based.

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DOHA, Qatar — Ever-positive Gregg Berhalter has a philosophy about promoting soccer in the United States: “All in all, we want soccer in the conversation, even if it’s negative.”

That point was brought home once while on a jog near his home in Lake View.

“One time, I was running — I was crossing Clark — and a car was at a red light and a guy yells out the window, ‘Berhalter, go back to Columbus!’ ’’ the former Columbus Crew coach told Chicago Magazine last month. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

As coach of the U.S. men’s national team, Berhalter is well versed in being on the wrong end of some salty barbs. The beleaguered coach is winning over many of his critics as his young squad enters rare territory on this world stage.

Since the USMNT returned to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, the Americans have made the quarterfinals just once – in 2002, a team on which Berhalter played.

“We felt a responsibility to use this World Cup to create momentum in the United States for soccer,” Berhalter said Friday. “That’s why we want to keep going, and we want to keep doing well.”

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Coach Gregg Berhalter celebrates with USA’s midfielder Yunus Musah during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match against Iran.

AFP via Getty Images

Berhalter and the U.S. will face the Netherlands on Saturday in the World Cup round-of-16 match, putting them a step away from the quarterfinals.

It will be an interesting career twist for Berhalter.

Berhalter felt like a student when he signed with the Dutch club Zwolle 28 years ago after playing for the University of North Carolina. The U.S. coach plans to apply the lessons he learned from the Dutch.

“I went to Holland just out of university and [was] totally unprepared for professional-level soccer,” Berhalter said. “If I wasn’t in Holland, I don’t think I would have had that building that really helped shape my ideas.”

Now 49, Berhalter will match tactics against Louis van Gaal, at 71 the oldest coach in the World Cup. Van Gaal guided the Netherlands to third place in the 2014 tournament and has won seven league titles with Ajax, AZ Alkmaar, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

“The USA is a very energetic squad with physically strong players and that is tough for any opponent,” van Gaal said. “And you can tell from their results.”

This USMNT also is appealing in a way that can’t be manufactured or predicted.

Americans are predisposed to root — hard — for anyone with U-S-A on their chest, and a run to the quarterfinals or beyond could help elevate a game that still lags behind American football and the NBA in terms of attention. But with their engaging personalities — U.S. captain Tyler Adams has been as impressive off the field as on, a wonderful representation of his team and country, while Christian Pulisic sacrificed his body after his game-winning goal — and obvious affection for one another, success here could be a watershed moment for both the USMNT and the game.

No small thing given the United States will co-host the World Cup in four years.

“It’s really, really cool to see how much just a tournament can change the perspective on people supporting soccer,” Adams said. “That was one of our goals coming into this tournament. The further we go, the more support that we gather. That’s what we want. We want the next generation, and generations to come, to have that support behind them.”

The U.S. has played the Netherlands five times, all friendlies. The Americans lost four before rallying late for a 4-3 win in 2015.

Berhalter was hired after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Once hired, Berhalter made the bold decision to make his home in Chicago, where the United States Soccer Federation is based. He and his wife, Rosalind, bought a six-bedroom mansion in the Southport Corridor area of Lakeview.

“Part of this new design was to have all the coaching staff of the men’s and women’s senior teams and all the youth teams all in one location to have more collaborative work,” he told Chicago Magazine. “It’s an idea that makes a ton of sense. Probably should have been doing that before.”

No arguing with the results as Berhalter has the nation suddenly excited about the USMNT at the perfect time.

The U.S. opened its quest in Qatar with draws against Wales and England, then beat Iran 1-0 on a goal by Pulisic, who bruised his pelvis but is expected to play Saturday.

The U.S. has allowed only one goal at the World Cup. Berhalter credited a collective defense and recalled lessons and demanding teammates from his Dutch days.

“Just about spacing and the positional game, third man, triangles. There was a striker, an old striker that I played with when I first got there. His name was Remco Boere. He would yell at me for giving him the ball with too much spin,” Berhalter said. “If you ever laid a ball off to someone and you put it to their wrong foot, they would start yelling.”

The U.S. transformation has caught van Gaal’s attention.

“What I observe is a vision,” van Gaal said. “What I see is a team that is keen to execute that vision, which is of the utmost importance, and I see the conviction, especially the conviction of the players. So that for a coach must be fantastic.”

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