United States star Christian Pulisic has given his backing to World Cup boss Gregg Berhalter returning to lead the team, in a major boost to the coach’s chances of a comeback.
Berhalter, who led the team to the last 16 in the World Cup in Qatar last year, did not have his contract extended amid a bitter, public row with player Gio Reyna and his parents.
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But a US Soccer commissioned report published on Monday into a physical altercation in 1991 with his then girlfriend, now wife, made clear that “there is no legal impediment to employing him” and that he “remains a candidate to serve as head coach”.
Chelsea winger Pulisic said he would welcome that.
“Yeah, no doubt, no doubt about it. I think the strides that we’ve taken in recent years with him in charge, have been evident. I think it’s quite clear,” he told ESPN.
“Berhalter is someone who has grown on me a lot over the years. I’ve learned a lot from him and have grown so much as a player. It’s underappreciated what he’s done to create that environment which was so special within that team. He’s helped a lot of players improve in a lot of ways,” said Pulisic, the highest profile player on the team.
US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone has said the federation will likely not appoint a new coach until “the end of the summer” meaning the team could be led in the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup tournaments by interim coach Anthony Hudson.
The federation has hired a consulting firm to help find a new sporting director and identify head coach candidates.
But Pulisic said Berhalter had created the best team spirits he had ever appreciated.
“He’s also very passionate about the sport. I think he’s done some incredible things in a short amount of time,” he said.
“There were moments when he benched me and I wanted to kill the guy — I hated him. I was so angry — but then the next game comes along, and then I find myself in a better place. He handled a lot of situations, and I have to give him a lot of credit. I think he created a team that was probably the best brotherhood, or unit, that I’ve been a part of.”
– Straight-talking –
Pulisic said that Berhalter had told him he needed to train harder and the winger said that sort of straight-talking was one of his main attributes.
“The way he deals with players, you can tell he is passionate, and he cares about his players. He’s not going to tell you it’s easy or tell what you want to hear. He is going to tell you what he feels is going to improve you,” he said.
The former Borussia Dortmund forward said he saw no reason why US Soccer should wait so long to make a decision on the national team coach.
“Should we just wait and wait? We’re not in a phase where we need a complete rebuild, like we were after not qualifying for the last World Cup four years ago. We don’t need a bunch of new guys coming in.
“We have a strong core: a lot of people have seen that. We need to carry on. That’s why it’s a tough one, because I think we want to continue as soon as we can and build from this World Cup, which brought a lot of positives.”
The US qualified from group B in Qatar after drawing with England and Wales and beating Iran, before losing to the Netherlands in the round of 16.
The Americans will co-host the next World Cup in 2026 along with Mexico and Canada.