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Matt Crocker, who fired USA National Team coach Gregg Berhalter, now faces a tough search

Matt Crocker knows he has to do the right thing this time.

When the U.S. Soccer Federation’s athletic director decided to rehire Gregg Berhalter as head men’s national soccer coach last summer, less than a month into the job, it was a surprising decision given the baggage that came with Berhalter’s messy first term and the danger that things could get stale after his four-year tenure.

But Crocker, a Welshman who came to USSF with extensive experience in English football, decided no changes were necessary after putting the candidates through a series of administrative, statistical and psychological tests.

Berhalter continued his regional success last year but struggled to take the U.S. team to the next level, as was evident by their first-round exit at the Copa América this summer.

The music stopped during Berhalter’s second dance on Wednesday, and Crocker announced that he was firing Berhalter with two years left on his contract.

“It’s been a tough week,” Crocker told a handful of reporters on a video call. “I know it’s been a tough week, personally, for everybody connected to USA Soccer. It’s a really tough decision.”

But it was inevitable. No matter how much he wanted this arrangement to work, Crocker would never get much out of Berhalter’s team. The young U.S. team had made significant strides in Berhalter’s first term, rallying from a poor 2018 World Cup run to advance to the knockout stages of the 2022 tournament.

The Americans, who use the Copa América as a measure of global progress, have fared no better.

Now it’s up to Crocker to find a suitable replacement. He can’t miss the mark this time. Too much is at stake. The next World Cup—held primarily in U.S. stadiums, but also at some Mexican and Canadian venues—is less than two years away. That may seem like a long time, but with no competitions approaching the level of the Copa América, a new manager will need to instill belief and practice his tactics in regional tournaments and friendlies.

How will this search be different from last year?

“I’ve been in the program for 12 months now,” Crocker said. “I’ve been in this environment a lot now, both on the men’s and women’s side, because we’ve made significant changes to both programs in the last 12 months. I’m much clearer and much more confident about what I see… I think about what we need going forward.”

“I think I’m in a better position now to do a more targeted search. I’m going to be more inclined to reach out earlier and put in more effort into certain candidates that I think meet the criteria that we’re looking for,” Crocker added.

Crocker appears to have found the right path on the women’s side, with coach Vlatko Andonovski stepping down following that team’s historic early elimination from the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Crocker then brought in Emma Hayes, a decorated Chelsea FC player who is highly respected in global circles. Hayes’ appointment was seen by many as a coup for the US program, even if it meant waiting six months for her to take the helm after finishing her tenure at Chelsea this summer.

The U.S. women are entering the Olympics with fresh energy and excitement, but expectations are waning as both the coach and the newcomers find their feet. Overall, Hayes’ goal is the 2027 World Cup in Brazil.

The USSF made Hayes the highest-paid female coach in the world, putting her on a financial par with Berhalter. Do such efforts at equality limit what Crocker can offer a male coach?

“My job is to find the best head coach to take this program forward,” he said. “I know it’s a really competitive market in terms of salary, and we have to be competitive to find a coach at the level that I believe can take the program forward. I also really recognize the need to continue to strive for higher standards and equality. But I don’t think that’s going to be a deterrent to our investment.”

Crocker believes the men’s program will benefit from a new perspective. The program is full of potential in the form of young players recruited by European clubs and competing in the top leagues. The 2026 World Cup comes at a time when many of these players need to be in their prime.

Crocker, while aggressive in theory, will need to hire someone to work on the tactics and personnel that have seen him score five goals in the last five games, and someone who can do a deep analysis of the talent pool and perhaps look to players who have been overlooked.

So where will Crocker head? He had already begun exploring options before Berhalter’s announcement, but no names had been shared on Wednesday. Online fan chatter about former Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp seems fantastic. MLS coaches are deep into the season. European club coaches are opening training camps. Some coaches at the European Championships and Copa América may be looking for work.

Coaches deeply entrenched in club football – which includes match preparation and squad building 24/7 – are like chefs in a chaotic kitchen, where international work is a slow boil.

Crocker will need to find the right chef.

“I just want to get the best possible coach that can help the team win, and whether they’re from the United States or somewhere else, they need to fit the profile, which is a serial winning coach, someone who can continue to develop this group of potential players, someone who has a great interest and passion for player development,” Crocker said. “It still remains a young group … but it’s also a group that has a bunch of relevant experience that we need to pull out of the group right now. That will be my intention.”

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