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UNC Soccer: Former Tar Heel named USMNT manager

Berhalter is the first UNC alumn to take charge of the US men’s national team.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The big news for UNC soccer on Sunday was the women’s team coming up just short in the national championship game against Florida State. However, there was another story, and while it doesn’t directly affect the university or one of the teams, it is a pretty big deal.

Former Tar Heel men’s soccer player Gregg Berhalter was named manager of the US men’s national team on Sunday, ending the weeks of speculation that he was in line for the gig.

Berhalter played in Chapel Hill from 1991 to 1994, helping lead the team to two NCAA Tournament appearances. The second of those came in 1993, where he scored two goals in the Tar Heels’ opening game, helping them to a 3-2 win over Duke. Berhalter was a major player early in the tenure of Elmar Bolowich, who would go on to become the winningest coach in UNC men’s soccer history, and led the team to their first of two national championships.

After leaving UNC, he left to play professionally in the Netherlands, and had a 16-year career in Europe. Berhalter spent most of that period in the Netherlands and Germany, but did have a brief stop with Crystal Palace, who were then in the second tier of soccer in England. He finished up his playing career with a couple seasons with the LA Galaxy in MLS.

Internationally, Berhalter appeared as a player for the USMNT 44 times during his career. He made two World Cup squads: 2002 and 2006. He was an unused substitute in 2006. However in 2002, he made two appearances after regular starter Jeff Agoos got injured. Berhalter ended up playing in the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. They lost their next match to Germany, but Berhalter and the rest of the defense held the eventual runners up to just a single goal in a 1-0 loss.

Berhalter had a brief stint in LA as an assistant coach, but in 2011, he was hired as the manager of Hammarby IF in Sweden. With the hiring, he gained the distinction of being the first American to manage a professional team anywhere in Europe.

While he would eventually get fired from that job, he was quickly hired by the Columbus Crew in MLS. In five seasons there, he led Columbus to four playoff berths, and an appearance in the 2015 MLS Cup final, where they lost 2-1.

The reaction to his hiring is far from universally positive, as more internationally renowned managers were interested in the job. However, US Soccer appears to have had their sights set on Berhalter for some time. Either way, considering that the US is coming off missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986, he probably can’t take them lower.

Berhalter appears to be the first ever Tar Heel to manage the men’s US national team. Anson Dorrance was in charge of the women’s national team from 1986 to 1994. He led the USWNT to a win in the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.

Berhalter will get to take charge for the first time on February 2nd when the US takes on Costa Rica in San Jose, CA.