Gregg Berhalter: “Sometimes things can go wrong and sometimes things can go right or you.” (Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer)
By Michael Lewis
Gregg Berhalter was involved in two of the strangest and most controversial hand ball calls in American soccer history. And, the happened less than two years apart.
“Sometimes things can go wrong and sometimes things can go right or you,” said Berhalter, who will be formally introduced to the media as U.S. men’s head national coach at a New York City press conference Tuesday afternoon.
On July 23, 2000, things went wrong for Berhalter and the U.S. national team when referee Peter Prendergast of Jamaica called a phantom hand ball in the penalty area on Berhalter two minutes into stoppage time of a 1-1 deadlock.
Berhalter, who was defending with both his hands behind him, headed the ball out of bounds. According to television replays, it appeared the ball accidentally hit Berhalter in the upper arm area after he had headed the ball. Many game officials usually won’t make the call unless it was intentional.
Hernan Medford converted the ensuing penalty kick past goalkeeper Kasey Keller and several minutes later Costa Rica walked off with a controversial 2-1 victory.
“It was early on in my national team career,” Berhalter said in an interview with this reporter in 2011. “It was something that was an eye opener. Some decisions go your way and some decisions don’t go your way. That was an eye opener because it was a reality of what could happen in that environment. That’s just part of the game. Getting over that, not reacting the way we did, putting it in the past. It’s unfortunate that the ref called it. I remember, after heading it, then all of a sudden the ref pointed to the penalty spot.”
On June 21, 2002, things went wrong again for the New Jersey native and his American teammates when Torsten Frings saved a Berhalter shot off the goal line with his hand to preserve Germany’s 1-0 quarterfinal victory.
“That was one of the most special teams that I have been a part of,” Berhalter said. “Everyone had the same goal in point. Again, very disappointing. An experienced referee, you would think he wouldn’t get something like that wrong. That hurt. You also think how different it could have been for American soccer if that would have been a goal. We could have gone to the semifinals. It could have been a lot greater. It still was an amazing experience.”
Berhalter, a St. Benedict’s Prep graduate, said he has spoken to Frings, who went on to play with Toronto FC, many times through the years.
“Every time we talked, I never brought it up,” he said. “He’s a professional and he did what he had to do at the time. . . . I don’t like to well on the past. As far as I’m concerned, he did what he had to do. They got to the final of the World Cup. If I was there, probably would have done the same thing.”
Those two incidents were just a slice of Berhalter’s playing career.
Asked what his most memorable moment or game was, he replied, “That’s a very hard question. there are so many moments to look back on. I remember my first game ever as a professional in Holland. I remember so many details of that game because it was very special. There have been a lot of big games. The 2002 World Cup. My club team getting promoted on the last day. Games where we didn’t get relegated on the last day. There are so many different memories. It’s hard to say my favorite memory. It really is.”