Gregg Berhalter will run for the U.S. men’s national team show. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer)
By Michael Lewis
I think the headline says it all, so let’s just get to it:
- Finally, a new coach
It took U.S. Soccer long enough as Gregg Berhalter was named the new men’s head national coach in December. What was discerning was that men’s general manager Earnie Stewart did not interview many candidates, including Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino, U.S. men’s Under-20 national coach Tab Ramos, former Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio and former Red Bulls head man Jesse Marsch, among others. Dave Sarachan directed the squad as an interim coach for 14 months, which had to be some sort of record for interim coaches.
- The South rises again
In only its second season, Atlanta United captured the MLS Cup. En route to the coveted title, United set a couple of standards, including an MLS Cup record crowd of 73,019 that watched the hosts defeat the Portland Timbers, 2-0, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Dec. 8. Atlanta Josef Martinez scored one goal and help set up the other. Whether United can duplicate its feat in 2019 — Martino left to coach the Mexican national side and Dutchman Frank de Boer recently took over the reins — it remains to be seen.
- Some 2026 vision
Better late than never. After failing to secure the 2022 World Cup in 2010, thanks to some FIFA chicanery, the U.S. helped to make sure the world’s best sporting spectacle will return to North America for a fourth time in 2026. In the very first bid of its kind, Mexico, Canada and the U.S. combined for the first successful tri-country bid for a competition that will boast a record 48 teams.
- Taking nothing for granted
While many observers felt it would be easy street, the U.S. women would qualify for France 2019 without a problem, the team did not take anything for granted. The Americans rolled through the Concacaf Women’s Championship, outscoring their opponents by an incredible 26-0 margin, and besting Canada in the final, 2-0. (In 2010, the U.S. needed to win a special home-and-home series with Italy to clinch a berth at the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
- Queens of the club world
Outside of winning every game, it couldn’t have gotten that much better for the North Carolina Courage. Coached by Long Island resident Paul Riley, the Courage not only were National Women’s Soccer League Supporters Shield championship, but it also captured the league title, playing both playoff matches in Portland (the semifinals due to Hurricane Florence) and won the first International Champions Cup in Miami, besting French power Lyon in the final. It will be difficult to repeat that accomplishment, but don’t put anything past the Courage and Riley.
- Meet the new prez
In the most hotly contested U.S. Soccer presidential election in history, then vice president Carlos Cordeiro held off eight challengers to succeed Sunil Gulati to win. Cordeiro won on the third ballot, capturing 68.6 of the vote. Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter, who had the backing of the Pro Council and Major League Soccer, finished second (10.6 percent) after an encouraging start. Kyle Martino (10.6) was third, Eric Wynalda (8.9) fourth and Hope Solo (1.4).
- No ordinary Josef
What an incredible season for Atlanta striker Josef Martinez, who struck for an MLS-record 35 goals during the 2018 regular season and 35 in all competitions. Whether that will be bait for a European team to come and scoop up the Venezuelan maestro, it remains to be seen.
- The Founders Cup
A new league was unveiled in November — the NPSL Founders Cup — as the National Premier Soccer League will try its hand at professional soccer in 2019. Eleven teams, including the Cosmos, will compete in the season (August to November). League officials say the circuit will boast at least 20 teams in 2020. The East Region will include: Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent and Cosmos. The West Region will be comprised of: ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, FC Arizona and Oakland Roots.
- Youth players on the rise
Forced to be spectators to the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the U.S. began the rebuilding process to start its journey toward Qatar 2022. Several young standout players emerged — for club and country. At the top of the list were former Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, who became a U.S. national team force, and striker Josh Sargent, who scored two minutes into his pro debut in Werder Bremen’s 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga Dec. 7, among others.
- Saying goodbye to three class acts
The U.S. lost three legends this year — Walter Bahr, Ron Newman and Sigi Schmid. All three men, all class acts, made impacts in their own right. Bahr was the last surviving member of the 1950 U.S. World Cup team. Newman had accrued more victories than any other coach in a U.S. pro league, including indoor and outdoor soccer. Schmid won more games than any other MLS coach and guided two teams (LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew SC) to MLS Cup crowns.