For now, it is a question best asked at a pub table, perhaps pondered in Columbus or Newark,
N.J., in the hours before the local soccer sides will play today to decide which advances to the
MLS Cup final.
Might either of their coaches — Crew SC’s Gregg Berhalter and the New York Red Bulls’ Jesse
Marsch — one day move on to bigger things, maybe to the helm of the U.S. national team?
It might seem far-fetched. Berhalter and Marsch are in only their second seasons coaching in
Major League Soccer. Both are only 42 years old.
But look deeper. Both are coaches who have come very far, very fast.
Berhalter was named a finalist for MLS coach of the year last season. He installed an
attractive, possession-based style that has led the Crew to consecutive playoff appearances and a
2-0 lead heading into the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals today at Red Bull Arena.
Marsch was named the MLS coach of the year on Tuesday. The Red Bulls, in their first season
under him, scored a league-high 62 goals and won the Supporters’ Shield as the league’s best
Both coaches have national-team experience. Berhalter’s came as a player (44 caps) and Marsch’s
(two caps) came mostly as an assistant under Bob Bradley in 2010 and ’11, before Bradley was
replaced by current U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Berhalter and Marsch have previous head-coaching experience. Berhalter spent two years with
Hammarby in Sweden, becoming one of only a handful of American coaches to land a top job in Europe.
Marsch coached expansion Montreal to 12 wins in 2012.
Both have been mentored by coaches from the American old guard: Berhalter by Los Angeles Galaxy
and former U.S. coach Bruce Arena and Marsch by Bradley, the man who replaced Arena as
national-team coach and whose relationship with Marsch dates to their days at Princeton
And both young coaches have made the most of teams with modest payrolls but ambitious goals. In
a Denver Post analysis of salary figures provided by the MLS Players Union, the Red Bulls rank 19th
of 20 MLS teams in total payroll ($4.23 million) after the departure of international stars Thierry
Henry and Tim Cahill following last season.
The Crew ($5.75 million) ranks 12th.
Berhalter is also the Crew’s sporting director in charge of personnel and all soccer
operations, and he has shown a knack for making roster upgrades from around the world, including
right back Harrison Afful, center back Gaston Sauro and burgeoning bench threat Cedrick
But Berhalter said his on-field philosophy — a melting pot of possession-based, attack-first
soccer with influences from across Europe — is paramount.
“The most important thing is that we have a style that we want our fans to appreciate,”
Berhalter said. “We want it to be entertaining, and you want to find players who fit that mold.”&
amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; lt; /p>
Marsch concurs. He told The New York Times that his high-paced Red Bulls are the “
anti-Barcelona.” He got Berhalter’s coach-of-the-year vote.
Berhalter brushed off questions about his long-term aspirations earlier this week, stressing
that he and his staff still have much work to do to build the Crew into the model MLS club he
Berhalter was signed to a three-year contract in November 2013, beating out Marsch and several
other candidates to replace Robert Warzycha and interim coach Brian Bliss.
After the Red Bulls showed interest in Berhalter before Marsch was hired in January, a club
option for a fourth year was picked up before the start of this season, and Berhalter was given
full control of the Crew’s youth system last month.
It is the most power delegated by ownership to one person in the history of the franchise, and
Berhalter runs a tight ship. Although league rules require that players be made available to
reporters, the Crew provides media members only the league-mandated minimum access to practice.
In recent days, Berhalter declined The Dispatch’s requests to speak with assistant coaches,
including former national-team striker Josh Wolff, about anything other than their careers. It is
clear that Berhalter, and Berhalter alone, prefers to speak for his team and himself.
But Crew and U.S. Under-23 midfielder Wil Trapp said it is an approach that would play well at
the national-team level, and there is no doubt that Berhalter could one day coach the U.S.
“It’s his cerebral approach to coaching,” said Trapp, who made his first appearance with the
U.S. senior team in January. “From his man management to committing to a philosophy and executing
that philosophy, he’s been excellent.
“If the aspirations are there, I think he would be an excellent candidate in the future. He’s
always on an even keel, always straightforward with guys. There is a lot of pressure, but he
handles it so well. It’s impressive.”