Gregg Berhalter is within a hair's breadth of getting his hands on the Starbucks Qatar Mug of his dreams. Last night, amidst euphoric scenes in Orlando, the US Men pulled out their best performance of qualifying, scoring early and often in a chaotic game to spank Panama 5-1. It is amazing how good our boys can be at football when they are not forced to play in hypothermic conditions. The US merely need to avoid being thrashed by Costa Rica on Wednesday night (9.05 PM ET, Paramount+) to qualify for World Cup 2022. A huge relief, and a massive opportunity after a cycle filled with dread, fear, and more self-sabotaging decision-making than perhaps was needed. With the World Cup being hosted in North America in 2026, there is so much positivity and good vibes to come. Here are the big stories from last night:
1. Christian Pulisic is “the Lebron James of Soccer” after all
The Pawn Stars guys had it right. This whole cycle, we have bounced around from one new shiny hero to another. Devoting ourselves at different times to Pepi, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson, and now Gio Reyna. Yet, it was Christian Pulisic who delivered the biggest performance when we needed it most. His first hattrick at the international level, finished off with a goal worthy of the greatest stage. The first touch – an improvised self-nutmeg and spin - which maybe gave him the idea for the second touch, a brilliant nutmeg. Christian then gave the goalkeeper the eyes before rifling the ball home. As he celebrated, pointing up at the sky with eyes closed, the relief rolling off him in waves, I thought back to the image of him in Couva 2017 at the final whistle, keeling over in agony. The sadness, the anger, the shock. The pain we all felt reflected in his young body.
Now, 1,629 days later, the relief, the joy, and the dominance. From agony to the exhilaration of scoring the hattrick that takes US Men to the cusp of return. Sports are best when they transcend sports, and watching Pulisic last night, I could humanly imagine what he was experiencing. It was like watching an exorcism – the ridding of the ghost of the past. The ghost of failure, driven out with tenacity and wonder 🇺🇸
2. Gregg Berhalter got it right last night
We received this question from a GFOP at the final whistle:
Here is how I think about Gregg Berhalter. First up: It is a hard task to lead a young, inexperienced squad, when you yourself are learning for the first time. That has created a steep learning curve, which, in the wake of last cycle’s failure, has led to impatience and frustration from many fans. The roots of that lie in the optics of the way Gregg was chosen – creating the perception of nepotism. Even if the nepotism did not truly exist, its perception did him no favors, as Gregg battled to master the art of international management, which is so different to the club role, on the fly.
Furthermore, Berhalter became manager at the very time every young American player that was capable fled en masse to Europe, beginning to learn from some of the greatest managers in the world, including Pep, Tuchel, and Allegri. Tough competition to compare with. And for a spell, GGG seemed to struggle to project self-assurance. There was a period in 2019 when it felt like he was coaching must-wins. The social media strategy of focusing on his sneakers, Starbucks mugs, impromptu jogs through fan-packed downtown areas on gameday in US kit, and his own predilection for behind the back passes and in-game fan selfies were counterproductive. They felt like efforts to project an interesting personality. The only thing that is interesting about a coach is confident leadership and winning. Having said all that, last night Gregg got all the big calls right. Arriola and Jesus Ferreira both scored. Berhalter has gotten us to the cusp of the World Cup, and at a World Cup, all bets are off. Anyone can go deep and make a run. It is a wide open opportunity. Let’s see how Gregg seizes this moment. Now the stress of qualifying is over, let’s enjoy this, learn from this, and know that anything can happen.
3. US Fans’ Criticisms are a GREAT Thing
There has been a lot of debate in the US football world about US fans and their perceived “toxicity” compared to 20 years ago. I believe the noise of the fans is a wonderful, welcome thing. Frustration is natural after failing to qualify in 2018. It is a projection of yearning and growth and passion. Proper football cultures have a diversity of ideas. As Luiz Felipe Scolari once said when he led Brazil to victory in 2002, every soccer fan believes they know better than the manager. “You know how many people there are in Brazil?...180 million people. Pressure was when I was coach of the national team because everyone in Brazil is the coach.” We should aspire to that level of strenuous opinion and knowledge. It is all part and parcel of us becoming a Proper Footballing Nation.
4. Rise Canada. Kings of CONCACAF
I want to raise my Bud to the Canadian Men’s National team, who were the first to qualify from CONCACAF, clinching their first World Cup qualification since 1986. They have made CONCACAF look easy. Even without Alphonso Davies down the stretch, they have destroyed so many long-held truths about CONCACAF qualifying. What I admire most is how they have united their nation, presenting a brave face of diverse, young, optimists. It is impossible not to revere them. Look at this goal Cyle Larin scored yesterday, his 13th goal in qualifying. Mexico have only scored 15 combined.
What a job John Herdman has done with this Canadian Program. He becomes the first coach to lead both a men's and women's national team to FIFA World Cup Qualification. "We just qualified for the World Cup, this is a legit football country," he bellowed post game. My God. What a journey he has had, taking the road not traveled to glory. Transformational in the most profound way. Even as an American fan, I can only look at what he has done with awe and love and respect. Best of all, it is only going to get better as World Cup 2026 money flows in. Long time GFOP Tom Harrington, who is a Canadian radio broadcaster, tweeted this beautifully:
I played the game. Believed in the game. Told countless stories about the game.
Dreamt one day, all Canada would love it like I did & would see a team fulfill that love & support.
That time has arrived.
Our Golden Generation will take on the world.
And shock it.
May that be so Tom. To all our Canadian listeners, we are so thrilled for you. I hope you had a night last night. Savor every second and make great memories. 🇨🇦
5. Great Reads
I really enjoyed this read with Fikayo Timori, Milan, Ex-Chelsea, Canadian-born defender. What he says about the difference between Italian football and the Premier League was really interesting to think about
iii. What makes a good owner? 100,000 fans of 20 English clubs were asked that question. Guess who came bottom with 4% of support?
iv. A great piece on Producer JW, who is the greatest creative partner I could ever have at Men in Blazers.
The best part of the weekend: watching Christian Eriksen enjoy – his words - the "perfect" return to international football, scoring just two minutes after coming on for Denmark. Thrashing the ball into the corner of the net with an exclamation point. An incredibly intense and poetic way to return to the international fold after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 last June. "I was happy the ball came to me," said Eriksen. "I thought it was a lovely finish and to start my international comeback like this is a perfect way.” All of this is just a warm-up for Tuesday's friendly in Copenhagen against Serbia, which takes place on the ground, Telia Parken, where Eriksen collapsed. I wish him strength, tenacity and Danish Glory.
Our pod drops this afternoon. Remember, we’ll Do it LIVE! on Spotify Greenroom right after the United States Costa Rica game this Wednesday night around 11 p.m. ET. The link to listen is all over our social media. Come be with us, dear GFOPs…