Despite an inevitable comedown after the winter World Cup, 2023 was a busy year for the U.S. men’s national team. 2024 will be even busier.
As we close out the year, let’s look back at five key items from this year and spotlight five things to watch for next year.
Keys from 2023
1) Gregg Berhalter rehired
The year began with drama that seemed to dissolve Gregg Berhalter’s chances of being retained as manager for a second cycle.
Sporting director Earnie Stewart then departed for PSV Eindhoven in February, and in April, U.S. Soccer announced that Stewart would be replaced by Matt Crocker. Crocker, the former director of football at Southampton, reportedly had interest in hiring Jesse Marsch to manage in the Premier League. With Crocker at U.S. Soccer, it was a fair assumption that Marsch was the frontrunner for the USMNT job.
As the U.S. prepared to face Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League in June, with BJ Callaghan at the helm as their second interim manager since the World Cup, Berhalter’s name was in the news. He was linked to Club América and Sparta Rotterdam. And then suddenly, before kickoff against Mexico, a tweet from Marsch’s agent confirmed that he wouldn’t be the next USMNT coach. This ignited speculation that a decision had been made, and shortly after, news broke that Berhalter was indeed back.
There was a press conference with Berhalter, Crocker, U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone and CEO JT Batson the next day.
The USMNT dominated Mexico 3-0, then cruised to a 2-0 victory over Canada in the final to win their second consecutive Nations League title. But the surprising rehire of Berhalter was what we’ll remember the most about that week, and 2023 overall.
2) Gio Reyna’s midfield role
Berhalter’s relationship with Gio Reyna would, initially and inevitably, be scrutinized. But there wasn’t much to discuss in terms of where Berhalter would deploy arguably the most talented player at his disposal.
Reyna had exclusively featured for the U.S. as a nominal winger in the last World Cup cycle. His injuries prevented Berhalter from ever entertaining building around Reyna as a No. 10 or a No. 8, but that was surely where his tremendous ball retention, composure and vision would eventually belong.
In March and in June, both Anthony Hudson and Callaghan trusted Reyna in the middle in Nations League and were rewarded. Berhalter kept Reyna central in his four appearances in the fall, which were all starts. Reyna’s value was especially noticeable against Germany in October. When Reyna came off the field at halftime due to a minutes restriction after recently returning from injury, the USMNT’s attack and overall control of the match suffered a serious drop-off.
His brewing chemistry with Folarin Balogun may have been the bright spot on the field for the United States this year.
3) Folarin Balogun’s commitment
Internet detectives determined that Balogun was visiting Orlando in March while the USMNT were in camp there, intensifying rumors about the coveted striker switching allegiance from England to the country of his birth.
Balogun’s commitment to the U.S. became official in May. He finished the 2021-22 season with 22 goals in 39 appearances for French side Reims on loan from Arsenal, and scored against Canada in the Nations League final in June.