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U.S. Soccer fires coach as the Copa America tournament winds down

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Two big developments in soccer - the first, England has advanced to the Euro's final to face Spain. And here in the U.S., men's national team coach, Gregg Berhalter, is out. So less than two years before the U S. co-hosts the FIFA World Cup, the men's side is looking for a coach. Joining us to talk about all this is NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan. So let's start with Berhalter - I mean, how long has his seat been hot?

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's been hot for a while, A, as you and I have talked about before. That, you know, started around the 2022 World Cup, which wasn't a disaster to be clear, but also wasn't a huge success. And so after this, there had been an inflection point about sort of whether to bring him back, which ultimately U.S. soccer decided to do amid some controversy. But the performance since then had just been, I think, just too disappointing, including this huge let down at the Summers Copa American tournament, which had been seen as sort of the last best opportunity for the men's team to play some games with, like, real stakes ahead of the 2026 World Cup. And the U.S. just couldn't get anything done. They won only one game against a much worse team, exited the tournament early, just incredibly disappointing all around.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, I mean, the plan was for the U.S. men's team to be peaking by 2026...

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: ...Is it fair for me to say that it looks like it's cratering now?

SULLIVAN: I mean, I think that's the worry, but there is hope that obviously a new coach could put things back on track. But yeah, the World Cup is a huge opportunity for the U.S. with the co-hosting, as you mentioned. The best the U.S. has ever finished at the modern World Cup is in the quarter finals in 2002. And so, what better opportunity to match or even beat that than on home soil, to get more Americans into the game? That is, of course, as you're saying, going to be much harder for a brand-new coach to do.

MARTÍNEZ: Right, that brand-new coach - who could be that brand-new coach?

SULLIVAN: There have been a lot. It can't overstate the amount of names that have been floated over the past 10 or so days, but let me just give you three of them. I think a lot of people's dream scenario is Jurgen Klopp, who is the outgoing Liverpool manager. Another name on the table is Jesse Marsch, who is a former Major League soccer star, who is now the coach of the Canadian national team, who just led Canada to the semifinals of this very same Copa, that the U.S. couldn't really do anything in. Maybe a more modest name is Steve Cherundolo, who is another former U.S. men's national team player who is now the head coach of the MLS team, Los Angeles FC. Who knows? Soccer's officials say that their search has already begun, so we'll see what they can do.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Let's talk about the Euros now. England back in the finals to face Spain on Saturday. How did each squad get there?

SULLIVAN: Well, Spain has looked absolutely dominant in this tournament so far. They haven't even lost a game. They haven't even tied. They have in fact cruised through what seems like quite a difficult draw, I think, against teams like Germany and then just the other day in this superb semifinal game against France. England, by contrast, has needed draws and penalty kicks to advance, but they are still playing. They're still in it. And now they are back in the final hoping to finally end their very notorious, nearly 60-year-long drought in which they haven't won a major international tournament since the 1966 World Cup.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so what might we see this weekend? Because it should be a pretty great game (laughter).

SULLIVAN: I think so too. I mean, I think what we're going to see for sure is that Spain will be the favorite. They play, I think a very exciting brand of soccer. They sort of like to press up the field. They like to create space in the middle of the field for their players to create some opportunities, and that includes their exciting young superstar in Lamine Yamal who this week became the youngest goal score in the history of Euros. He's going to turn 17 on Saturday, one of the best young talents in the world. On the other hand, is England, who seem to have that, you know, never say die factor. And honestly, sometimes those intangibles can be hard to beat.

MARTÍNEZ: To be 17 again - I was at my peak. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan, thanks a lot.

SULLIVAN: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.