Former 1860 Munich defender Gregg Berhalter led the Columbus Crew SC Sunday into their first MLS Cup Final since 2008, the club’s only other appearance in the league finals. Unfortunately, for Berhalter and the Crew, they came up just short of winning the title, losing 2-1 to the visiting Portland Timbers.
The Timbers jumped to a 2-0 lead just seven minutes into the Final, with Diego Valeri pouncing on a goalkeeping error to score just 27 seconds after kickoff and Rodney Wallace adding a second goal with a headed ball shortly afterward. The Crew’s Kei Kamara pulled one back at the 18th minute, but that was it for goals. The Crew had beaten the Montreal Impact 4-3 on aggregate and the NY Red Bulls by a combined 2-1 margin to win the MLS Eastern Conference and earn a spot in the Finals in Coach Berhalter’s second year coaching the club.
Long before becoming a coach, Berhalter joined 1860 Munich in 2006 on a free transfer, signing a two-year deal. He played in 73 matches for Die Lowen before leaving the club in 2009, serving as team captain. One of the highlights of his career came in August, 2007, when the defender scored twice for 1860 in their 3-1 victory over 1.FC Kaiserslautern with a 55th minute header and a late goal from the penalty spot. The win put 1860 into first place in Bundesliga 2….oh, for the heady days of yesteryear, and besides, it was only the second week of the season. Another highlight was a DFB Pokal semifinal match in February, 2008 featuring 1860 against city rivals and rekordmeisters Bayern Munich, the first competitive meeting since their 2004 Ruckrunde fixture at Olympiastadion München. 1860 was demoted following the 2003/2004 season.
1860 had reached the Pokal quarterfinals by beating Alemannia Achen 3-2 in the previous round, with the winning goal scored by a very young Fabian Johnson. On February 27, Berhalter captained an 1860 side featuring the Bender twins, Lars and Sven, in the starting lineup against a Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Bayern Munich side featuring veterans Oliver Kahn, Zé Roberto, Willy Sangol, Luca Toni and youngsters such as Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Lukas Podolski. Berhalter and company held their rivals scoreless for 120 minutes before a Franck Ribéry penalty gave Bayern, who went on to do the double that season, a 1-0 win.
The Englewood, New Jersey native came to the blue side of Munich from Energie Cottbus, where he featured in 111 matches, scoring nine goals after signing with the team in 2002. His significance to Cottbus is exemplified in Cottbus’ final match of the 2006/2007 season in a match against 1860. Behind a goal, captain Berhalter converted a penalty to level the match before Cottbus scored twice more to not only win the match, but earn promotion to Germany’s first division. Beginning his professional career in 1994, Berhalter played for three Dutch clubs (Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam and Cambur Leeuwarden), Crystal Palace and finished his career in the MLS with the LA Galaxy, where he won the MLS Cup in 2011. Berhalter also earned 44 caps for the USMNT.
Following the end of his playing career, Berhalter became the first American to be named coach of a European club when he was appointed to that role at Swedish club Hammarby IF in December, 2011. He led the club to an 18-12-16 record before being dismissed in July, 2013 and accepted the Crew’s coaching position later that same year. Despite the Crew’s lack of big-name players that dot the rosters of other MLS clubs, Berhalter led them to a 15-8-11 regular season record.
The Crew, one of the original MLS clubs from 1996, have even more of a German flavor. Assistant Coach Josh Wolff was Berhalter’s teammate at 1860 Munich, featuring in 34 Bundesliga 2 matches and scoring twice, while defender Michael Parkhurst had a brief loan spell at FC Augsburg, playing in two Bundesliga matches.
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