A True Leader
CARSON, Calif. – Gregg Berhalter’s LA Galaxy teammates will miss his on-field directions, which sometimes were delivered at ear-splitting levels. They also will miss his communication skills that likely will lead to a successful coaching career.
But mostly they will miss him for his devotion to the game.
The 38-year-old central defender/assistant coach, who last Wednesday announced his retirement following the 2011 MLS season, played in his final regular season home game for the Galaxy and was honored by the club following Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Chivas USA. Soon he will leave behind a playing career that has taken him to Holland, England, Germany, the U.S. National Team (for which he earned 44 caps and appeared in two World Cups) and, finally, the Galaxy.
WATCH: Postgame with Berhalter
Berhalter played the full 90 minutes on Sunday, the first time he has gone the distance in an MLS game since Aug. 20 against the San Jose Earthquakes – he’s been battling a sprained right foot – and was made captain with Landon Donovan unavailable to play. Berhalter called the captaincy “a nice honor” and admitted he couldn’t help but feel the emotions of the night.
“There definitely were some,” he said. “But I kind of wanted to get this game out of the way so I could focus on the rest of the season and the playoffs.”
Berhalter’s Galaxy career began on April 7, 2009 in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game against Colorado -- just four days after he left Europe to sign – and Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena had no doubt the veteran would be a good fit, aside from the fact the Galaxy were lacking quality defenders at the time.
“He filled a void that we had, but I still wasn’t quite sure if he would embrace it the way he has,” Arena said. “He’s committed to be good and he worked hard every day.
“I think Gregg is a lot different than the typical American player. I think he’s fought for everything he’s gotten in the game. He went over to Europe at a young age and probably got beat up a little bit.
Various clubs he’s been in he’s been in cut-throat environments. He’s been trained to be professional every day and compete every day.”
Berhalter said he learned to take that approach a long time ago.
“You develop it over the years, but you realize if you want to succeed overseas, in any profession, you need to take your job as seriously and you need to be professional and work hard,” he said.
“There’s thousands of other guys fighting for my job.
“I’m not going to last if I’m messing around.”
Veteran Frankie Hejduk, Berhalter’s roommate on road trips, said he was sad to see Berhalter go but marveled at the example he set.
“He plays exactly in practice like every coach would want you to play,” Hejduk said. “He plays every single play like it’s his last game. If there’s any one thing to say about him it’s his professionalism in every sense of the word.”
Former Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez attributed his development into one of the best central defenders in MLS to Berhalter’s tutelage. And that often came at the high price of heated criticism.
“From the very beginning, he’s been on my case, just making it a mission to help me become one of the best center backs,” Gonzalez said. “I really do thank him for that.”
Todd Dunivant said Berhalter always found ways to contribute to the team’s success, even as his playing time diminished. His start Sunday, for example, was only his seventh of the regular season.
“He hasn’t played as much but he’s done a lot on the practice field with us, in the video room, taking the back four aside, breaking down film and showing us stuff,” Dunivant said. “His role, even though he hasn’t been on the field as much, has been just as important.
“That’s the sign of a good leader, doing what it takes to step up and help the team.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Gregg Berhalter Announces Retirement