U.S. Soccer is investigating Gregg Berhalter, who says he was a blackmail target

Head coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States attends a press conference on the eve of a round of 16 World Cup soccer match
U.S. men's soccer coach Gregg Berhalter (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

U.S. Soccer said Tuesday it launched an investigation into a potential blackmail plot involving men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter during the recent World Cup in Qatar.

In a lengthy social media post from an account U.S. Soccer said belonged to Berhalter, the coach said the federation was contacted by an unnamed individual during the tournament who said “they had information about me that would ‘take me down’ — an apparent effort to leverage something very personal from long ago to bring about the end of my relationship with U.S. Soccer.”

In the post, Berhalter, whose contract with U.S. Soccer ended Saturday, admitted to a physical altercation with his wife, Rosalind, outside a bar when both were 18. During the altercation, which occurred in 1991, Berhalter kicked Rosalind in the legs. The incident was never reported to the authorities and Berhalter said he sought counseling on his own.

The couple began dating more than a year later and were married in 1999.

“There are zero excuses for my actions that night; it was a shameful moment and one that I regret to this day,” Berhalter wrote.

In a separate statement, U.S. Soccer said it learned of the allegation against Berhalter on Dec. 11 and hired the Atlanta-based law firm of Alston & Bird LLP to conduct an independent investigation in that matter as well as “potential inappropriate behavior towards multiple members of our staff by individuals outside of our organization.”

“We take such behavior seriously,” the statement continued, “and have expanded our investigation to include those allegations.”

U.S. Soccer thanked the Berhalters for speaking openly about the incident and said it “condemns violence of any kind and takes such allegations very seriously.”

Berhalter, 49, a two-time World Cup selection as a player, was named coach of the national team in December 2018. In his four years in charge, he overhauled the team, auditioning 88 players and leading the U.S. back to the World Cup after an eight-year absence. He also won the Gold Cup and Nations League tournaments, going 37-11-12.

The U.S., unbeaten in World Cup group play, was eliminated in the round of 16 in Qatar, falling 3-1 to the Netherlands.

After returning to the U.S., Berhalter spoke at a summit on moral leadership where he referenced some internal issues in Qatar involving a player he did not name. The player did not display sufficient intensity in training, Berhalter said, and was nearly sent home.

It was later revealed the coach was speaking about forward Gio Reyna, who was little used in the World Cup. Reyna reportedly apologized to the team for his lack of effort in Qatar and Berhalter was roundly criticized for speaking about the issue publicly.

The U.S., which is without a head coach, hasn’t dismissed the option of retaining Berhalter. The team begins a new World Cup cycle later this month with a training camp and two friendlies in Southern California, facing Serbia on Jan. 25 at Banc of California Stadium and Colombia three days later at Dignity Health Sports Park.

U.S. Soccer said last month it was undertaking a full technical review of the men’s national team program and said Tuesday it expects to name a coach to lead the January training camp “in the coming days.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.