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International Eagles: Berhalter Becomes Palace's First World Cup Star

11 July 2018

As the World Cup enters its final week, so does our series profiled some of Palace's most famous international players. Here, we reflect on the career of the first Eagle to feature in a World Cup finals.

Palace’s connections with the USA are pretty strong. Co-owned by Joshua Harris and David Blitzer, they also used to have an affiliated side playing in Baltimore and even have a bald eagle that flies around Selhurst Park on a matchday.

However, the red, white and blue will always have place in red and blue history, as it was their national team that handed Palace their first ever World Cup representative - Gregg Berhalter.

The centre-back arrived at Selhurst Park towards the end of the 2000/01 campaign having been released by Dutch side Cambuur Leeuwarden. He had started his professional career in Holland representing Zwolle and Sparta Rotterdam, and after trials with Everton and Palace, the then-27-year-old opted for the latter on a short-term deal.

With Palace scrapping to avoid slipping into the third tier, Berhalter was thrown straight into a bear-pit of a relegation battle, and made five appearances towards the end of the campaign including on the crucial final day at Stockport County when Dougie Freedman’s famous late goal clinched Division One survival.

Having impressed in his handful of appearances, the defender inked a three-year extension but management upheaval involving Steve Bruce and Trevor Francis limited him to just 16 games in 2001/02, although he did register his only Eagles goal by driving a free-kick through a Bradford City wall in December 2001.

Despite a lack of club action Berhalter was a regular in the US side having won his first cap in 1994 in the same game as Jovan Kirovski, who joined his international teammate at Selhurst Park during the 2001/02 campaign. The pair helped their nation reach the 2002 World Cup with Berhalter featuring in seven qualifiers and was named in Bruce Arena’s squad for Japan and Korea.

The American was one of two Eagles selected for the tournament with Clinton Morrison in the Republic of Ireland party, and the race was on to see who would be Palace’s first World Cup star. However, despite their respective nations advancing through tricky groups, neither player was called upon.

That all changed though for Berhalter in the round of 16 when an injury to Jeff Agoos saw him deputise against neighbours Mexico, and the defender made history for club and country as he helped America reach their first quarter-final since 1930 as they ran out 2-0 victors.

He then lined up against Germany in the next round where the US lost 1-0, but things could have been very different had Berhalter not seen his goalbound attempt handled on the line by Thomas Linke which was undetected by the referee.

Despite returning to Selhurst as a record maker, he swiftly departed for Energie Cottbus in September 2002 where he captained them to promotion to the Bundesliga, and after a stint at 1860 Munich he returned to his homeland to turn out for David Beckham’s LA Galaxy, who won the MLS Cup in 2011.

After hanging up his boots later that year, he became assistant manager before taking charge of Hammarby in Sweden, becoming the first American to manage a professional side in Europe. He lasted 18 months before being sacked, but was then handed the top job at Columbus Crew in November 2013, and is still in charge to this day having been reunited with the Eagles as the sides shared a 2-2 friendly draw in the summer of 2014.

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