Gregg Berhalter’s job description has apparently expanded. In addition to CINCUSMNT, Berhalter has seemingly been promoted to CNO as well. That’s at least per one Iranian reporter, who asked Berhalter at a press conference Monday why he hasn’t weighed in on U.S. ship deployments near Iran:
Iranian journalist just asked Berhalter why he hasn't asked US gov't to remove a Naval ship from around Iran. That's where we are today.
— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) November 28, 2022
Yes, there are currently significant tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and naval operations are definitely a part of that. In August, an Iranian ship tried to tow a U.S. drone in international waters in the Persian Gulf, only backing off after pressure from a U.S. Navy coastal patrol ship and a helicopter. In September, an Iranian warship in international waters in the Red Sea actually seized two U.S. drones, only releasing them 18 hours later after U.S. guided missile destroyers and helicopters responded. This month in the Gulf of Oman, the U.S. Navy intercepted what it called a “massive” cargo of explosive material being sent from Iran to Yemen.
So questions about the U.S. naval presence around Iran are understandable. And it’s not exactly clear which ship the journalist here was questioning, as there are several that could be referenced. The U.S Naval Institute’s fleet tracker has nothing specifically on Iran, and the two destroyers specifically mentioned in the September Red Sea incident, the USS Nitze and USS Delbert D. Black, deployed as part of the Sixth Fleet’s Carrier Strike Group 10, centered on the USS George H. W. Bush (underway in the Mediterranean Sea, recently doing joint NATO exercises). But the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet recently posted photos of those destroyers in the “Arabian Gulf” (the name itself is the source of dispute) last week.
?: Photos of guided-missile destroyers USS Nitze (DDG 94) and USS Delbert D. Black (DDG 119) operating in the Arabian Gulf over the past week. Nitze and Delbert D. Black are deployed to the Middle East, operating around the clock to support maritime security. pic.twitter.com/NSjBp0KVqt
— U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet (@US5thFleet) November 28, 2022
The destroyer mentioned in last week’s explosive materials seizure in the Gulf of Oman, USS The Sullivans, is also part of the Fifth Fleet. So it seems some or all of those ships, and/or ships they’re operating with, are probably what’s at issue here. But questions here would still likely be better directed to Navy or State Department spokespeople (or even elected officials, like President Joe Biden) rather than the U.S. men’s soccer head coach. This did lead to some funny responses, though:
Well Gregg is notoriously hesitant to make subs, so my guess is those ships will be out there until at least the 80th minute
— Footy Banter (@_Footy_Banter) November 28, 2022
buddy we can’t even get him to play Gio https://t.co/nbTpp2Pynv
— Tim Murphy (@timothypmurphy) November 28, 2022
Hey Joe, Gregg here.
The US coach.
So we play Iran this week.
Not MLS Cup, the #WorldCup.
Anyway, it would be a good idea for the Navy to move one of our aircraft carrier groups off the coast of Iran. Can you get on that ASAP? Thanks. https://t.co/PDRW9K0Tox
— Brooke Tunstall (@YesThatBrooke) November 28, 2022
Admiral Berhalter about to lead the navy in the Persian Gulf to an all-out attack in a 4-3-3 formation.
Reports from the Pentagon confirm that Petty Officer Gio Reyna has been given command of a tugboat in the rear.
— 11 Yanks (@11Yanks) November 28, 2022
Sorry Iran, but unless that US naval ship is currently stationed in the MLS Gregg Berhalter doesn’t care about it https://t.co/hauZivTgz3
— Petrov McGuire (@McguirePetrov) November 28, 2022
In fairness, when I look at the last decade of our Iran policy, I can’t see any reason NOT to suppose Gregg Berhalter is in charge of it https://t.co/gkLz94eTtg
— Brian Phillips (@brianphillips) November 28, 2022
This was one of many far-from-soccer subjects Berhalter (seen above at a Nov. 24 press conference) was asked about:
GB's responses, in brief: 19 [actually 20] million people watched the last game back home, they usually get behind us at big int'l tourneys and we hope that continues … "I don't know enough about politics, I'm a soccer coach"
— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) November 28, 2022
In addition to the far-flung questions for Berhalter, midfielder Tyler Adams was also asked about racism in the U.S.:
Gregg Berhalter and Tyler Adams have now been asked about systemic racism in the U.S., the American fleet in the Persian Gulf, high inflation, and why Iranians need a visa to visit the USA but Americans don’t need one for Iran.
This press conference has been… different.
— Leander Schaerlaeckens (@LeanderAlphabet) November 28, 2022
— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) November 28, 2022
Class and respect from Tyler Adams with the way he handled this question today ?
— USMNT Only (@usmntonly) November 28, 2022
The one notable non-soccer thing Berhalter was actually asked about by Iranian reporters was the U.S. Soccer decision to tweet an altered photo of the Iran flag without the insignia that represents the Islamic Republic, which they said was to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights” (something the Iranian team has also supported). U.S. Soccer later deleted that tweet, Iran complained to FIFA and tried to get the U.S. expelled from the World Cup (good luck), and reporting suggested Berhalter and the U.S. players weren’t informed of that plan. Berhalter supported that with his comments when asked about it Monday, and offered an apology as well:
“We had no idea about what US Soccer put out. The staff, the players had no idea,” Berhalter said. “You know, I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring by saying that, but the guys have worked really hard for the last four years, we have 72 hours between England and Iran and we really are just focused on how to get past Iran and go to the knockout stage of the tournament.
“Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone, but our focus is on this match.
“Sometimes things are out of our control. We believe that this is going to be a match that the result will depend on who puts more effort in, who executes better on the field. And you know, we’re not focused on those outside things and all we can do, on our behalf, is apologise on behalf of the players and the staff. But it’s not something that we were a part of.”
So, with his focus on the field (as it should be), Berhalter probably won’t be asking the U.S. Navy to move its ships.
[Nancy Armour on Twitter; photo from Danielle Parhizkaran/USA Today Sports]