In 2017, the U.S. men’s national soccer team reached its modern nadir: For the first time in 32 years, it failed to qualify for the World Cup. The man hired to turn things around? Gregg Berhalter, who in late 2018 was named head coach by the United States Soccer Federation, which is based in Chicago. Berhalter knows a thing or two about the World Cup: He was on the U.S. World Cup team in 2002 — when it reached the quarterfinals, the furthest the U.S. men have advanced since 1930 — and in 2006. He played professionally from 1993 to 2011, in the U.S. and Europe, and spent five seasons coaching Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew.

He managed to steer the U.S. team through qualifying for this year’s World Cup, which will be held in Qatar. Now comes the hard part: group play games against Wales, England, and Iran, beginning November 21, with a spot in the knockout rounds on the line. The 49-year-old New Jersey native, who lives in Lake View, talked to Chicago about the “responsibility” the team shoulders, the state of soccer in America, and, of course, the Ted Lasso effect.

Where were you when the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup?

In my living room. We had some people over watching the game. It was a bad feeling. Then you take a step back and start looking at the reasons why. Maybe it’s a wake-up call. That’s the way we’ve seen it. We took the team over in 2019, and it has grown leaps and bounds. It will be the youngest team at the World Cup. We’re sad that it took an event like that to get us here, but we’re ready to go.

How do you develop relationships and identity as a team when you’re spending only a few days with them every few months?

When you’re together, you need to maximize those moments. You need to program activities to build team culture. You need to be clear on the vision that you’re trying to set, the values you represent as a group. If you can do those things, you start adding to the foundation and eventually you get to a good spot. And that’s where we are now. The guys have a very clear understanding of the expectations. And they’re committed to each other and the team.

Why did you decide to move to Chicago when you took the job? Your predecessors haven’t necessarily done that.

Part of this new design was to have all the coaching staff of the men’s and women’s senior teams and all the youth teams all in one location to have more collaborative work. It’s an idea that makes a ton of sense. Probably should have been doing that before.

What has surprised you most about the job?

The mindset of the public — the extreme disappointment after 2018. It took a long time to get the fans back on board and behind the team.

Do you feel fans are more reactive these days to setbacks?

I think that is the result of social media. You hear people’s point of view more. All in all, we want soccer in the conversation, even if it’s negative. In Chicago, I get stopped all the time, and people are nothing but nice. But one time, I was running — I was crossing Clark — and a car was at a red light and a guy yells out the window, “Berhalter, go back to Columbus!” I thought that was pretty funny.

You were part of two U.S. World Cup squads as a player. What’s it like to play in it?

It’s amazing. The whole world stops to watch what you’re doing. In our quarterfinal game against Germany in 2002, after we lost, I got messages from all around the world. It’s just a reminder that the World Cup is the world’s biggest sporting event. There’s a time period in November where everything’s going to shut down and people are going to have all their eyes focused on what’s happening in Qatar.

That 2002 quarterfinal featured one of the great what-if moments in U.S. Soccer history: when your would-be equalizer goal was stopped by a blatant handball. How often do you think about that?

Not too often. The differences between winning and losing are so small, and it comes down to maybe a referee decision or a ball inches away from going in. And that’s part of the game. I’ve learned to accept that. Even though we lost, it’s one of those moments where you walk off the field proud.

What has it been like to watch soccer evolve in the U.S. since then?

The level of talent we’re getting in Major League Soccer is much higher. Our youth development efforts have multiplied, and you see the results with a lot of young players in Major League Soccer and abroad. The fan experience — the stadiums and training grounds in MLS now are some of the best in the world. So we’re in a good spot in terms of soccer in America. We need to keep growing. I think we have a big responsibility as a national team to perform well at this World Cup.

It’s interesting you put it that way, because soccer’s place in American sports often seems to be judged on how the national team performs. Do you feel added pressure because of that?

It’s not pressure — it’s a great responsibility. I think about all the young girls who got excited about soccer because of the women winning the World Cup and what momentum it caused in the women’s game. We can do the same in the men’s game by performing well.

During your playing career, you spent time in the Netherlands, England, and Germany. How has the perception of American players changed in Europe since you were there?

It’s definitely changed, man. Now we have players at top clubs getting respect globally. We’ve invested a lot of money in youth development, and you can see it paying off. There’s a native Chicago guy, Gaga Slonina, who just signed for Chelsea — a Chicago Fire kid, grew up in their academy, and is going to be playing for one of the top clubs in the world.

Have you ever felt disrespected as a coach or a player because of your nationality?

In the early days when I was in Europe, they looked at us as stereotypical Americans. They didn’t appreciate us sometimes for the skill we had. They thought we were just hardworking. But in the end, you win them over by what you do on the field.

Ted Lasso probably isn’t helping much when it comes to stereotypes about Americans.

I think Ted Lasso is a great analogy for any sport or anything in life. You just want to have hope. And hope is a secret weapon.

What has been your most Ted Lasso moment since becoming the national team coach?

We’re very positive with the group. Ted Lasso might be an exaggeration, but we believe very much in team spirit, team culture, togetherness, the brotherhood — all those things that we work really hard to build.

What, in your mind, would a successful World Cup look like?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but you have to take it in the context of soccer. There’s very little sometimes separating the winners and losers of a game, right? You can go to the knockout round and play a perfect game and lose in penalty kicks. We want to get out of the group phase. From there, the goal is to have a very good performance in the knockout round. You want to walk off that field knowing you did everything you could do to win that game. You just don’t know how the ball is going to bounce.