VANCOUVER, BC - Heading into the 2022 season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Sebastian Berhalter was entering his third MLS team in the last three years as he joined the ‘Caps via trade from his hometown club Columbus Crew.
The product of Westerville, Ohio had spent the 2021 season on loan with fellow Western Conference side Austin FC after being part of the Crew’s MLS Cup winning side in 2020.
Despite getting the odd chance to prove himself every so often, the youngster had never found a sense of prosperity or stability during his career.
Something Berhalter has had in his career so far has been the ability to take valuable lessons from all the vast teammates and coaches he's had and apply them to his modern game.
"I think meeting so many different players you get a lot of different perspectives from people who've won great things, people who are just coming into the league, you can learn something from everyone," explained Berhalter, "I think I've had three good coaches and to be able to hear different ideas and bounce ideas off of them has been great."
The experiences of switching cities have helped Berhalter grow off the field as well, learning to figure out the challenges of daily life at the young age of 21.
"The transitions grow you as a person, on the field and off the field, just learning how to do things off the field, making my way around new cities, not having friends and just kind of doing it on my own and I think it's really grown me as a person."
But like any professional footballer, having stability in a team makes it all the more relaxing to get along with the off-the-field challenges, as well as the mental side of the game.
Fast forward to the end of 2022, Berhalter impressed in his first season with the 'Caps and got his 2023 contract option picked up.
It marks the first time in his young, three-year MLS career he will be returning to play in the same city.
"From day one, the guys were super accepting, the transition was super smooth," said Berhalter, "I'm thankful for Vancouver that they believe in me, I've kind of bounced around and I haven't had that stability, it feels nice so I'm just thankful, proud and humbled to be in this team."
However, Berhalter’s first season in Vancouver wasn’t all smooth sailings.
After starting nine of his first 14 appearances of the season, the youngster’s campaign was abrupted in June after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, keeping him out of action until mid-August.
"It was tough, but in the end I think everything happens for a reason," described Berhalter, "There's not a lot of times in a season where you get to stop and see what you need to improve on and really hammer stuff in, also in the gym, I think that was important for me."
The midfielder would go on to start only two more matches and make another six appearances in 2022, but despite it all, impressed the coaching staff to stick around in Vancouver.
"From day one, as soon as I heard the news [of the injury], I had to work, nothing's guaranteed and we brought in more players so it was always going to be a fight. I think everyone here was super supportive and helped me a lot, mentally too. I'm lucky to be around such good people."
Off the field, Berhalter has taken the Vancouver lifestyle in stride, exploring all the nature and activities the city has to offer.
He's also developed friendships with his teammates and nurtures the chance of staying with a tight-knit group going into next season.
In addition, despite his age, Berhalter hopes to help the next generation of 'Caps talent by passing on the lessons he's learnt from former teammates and coaches.
The youngster already boasts a Canadian Championship medal as well as an MLS Cup medal in his resume and aims to pass on the lessons he’s learnt from those experiences.
"You get to see what winning cultures are like, hopefully I get to keep passing that on to younger guys and hopefully keep motivating. I feel lucky to be in a position where people look up to players like us so just using that and keep inspiring another generation."
He’s also a guy who genuinely loves soccer, following the sport across the world and ignoring the pressure that’s been put on the last name on the back of his jersey, given his father, Gregg Berhalter, is the coach of the United States men's national team.
"I'm kind of used to it and I never put pressure, I'm lucky to have a family that always supports me," explained Berhalter, "[Soccer] was something I fell in love with myself, they never pushed anything on me, I kind of just found it day-by-day, year-by-year."
Berhalter is now turning his focus to 2023 and that begins by continuing to work during the offseason, whether it be on the pitch or in the gym.
“For me, I love the offseason, because I know it’s a time where I’m going to work and other people won’t and I know I’ll work harder than everyone else,” said Berhalter, “This is a time that I love, I get to get ahead and get into preseason with kind of an edge on everyone else.”
With four competitions on the horizon in 2023 for the 'Caps, the American knows there will be plenty of chances to continue proving himself and with that will also come plenty of opportunities for the team to collect some silverware.
"We want to win, I want to win the MLS Cup, why not? We have a good enough team, we got a great staff and we want to go out there and win everything possible."
Be sure to catch Berhalter and the rest of the ‘Caps in 2023 as they compete in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 against Honduran side Real CD España, with the first leg being played on Wednesday, March 8 at BC Place. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PT. Single match tickets and packs will be available for purchase in the coming weeks.