Crew View: Get to know Miguel Berry
The 24-year-old Crew striker discusses the early Crew season, growing up in Barcelona and San Diego, his favorite U.K. rap, his relationship with Gyasi Zardes and more
After spending his first year out of the University of San Diego on the bench and on loan in 2020, young Columbus Crew striker Miguel Berry emerged as a fan favorite in 2021 due to hustle, opportunism and some timely goals. Still, it was somewhat surprising to see Berry, 24, win the full-time starting job over Crew and U.S. national team veteran Gyasi Zardes at the outset of 2022.
Berry scored the first goal of the Crew’s season, earning accolades from the national soccer media in the process. He’s been a fixture of the starting lineup in the three games since, which have seen the team off to an undefeated start. With eight points on a 2-0-2 record, Columbus sits at second place in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday’s 6 p.m. home game against Nashville SC — at which the Crew will honor recently retired club legend Federico Higuain.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Berry about the early Crew season, growing up in Barcelona and San Diego, adjusting to big life changes, his favorite U.K. rap, his relationship with Zardes and more.
You were born in Barcelona to American parents and lived there until you were eight. How did your parents end up there, and what made them decide to move back to the U.S.?
My dad is Cuban-American, but by Cuban-American I mean he’s full-blooded Cuban by Spanish descent. My mother was American. My dad always wanted to live in Europe, in Spain, so he did that for about 15 years. So they were out there way before I was born. It got to the point where we spent a while there and I think my mother wanted to come back. It’s obviously difficult when you live in a foreign country, you don’t speak the language that well, all of her friends and family were here. So we ended up moving to California from there. I loved it [in Spain]. They almost thought about leaving me there because I was playing soccer and things were going well.
So do you support FC Barcelona in LaLiga and UEFA Champions League and all that?
Yes. I watch every game I can. I’m a huge fan. I read all of the local papers there. Through thick and thin, it’s something I love to do. It makes me happy. Even when things aren’t going well, it still makes me happy.
What do you remember about the change from Spain to California? Was it a hard transition?
Yeah, it was brutal. It was very difficult. Thinking back, there’s little things where people just don’t understand, cultural differences. And I didn’t understand certain things, why they didn’t work the way I thought they would. Just going from playing soccer all day every day to having to learn all these new sports — ’cause no one ever played soccer. It’s changed so much now since I was a kid. Soccer was always a youth game for kids to play, and now it’s seen way more seriously than it used to be. We’ve also done a great job with things like grassroots academies, things like that. But yeah, it was a brutal change, everything from food to school. It was a long process of getting to know all the rules of American football, baseball, all those things.
Fast-forwarding many years to another big change: Your first season with the Crew was also the first year of the pandemic. You didn’t get to play, and you ended up back in San Diego, where you had grown up and played college soccer, on loan to the San Diego Loyal. Did you get to choose where you were loaned out? It seems nice that of all the teams to be loaned out to, you got to go to the one back home.
I went to college in San Diego, but when I went to college my dad moved up to Oakland, California. So obviously I knew the city, but it wasn’t like I was living with my family or anything like that. My family had been long gone out of San Diego. It’s still one of my homes. I love it there. Beautiful city. But I think for me, [the Loyal] followed me since college. They wanted me. I wanted to go somewhere where I felt wanted and I felt like I could make an impact. They were following me along all season. So I was very excited. And I was watching their games, of course. The first professional team in San Diego, you have to watch. And I still do now. I love to support them. So I was very excited to do that.
At this point you’re pretty firmly entrenched in the Columbus lineup. You’ve had a little bit of time to actually live here. What are some things you like to do around town, restaurants you like, or places you like to go? Obviously it’s way different from California here, as well. What’s your experience been like?
A lot of my friends in college were from Europe, so they don’t understand the U.S. When I got drafted by Columbus, it was funny. They were like, “Oh, my god. You’ve got to go from San Diego to Columbus.” I told them, “Guys, it’s way different than you think.” Obviously the cold is something I’ll never get used to. But for me, obviously San Diego has the best zoo, but the Columbus Zoo I love going to. It’s awesome there. I lived in German Village all last year. I loved it there. Beautiful place. The gastronomy here in Columbus is pretty good, so I like the food. There’s a good taco truck that I like that reminds me of San Diego. I’m a simple guy. The zoo — I don’t do much else after that. Just wish there was a beach.
Yeah, that was the Frankie Hejduk pipeline, I guess. You fall in love with Columbus but you still long for the beach. So, my primary work is as a music critic, so I always like to hear what pop culture people are into. What have you been enjoying lately?
I have very eclectic tastes, very much influenced by my friends. A lot of my friends are from the U.K., so I listen to a lot of U.K. rap. I also listen to a lot of Spanish music, Latin music, both from Spain and also from Central, South America. I listen to everything. [Goalkeeper] Evan Bush and those guys, they love their country here. I’ve never really listened to country in my life. So you know, I’ll listen and appreciate the music, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily for me. Definitely the first two I mentioned are what I listen to more than anything.
U.K. rap — like Stormzy and stuff like that?
Stormzy. Dave. Dave is my big one. J Hus is someone who hasn’t come out with an album in a couple years, but he’s one I love. Hopefully there’s one around the corner.
The Crew season is off to a good start. You guys are undefeated, so you can’t complain too much about the results thus far, but what do you see as areas for improvement going forward?
The thing with our team is we know we have quality everywhere on the field. We know teams know we’re very difficult to play against, so they make it extremely tough for us. And I think we’ve done a good job of scoring goals this year. It’s a matter of just closing games out consistently, which is one of the hardest things to do. Obviously in San Jose, we were 3-1 with a man up, and [ending in a 3-3 draw] was a difficult result. But we’re very confident in our team. I think it’s just taking it one game at a time because it’s a long season. We’re in March right now. We’ll still be playing in October and hopefully in November. So we know it’s a very long season. You’ve got to take it one game at a time and look at the team in front of you. There’s going to be ups and downs, and we know it.
You had the first goal of the season. It was not the prettiest goal anyone’s ever scored, but I guess that’s the striker mentality: You’ve just got to get it in somehow, right?
Yeah. That is very true. I haven’t really had a big chance since then, so you’ve just got to take what you can get. Obviously I love scoring goals. It’s my favorite thing to do besides winning games. So you take what you can get and hope for the next game to get another one.
One popular take that I see a lot now is that the MLS SuperDraft is outdated and youth academies are rendering college soccer irrelevant. As somebody who played college soccer and is now playing a big role on a very good MLS team, what’s your take on that whole ecosystem?
For me, I was one of those kids who grew up outside of an MLS [market]. Obviously academies are now expanding to recruiting kids more than they did when I played. I grew up outside of an MLS academy. I didn’t really have the option. I knew I had to go to college. I think it’s good, ultimately, that kids are starting to get chances younger. For me, it’s something I would have appreciated. But obviously I just stayed the course for four years, and I think there’s still good players like me that maybe develop later or didn’t get the lucky breaks that sometimes you need to break through, who are still in college. So I think the draft maybe isn’t the best. For me, the draft is frustrating because the draft isn’t always the best way to do things in every sport. Soccer is maybe not the best sport for the draft. I think if a team wants a player, they should be able to sign them, you know? But obviously MLS still has the draft, and it’s good these college kids are still getting chances. Because there’s some top-tier talent. Daryl Dike just left [for Europe]. Tajon Buchanan just left. My draft class had quite a few good players. So it’s good to see it still alive.
I saw one of the big U.S. soccer writers say the U.S. national team needs to cap you so Spain doesn’t get to it first. Have you put any thought into that stuff and if you have a preference on which nation you would want to represent?
No. I mean, for me, I’m the story of many Americans who have the opportunity to live in two different countries and have the pleasure of calling two different places home. In the future, down the line, we’ll see what happens. I take it one day at a time. But I’m blessed to have two places where I feel very comfortable living in and calling home. So I wouldn’t say I’ve really thought about playing for one more than the other. But probably the U.S. is more realistic given how good Spain is. So we’ll see.
A lot of us expected to see an even split between you and Gyasi Zardes this year, alternating starts or something like that. But you’ve started every game and he’s come off the bench, and there were some reports that the Crew was open to trading him. What has the ongoing relationship been like there?
Gyasi and I have always had a great relationship, going back to my first year when I was new to the league, didn’t understand what was going on. He’s always been great, and we’ve always had a great relationship. I think it’s hard for people to understand because it’s not maybe so common in sports. But Gyasi and I really root for each other. I was really excited when he scored. Every time he comes on, I hope he gets a goal, and I know he hopes the same for me. We’re extremely supportive of each other. He’s something like eight or nine goals away from being the all-time leading scorer for Columbus, and that’s something I want to see him hit. He deserves it. He’s been incredible for this city. He’s an incredible player to have on this team. We know what he can contribute and what he can do. It’s just incredible having him here in training every day. He’s an incredible professional. So we’re really lucky to have him.