U.S. men's national team is still searching for a full-time coach. What's taking so long?
It's telling that about six months ago, U.S. Soccer Federation news releases stopped referring to Dave Sarachan as the "acting head coach" of the men's national team. It wasn't that Sarachan was in the running for the full-time job, but it was more an acknowledgement that a permanent hire -- if there is such a thing in the world of coaching -- wasn't going to get made anytime soon.
Sarachan's spell in charge has now stretched to 10 months, a span that will include eight games after upcoming matches against Brazil on Sept. 7 and Mexico four days later. And as the timeline for hiring a new manager has gone on and on and on, Sarachan's contract has been extended multiple times and now stands to run until the end of 2018.
With that reality come the inevitable questions. When exactly will the USSF hire a full-time manager? Why is it taking so long? And, of course, whom will they hire?
The answer to the second question lies partly in the upheaval since that night in Couva, Trinidad, last October when the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. That ultimately begat Sunil Gulati's decision not to run for re-election as USSF president, and not wanting to make a decision as a lame duck, the decision of men's national team manager was left to his successor. Along the way, it was decided that whomever was elected would appoint a general manager of the U.S. national team to oversee the search.
Carlos Cordeiro was duly elected as USSF president, and in parallel with the mad dash that occurred in order to secure the hosting rights -- along with Canada and Mexico -- for the 2026 World Cup, Earnie Stewart was hired as GM in early June. Except Stewart's tenure didn't begin (officially, at any rate) until Aug. 1 amounting to another delay, though he could be seen making the rounds in the days leading up to the MLS All-Star Game.
So here we are, into September, and a U.S. Soccer spokesperson has confirmed that no interviews have been held, keeping with Stewart's statement upon being hired that, "It will be process over speed." One USSF source said the search could drag into November or December.
As for what Stewart has been doing with his time, sources indicate he has been reaching out to former players, coaches and executives and getting their input on what they would like to see in a coach. His remit also includes spelling out the broad strokes in terms of style of play; this has figured into Stewart's conversations as well.
There is a question of how much say Stewart will ultimately have in terms of the decision. He will be the one to make a recommendation to the USSF hierarchy and board of directors, but it will be USSF CEO Dan Flynn who will do the negotiating in terms of a contract. It may be that Flynn has the final say.
For now it is up to Stewart to lead the search. One source indicated that Stewart is leaning toward making a "legacy hire," one that would leave a lasting imprint on the national team program, as opposed to one whose sole aim is to get the U.S. men back qualifying for World Cups. Granted, legacy was what Gulati had in mind when he hired Jurgen Klinsmann back in 2011, though the USSF technical hierarchy -- which, in addition to Stewart, includes chief sport development officer Nico Romeijn and chief soccer officer Ryan Mooney -- has stressed that the working environment will be collaborative in nature as opposed to having the manager or the GM make all the decisions.
Such an approach points away from proven international managers such as Louis van Gaal and Dick Advocaat, who would no doubt want total control of all team-related matters. That said, Frank de Boer, whom Stewart knows well, is one name that keeps popping up and he's available, though his most recent managerial stint with Crystal Palace ended after a mere five games.
If that doesn't sound inspiring, it merely points to the fact that the U.S. job isn't one to attract a slew of international candidates with impressive résumés. Sure, there is less pressure than in other more soccer-mad countries but it isn't the kind of stepping stone for a manager on the outside to get back to the European elite.
It's also one not worth waiting around for as former Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio, whom sources say was very interested in the U.S. job, has already signed on with Paraguay. Opinions vary as to whether the USSF missed out or dodged a bad hire but at minimum it would have been prudent to talk to a candidate that is as familiar with the U.S. setup as Osorio.
With all that in mind, the signs are pointing to the hiring of a manager currently in MLS or at least one with strong ties to the league. Sources have said Stewart prefers a manager familiar with CONCACAF, MLS and the current player pool.
Of the coaches currently operating in MLS, Atlanta United's Tata Martino has the most impressive résumé given his vast experience managing not only Barcelona and Argentina, but also more modest sides like Newell's Old Boys. But his inability to communicate in English remains a huge stumbling block, not so much in terms of talking to the team -- Atlanta seems to have done just fine under such a scenario -- but there is a public facing aspect to the job that requires proficiency in English. That could be seen as too big an obstacle and while his contract is up at the end of the season, he seems to be enjoying his time building a juggernaut in Atlanta.
LAFC manager Bob Bradley has the most experience of any American given his stints overseas. While Bradley suffered during his time with Swansea City, then of the Premier League, his spell with the L.A. expansion club has been superb. And with Gulati now gone -- he was the one who dropped the hammer on Bradley's stint as U.S. manager back in 2011 in favor of Klinsmann -- the dynamics for a return are better than they might have been otherwise.
Bradley is no doubt a better manager than he was back then, except that the U.S. has already gone back to an old standby once already with Bruce Arena, an appointment that ended in the aforementioned qualifying failure. The desire to start fresh is likely too strong to overcome.
That leaves Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter as the front-runner; in fact, the job appears to be his to lose. His experiences as a player and coach tick plenty of boxes. He spent the bulk of his playing career abroad and secured the UEFA A coaching license, in German no less. He did have a relatively unimpressive spell in charge of Swedish side Hammarby but has since enjoyed a successful five-season spell with Columbus, reaching an MLS Cup final while operating under considerable financial constraints as well as the club's overt attempt to relocate to Austin, Texas.
Berhalter has also drawn praise from MLS international managerial contingent -- be it Martino, former NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira, or current Blues boss Domenec Torrent -- for his attacking style and tactical acumen. The only question is whether the presence of Berhalter's brother Jay as USSF chief commercial officer might create the appearance of a conflict of interest, though the credentials compare well to the competition.
There are other American candidates as well, including Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes, current RB Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch and Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney. Current U.S. U20 manager Tab Ramos also figures to get an interview given his links to the younger elements of the current U.S. player pool, though his lack of experience managing at the club level figures to be a mark against him.
Of that group, Vermes in particular seems to be the manager most likely to get strong consideration but the SKC manager has operated in a situation where he has had full control of all technical matters, which is at odds with how the USSF says it wants to operate.
Meanwhile the search goes on. So too does the wait for a new manager.