It’s been just over a year since Trinidad and Tobago ended an entire era of American soccer. Last October, the United States somehow lost 2-1 to an awful T&T team that was playing mostly backups, ending the USA’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup. There have been many changes since then, but we’re still waiting on the biggest one: Who will be the next full-time coach of the team?
It’s been a year for soul-searching. Who are we as a soccer nation, if we can’t get so much as a draw with Trinidad and Tobago when we need one? That question drove U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati into an unwanted early retirement, forever tarnished Bruce Arena’s coaching legacy. It led to several national-team stalwarts — midfielder Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore chief among them — to endure torrents of abuse from fans around the country.
Former assistant Dave Sarachan has been interim coach for nearly a year now. Once a new coach is hired, we’ll start to see how U.S. Soccer is planning to get past this nightmare. New national team general manager Earnie Stewart seems to have a few names at the top of his list.
The reported leading candidate is current Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter, who’s shown a knack for getting the best out of limited resources in Columbus. Berhalter brings a possession-focused mentality that is paired with a pragmatic tactical attitude. His teams have focused on pressing and creating offensive chances through possession, but have done it from all sorts of formations.
That flexibility might be the key to his candidacy. The United States doesn’t have the talent to compete with the greats of world soccer, something the former national-team defender is well aware of. The manager of Brazil or Spain might have the luxury of selecting players to fit a certain system, but the USA coach is going to have to tailor plans to who is available. Berhalter can do that well. While it seems like a basic requirement, two and possibly three of the last five USMNT head coaches have been unable to do so, depending on who you ask.
Other candidates in a similar vein are former New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch and current Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes. Both have led MLS teams to consistent success despite their clubs not being among the biggest spenders in the league.
Marsch, a former national team assistant, left New York earlier this year to take an assistant coaching job with RB Leipzig in Germany, an added perspective that could help his candidacy.
Vermes, who has managed Kansas City for nearly a decade, might know the domestic game better than anyone else.
Stewart has plenty of other names to consider as well, and you can find suggestions that all sorts of coaches might be interested, from former Premier League managers to out-of-left-field choices from Mexico and South America. With U.S. Soccer returning to its roots after the failures of last fall, though, expect a distinctly American choice. Berhalter, Marsch, and Vermes fit that bill. And it won’t be long before U.S. Soccer puts its new men’s national team coach permanently in charge.
SOCCER SHORT TAKES
• Here’s hoping this is the last time that CONCACAF uses a single tournament as a qualifier for the Women’s World Cup. The anniversary of the U.S. men’s national team’s failure to qualify is a reminder. That crushing defeat against Trinidad and Tobago was the end of a 16-game process that stretched nearly two years. Why should the men’s teams spend that much time playing high-profile important qualifiers while the women’s teams get only a cursory two-week tournament?
• Maybe I was too quick to write off the title races in the big European leagues this season. Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain are both unbeaten and untied, so Italy and France are short on excitement. But the Spanish and German title races appear to be well and truly happening. Bayern Munich is in sixth place after receiving a 3-0 drubbing — at home! — from Borussia Moenchengladbach. Real Madrid lost at home to lowly Alaves. Barcelona hasn’t won any of its last four league games. Sevilla leads the league in Spain, Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
• Portland midfielder Lindsey Horan (above) and Seattle attacker Megan Rapinoe were the only two American women to make the 15-person shortlist for the first-ever women’s version of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award, given to the best women’s player in the world. Three other NWSL players are on the list as well.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
CONCACAF women’s championship: United States vs. Jamaica, 7 p.m. Sunday, FS1. It’s been a dominant tournament so far for the United States, which has pasted Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago by a combined score of 18-0. A semifinal victory, in addition to sending the USA to the final, would officially put the team in next summer’s World Cup.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. • firstname.lastname@example.org