The 2018 World Cup is far from over, but as the tournament heads to the quarterfinals it has seen the departure of the coaches most likely to be candidates for the vacant U.S. national team coaching position.
Mexico's loss to Brazil , coupled with Iran's elimination in the group stage, has now paved the way for U.S. Soccer to start lining up the process to select its next head coach. Juan Carlos Osorio's future with Mexico remains a mystery, though it has appeared for some time that he would pursue other opportunities once the World Cup ended. Carlos Queiroz led Iran to a respectable showing at the World Cup, finishing with four points in a group that included Spain and Portugal.
Belgium's Roberto Martinez has long been seen as a potential option for the United States, but he signed a new deal with the Red Devils before the World Cup and looks set to continue on with the Belgians through the 2020 Euros. None of the other seven managers are realistic options to be candidates for the USMNT, meaning new general manager Earnie Stewart can now solidify his shortlist and start reaching out to his top targets.
The fact U.S. Soccer waited until after the World Cup to fully dive into its coaching search doesn't mean the hire will be a current international manager. There remains a good chance that a current Major League Soccer coach is chosen, with some young American candidates among the options making the rounds.
U.S. Soccer's decision to extend caretaker coach Dave Sarachan's contract through the end of the year gives Stewart some leeway as he proceeds with the search, and it also gives him a coach he can roll with if one of the MLS candidates accepts the position under the condition that they are allowed to finish out the current MLS season. Jesse Marsch's Red Bulls are a bona fide MLS Cup contender, while Gregg Berhalter's Columbus Crew are a safe bet to make the playoffs, with the talent to make a deep run in the postseason.
Who are the top candidates at this point? Only Stewart knows for sure, but here is a list of coaches who are good bets to be considered, and some who have been mentioned in the past, but are more likely long shots.
JUAN CARLOS OSORIO
The Mexico manager helped El Tri advance to the knockout round of the World Cup, beating reigning champion Germany along the way, but the round of 16 loss to Brazil kept the Colombian coach from having the signature accomplishment that would have made this World Cup a rousing success. It is unclear whether the Mexican Federation wants him to return , but Osorio has made no secret of his affinity for both the USMNT coaching position and the Colombian national team coaching job.
Osorio has at the very least earned a close look and interview for the U.S. job. He has a combination of international experience and a background in American soccer as a former MLS coach and someone who spent several years living in the United States as he worked to build his early career. His understanding of CONCACAF, along with the added bonus of knowing arch-rival Mexico better than any other coach on this list, make the 56-year-old Osorio a very appealing candidate.
It could ultimately come down to what Colombia does with its coaching position, and whether Argentine coach Jose Pekerman decides to continue in the role or step down. If Pekerman leaves the post, then Osorio would become the prime candidate to replace him, and the Colombia job is the one position Osorio would have a hard time passing up in order to coach the United States.
There has been a sense ever since Jurgen Klinsmann was sent packing in 2016 that the USMNT program would be led in the next World Cup qualifying cycle by an American coach. The Klinsmann experiment clearly has many at U.S. Soccer wary of going the route of hiring a foreign coach again.
Enter Berhalter, who has quietly emerged as an enticing prospect. He has impressed in his time with the Crew, building a team that plays some of the most attractive soccer in the league. Berhalter's emphasis on possession-based, attack-minded soccer has won him plenty of admirers who see him as the man who could potentially turn the United States into a team capable of consistently playing attractive technical soccer.
What's working against Berhalter? His lack of international experience is a glaring hole on his resume. He is relatively inexperienced as a coach, and the lack of trophies won with the Crew could also be seen as a strike against him. At 44, he is one of the youngest options on this list, and if U.S. Soccer wants to hire a coach who can grow along with a very promising generation of young American talent, Berhalter could be seen as the coach to bring the most out of that talent pool.
An argument can definitely be made for Marsch being the best coach in MLS, with his ability to implement not only a successful high-pressing system, but also help build a development system that is the best in league. The Red Bulls style of play may not be as attractive as the Crew's, but Marsch's Red Bulls have won a Supporters' Shield, reached a U.S. Open Cup final and made a run to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. All while boasting one of the highest-scoring teams in MLS, and also developing some top young American talents like Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams.
So why isn't Marsch ahead of Berhalter on the list? There is a sense that Marsch has his eye on a move to Europe — he has been repeatedly linked to moves overseas, most recently to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. Sources tell Goal that Marsch would be interested in the USMNT job, and it could be a perfect time to make the jump if he succeeds in leading the Red Bulls to an elusive MLS Cup title this season.
After helping Iran to a solid showing at the World Cup, Queiroz won't be short on job opportunities and he has long been linked to the United States since his time as head coach of the New York-New Jersey MetroStars. It's easy to forget that Queiroz was considered for the USMNT job before it was ultimately given to Bruce Arena after the 1998 World Cup, but 20 years later Queiroz remains a reasonable option.
Where Queiroz falls behind those ahead of him on this list is in his lack of familiarity with the current U.S. setup. He coached in MLS 22 years ago, and it was two decades ago that Queiroz authored the report that laid out how the USMNT could win the World Cup by 2010. Plenty has changed in the two decades since then though, and after seven years as Iran boss, Queiroz is probably not as high on this list as some might think he would be.
LOUIS VAN GAAL
One of the true living legends of the international coaching scene, Van Gaal has the best resume of anyone on this list, and given the heavy Dutch influence among the key decision-makers at U.S. Soccer it shouldn't have been a surprise that Van Gaal's name would surface as a possibility.
The former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United boss has been away from the sidelines for two years — since being fired by Manchester United — but his most recent stint in international soccer saw him guide the Netherlands to third place at the 2014 World Cup. The 66-year-old manager is unfamiliar with the current American soccer landscape and player pool, but having fresh eyes taking over the program could be a good thing. Whether U.S. Soccer will see it that way is another story.
You can chalk this one up under the category of unemployed coach linking himself to a vacant high-profile position. The former England manager most recently endured a rough stretch with Everton, and is currently unemployed. It's tough to see U.S. Soccer seriously considering Allardyce, with the bribery scandal that led to his resignation as England manager among the main reasons he shouldn't be considered.
Linked to the USMNT job a month after the team failed to qualify for the World Cup, O'Neill is a highly-regarded coaching prospect in Europe, but the Northern Ireland boss doesn't exactly have the most extensive resume. He turned heads by helping Northern Ireland qualify for the 2016 European Championship, and most recently turned down an approach from the Scottish national team.
A one-time member of the Portland Timbers (in 2001), O'Neill turns 49 on Thursday and is relatively young as an international manager, but it's tough to see him being hired ahead of the other coaches on this list, particularly the MLS coaches, who are younger and more familiar with the American soccer setup.