Sizing up the top candidates for the USMNT head coach position

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Eleven months since the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup, a new head coach has yet to be hired. Here are the top candidates to fill the role

The one-year anniversary of the U.S. national team failing to qualify for the World Cup is less than a month away and a new head coach has yet to be hired to lead the rebuilding of the program.

That long and drawn out wait should be coming to a close, with USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart stating Friday that a new coach would be hired before the end of the year, and possibly as early as November.

The 11-month saga began with U.S. Soccer delaying its coaching search process while elections for the U.S. Soccer Federation's new president took place in February. After Carlos Cordeiro was elected, the next obstacle in the way was U.S. Soccer being focused on its bid for the 2026 World Cup. Only after that was successfully completed was the search for a new USMNT general manager finalized. Earnie Stewart was hired over the summer, but didn't begin his role until August 1 in order to see out his duties as sporting director of the Philadelphia Union.

Now, after all those hurdles, Stewart has begun the coaching search process, but rather than jump into interviewing candidates, he has spent more than a month establishing a profile for the next USMNT coach, a process that has allowed even more time to go by.

In that time, former Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, one of the most highly-qualified options for the position, took over as Paraguay head coach, turning down offers from Costa Rica, South Korea and Egypt in the process.

 

The lingering delay in the search is making it more and more likely that the hire will be an American coach, with many top candidates wrapping up their seasons in the same months when Stewart stated a decision would be made.

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. Gregg Berhalter's Columbus Crew are a safe bet to make the playoffs, with the talent to make a deep run in the postseason. The same could be said for Peter Vermes and Sporting Kansas City.

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.


GREGG BERHALTER


Gregg Berhalter Columbus Crew

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 emerged as a leading candidate. 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.

The brother of high-level U.S. Soccer executive Jay Berhalter, Gregg is also dealing wiith the perception that his hiring would be a sign of neptism, what with Berhalter having led the committee that hired Stewart as general manager. Rumors of Berhalter and Stewart being close friends have also led to a perception that Berhalter's hiring is a foregone conclusion. Stewart vehemently denied those assertions on Friday.

"That is something that has been brought to my attention, that [Berhalter] is going to be [head coach] because he’s a friend of mine," Stewart said. "Now that part I don’t understand. We played together, and we’ve communicated with each other, but ‘friends’ is a little overboard I’d want to say.

"I know Gregg from the past. He was a coach in Sweden and he’d call me for advice, and I would do the same, vice versa, but we have a professional relationship and we played with each other. Then again, I can say that about a lot of others at the same time.

"I haven’t had interviews. He’s not the coach that he’s the shoo-in. That’s not the case."

What's working against Berhalter? His lack of international experience is a glaring hole on his resume, but Stewart made it clear on Friday that lack of international experience isn't a disqualifying characteristic. Berhalter 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.


JESSE MARSCH


Jesse Marsch MLS Red Bulls 03122018

The former New York Red Bulls coach was higher on this list before making the bold decision to leave MLS and take an assistant manager position with Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. His move to Germany has taken him off the radar a bit in American soccer circles, but the argument can be made he should be the most enticing candidate on the list.

Marsch's ability to implement a system, develop young talent, and make tactical adjustments make him a well-rounded coach who could fit in perfectly. His track record in MLS is stronger than Berhalter's, having won a Supporters' Shield and reached the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League with the Red Bulls.

Would Marsch abandon his efforts to establish himself in Europe in order to be the USMNT head coach? A former U.S. assistant under Bob Bradley, Marsch would likely have a tough time saying no if he was offered the job.


PETER VERMES


Peter Vermes Sporting KC 08282016

Though he signed a new contract with Sporting Kansas City in May, and expressed his commitment to staying with SKC , Vermes is still a candidate Stewart consider. Vermes has been one of the best coaches in MLS for several years, showing an ability to implement a consistent style, while also doing well to develop young talent. Vermes is also a former U.S. national team captain with a no-nonsense demeanor that could help bring back some of the toughness and pride that the USMNT has lost in recent years.

What works against Vermes? For starters it is unclear whether he would really give up the full control he has with Sporting KC to take on a USMNT coaching role with much less control. He also hasn't been a national team coach before.


TAB RAMOS


Tab Ramos USA U20 05252017

A candidate who has seen his status as a contender diminish in the months since the World Cup qualifying failure, Ramos is currently still serving as the program's youth technical director and U.S. Under 20 coach. The MLS candidates above him on the list have been given the most attention, but Ramos is the only candidate on this list currently working with the U.S. program.

Though he has not coached a senior team, or on the club side as a head coach, Ramos is very much a worthy candidate, and his extensive work with many of the program's top young players during his length stint as U.S. Under-20 coach should be working in his favor. He has extensive experience coaching a national team, albeit a youth national team, and his vast knowledge of the player pool is unmatched among the current candidates. You also have to wonder whether Ramos wold stick around U.S. Soccer if he winds up being passed over, or if he isn't at the very least chosen to lead the U-23 team through Olympic qualifying.


GREG VANNEY


Greg Vanney MLS Toronto FC 03132018

Vanney would have been one of the first names on this list as recently as the spring, but Toronto FC's surprising struggles have taken some of the shine off his potential candidacy for the USMNT post. The 44-year-old coach is still highly respected as a tactician and a man manager, but he is probably behind a handful of other American candidates at the moment. though his list of accomplishments is as good, if not better as some coaches being considered.


TATA MARTINO


Tata Martino Atlanta United

The Atlanta United boss already boasts an impressive resume, with Barcelona and Argentina stints, but it has been his work in MLS that has turned heads, leaving many to wonder if he might be able to take the USMNT to a new level.

Martino has brushed off questions about the USMNT since last year, and Stewart stating that the next U.S. coach must speak English would seem to eliminate Martino as a candidate. Martino doesn't speak English publicly, but is said to know the language.


BOB BRADLEY


Bob Bradley LAFC MLS

Given how recent Bruce Arena's failed second act as USMNT coach was, there isn't likely to be much public clamoring for Bradley to get a second chance, but his success with MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC has only served to remind us what a good coach he is.

That success should also make people take a second look at Bradley's tenure as U.S. coach, which was far more successful than it is given credit for. Bradley has a track record of working well with young players, and it isn't a stretch to think he is a better coach now than he was when he was fired as USMNT coach in 2011. There has been nothing to suggest Bradley would be interested in a return, but you have to think on some level Bradley would love another chance as national team coach, and if he were interested, he would have to at least be considered by Stewart.


CARLOS QUEIROZ


Carlos Queiroz

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


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, and doesn't really fit the role as described by Stewart, which might explain why Stewart mentioned the Van Gaal rumors on Friday in a tone that suggested they were off the mark.


CALEB PORTER


Caleb Porter Portland Timbers MLS 10162016

Currently unemployed after stepping down as Portland Timbers coach last winter, Porter joins the list of candidates after stating recently that he believes he should be a candidate.

“If you’re going American, Peter Vermes, for me, he is the guy that deserves the shot,” Porter told The Athletic. “I believe that. That guy deserves to carry the torch of our national team. Peter Vermes, in my opinion, based on what he’s done in our league, he’s proven it as an American coach. If you don’t go with Peter Vermes, I think, based on what I’ve proven, I’m in the mix with another two or three guys who deserve consideration and I’d be open to talking.”

Porter has a point. He led the Timbers to the MLS Cup title, beating Berhalter's Cew along the way. The Timbers played attractive succer and enjoyed success during his five seasons in charge.

What works against Porter? The fact that he hasn't coached in 2018, and more importantly, the stigma of his failed stint as U.S. Under-23 coach when the U-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics back in 2012. It has been six years since, and Porter enjoyed considerable success before and after that job, but some at U.S. Soccer might still have their questions.

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OSCAR PAREJA


Oscar Pareja FC Dallas MLS

Two years ago there was no more highly-rated coaching prospect in MLS than Pareja, but a forgettable 2017 season let the air out of his balloon as a USMNT coaching prospect. He has rebounded in 2018, with FC Dallas currently sitting in first place in the Western Conference.

Pareja has shown an ability to work with young players, and also a penchant for attacking soccer. He has registered barely a whisper as a candidate, but is fully deserving of a look.

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