Juan Carlos Osorio has gone from hated to respected among Mexican soccer fans after guiding El Tri to a solid showing at the World Cup, and as much as the 57-year-old may be winning over his Mexican critics, the news of his decision to leave the Mexican national team still came as no surprise.
There were surely plenty of potential employers who took notice of Osorio at the World Cup, and with the amount of global praise that was heaped on him for his tactical work in Russia — which included defeating Germany — there is no denying that his profile has grown exponentially in a short amount of time.
Is the U.S. one of those teams who took notice? Newly appointed USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart hasn't officially started his job yet, but it's a safe bet he watched the World Cup and saw what Osorio was able to do with the Mexican team, in a job that has chewed up and spit out a long list of past coaches.
There is a tangible feeling in American soccer circles that the next U.S. coach should be an American — no doubt a sentiment driven at least in part by the Jurgen Klinsmann era, which had to feel to some like a cautionary tale for why a foreign coach isn't necessarily the solution. Stewart insists that it isn't a foregone conclusion that the next U.S. coach will be an American, though his description of what he's looking for does suggest candidates that have a strong familiarity with American soccer will have an advantage.
Osorio isn't your typical foreign coach though. He came to the United States to attend college and began the formative years of his coaching career working in American soccer. A second stint in the United States saw him coach in MLS. He has strong ties to the United States, where both of his sons were born, and has always seen himself returning to the country at some point in his career.
Osorio has made it clear in the past that the U.S. national team job is one that appeals to him. The USMNT gig and the same post with Colombia are high on his list of positions he would be interested in, as would an opportunity in the English Premier League, though a club job in Europe will have to wait since all manager positions in Europe's top leagues have been filled or otherwise accounted for by now.
Who else is in the running for the U.S. job? Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter has emerged as the leading candidate among American coaches, while Jesse Marsch appears out of the picture after leaving the New York Red Bulls to join Bundesliga side RB Leipzig as an assistant. Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney would have been at or near the top of the list a few months back, but TFC's current struggles have taken some of the shine off Vanney's potential candidacy.
Of the three, only Berhalter has coached outside of MLS, with his two-year stint with Swedish side Hammarby preceding his move to Columbus. If Stewart and U.S. Soccer desire a coach who can grow with the next generation of top American talent, someone who could potentially handle two cycles, then hiring a young coach like Berhalter, Vanney or Tab Ramos — the former U.S. national team star who has coached many of the program's best young talents as Under-20 boss — would make sense.
From an experience standpoint, none of the aforementioned Americans match Osorio, who won multiple titles in Colombia, led Atletico Nacional to a Copa Libertadores final, and enjoyed a brief but impressive stint with Brazilian powerhouse Sao Paulo. He has also experienced a CONCACAF qualifying process, having led Mexico to a first-place finish in the most recent Hexagonal. He has done all that in just nine years since leaving MLS in 2009.
Something else Osorio has working in his favor is his understanding of the Latino community in the United States. As someone who came to the country as an immigrant from Colombia, spending several years in the New York area, Osorio has a better understanding of the American Latino than any coach in U.S. national team history. His time as Mexico coach has only helped to develop an even better understanding of a community that has long been underserved and underrepresented in American soccer.
Osorio's familiarity with the United States, and experience competing as a coach in CONCACAF, give him an edge over not only the American candidates being linked to the job, but also the foreign coaches being mentioned, such as Iran's Carlos Queiroz.
Osorio has his detractors in American soccer, to be sure. Many haven't forgotten how badly he struggled in 2009 with the New York Red Bulls in what was easily the worst season of his coaching career. What he has done in the nine years since that failed year, however, is thoroughly impressive, and his work in that time makes it indisputable that he has improved dramatically as a coach, as a tactician and as a man manager.
Mexico's performance at the World Cup, and Osorio's tactical work in that tournament, showed just that, which led to Mexico's offer of a contract extension and has him mentioned as a front runner for the Colombia job.
Just how seriously the USMNT is considering him as a candidate remains to be seen, but his experience, knowledge of American soccer, and the fact he turned down Mexico's offer of another cycle, make him a candidate U.S. Soccer has to seriously consider. He is also arguably the most qualified candidate the USMNT could hire.