It has been a recurring uncomfortable scene that has played out repeatedly for the better part of the past year that Dave Sarachan has been serving as caretaker coach of the U.S. national team. Questions addressed to Sarachan about his chances of being chosen to keep the USMNT job he was given to babysit until a permanent appointment was made.
What the reporters asking those questions have been consistently oblivious to is the reality that Sarachan was never in the running for the job, was never considered as a candidate, even as weeks turned into months. It wasn't going to matter how the USA fared, or what results were posted, Sarachan was always a placeholder.
It has been a reality Sarachan fully understood, even as he often found himself trying to provide poilte, bland answers about whether he was hoping to land a job that anyone with a clue knew he had no chance to land, no matter how much he might want it deep down.
Sarachan has spent the past year in the coaching equivalent of the friend zone, doing his best to help the national team program transition to a new generation, all the while knowing another coach would be stepping in to take the program into the heart of a new qualifying cycle.
That new coach is expected to be hired soon, potentially before the team's November friendlies against England and Italy. All signs point to Columbus Crew boss Gregg Berhalter being the favorite to be hired. That means Sarachan could have coached his final USMNT match in Tuesday's draw with Peru, or he could lead the team in November already knowing who the next coach will be.
That isn't bothering Sarachan, who has fully embraced his temporary status.
“Until they tell me I’m not, I’m full bore man,” Sarachan said when asked if he would still be coaching the team for the November friendlies. “(I'll) Keep going. This is too much fun.”
That Sarachan has had a year in charge of the national team is a miracle in itself.
He had spent the better part of the past decade as an assistant coach, serving as Bruce Arena's right-hand man during their title-winning run with the LA Galaxy and then as his lead assistant during the disastrous 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle. Some die-hard USMNT fans may have even been oblivious to the fact Sarachan had his own trophy-winning five-year stretch as head coach of the Chicago Fire more than a decade ago. He came within an MLS Cup final loss of winning a treble with the Fire in 2003, and led the club to four finals, winning a pair of U.S. Open Cup titles.
While Sarachan was never really in the running for the job on a permanent basis, he has impressed his players with his professionalism in what hasn't been an easy position.
“As an interim (coach), it’s always a tricky position,” midfielder Wil Trapp said of Sarachan. “In many respects, he could have mailed it in and he never did that. From the first game in Portugal last year to tonight, he’s always put out a lineup that he’s confident in and he’s always given the group a plan.
“I can’t say enough good things about how he’s approached this situation and the way he’s brought this group along.”
Sarachan deserves some credit for the work he has done. He has certainly boosted his chances of landing a head coaching job once he's done with the USMNT, but there's no denying that the prolonged wait in selecting a new head coach has cost the team valuable time developing in a system that will be in place long term. For all his efforts, Sarachan never really implemented a clear style.
"The U.S. definitely still needs an identity of how we want to play," Josh Sargent said after Tuesday's draw with Peru. "Hopefully (we will get that) with a new coach coming in and telling us what he wants with us, and obviously Dave did a great job in these camps."
Sarachan has taken an unenviable job and made the most of it, helping usher in a new generation of talents while the process to hire a new coach dragged on. There will never be an acceptable justification for U.S. Soccer having taken more than a year to find a new full-time USMNT head coach, but Sarachan deserves some credit for embracing being in the coaching version of the friend zone.