Last week, I revisited my thoughts on the USMNT crashing out of World Cup Qualifying. Now it’s time to assess the recovery and answer the question on everyone’s lips: who should be the next USMNT coach? Word on the street is that we may know as soon as November 1st.
In order to answer this question I’ll give a quick recap of what the interim coach Dave Sarachan has done and I’ll list the qualities I would like the next USMNT coach to have. I have someone in mind, so I’ll make my pitch for one coach in particular.
Dave Sarachan was announced as the interim head coach for the USMNT within days of the team’s loss to Trinidad & Tobago. So far, Sarachan has lead the team in half a dozen friendlies with a mixed bag of results. Generally, he has done a good job of calling in youth who will play a large role in years to come, namely, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Timothy Weah. They have earned multiple caps over the last year and each will certainly be part of the team’s core going forward. It’s unfortunate Christian Pulisic has yet to join them, but I am excited to see him in the upcoming friendlies against Columbia and Peru. Sarachan has built a solid foundation of players for this team going forward.
Something that is often overlooked is what he has done for the mentality of this team. These young players are hungry when they are playing, despite these games meaning next to nothing. It’s something which has been sorely missed on the team over the last few years. I credit Sarachan here even if he has passively allowed the players to set the tone. The truth is past head coaches haven’t fostered the same environment where players want to fight for all 90 minutes.
That being said, Sarachan’s tenure hasn’t been all roses. Tactically, he suffers from some of the same ills that plagued Bruce Arena’s team. That is, his tactics are outdated, and his 4-1-4-1 formation probably won’t maximize our best XI’s talent. For an interim head coach, that’s fine. None of this should make the USMNT worse for the wear by the time competitive games come around. By that point, the permanent head coach will establish their system. Fingers crossed it’s a good one.
What do we want this new head coach to do? Here’s what I would like to see:
- Man-Manager/Motivator – Someone who can make any game feel like the World Cup Final. I think a few of our core players (at least Pulisic, Adams, Miazga, and Yedlin) are fairly self-motivated. They won’t need much of a push. Letting those players set an example and rewarding them appropriately will go a long way. The inverse is also true. If a player has a toxic attitude, they should be punished/benched. Similar to Sarachan, perhaps all this coach needs to do is let the players motivate each other.
- Tactician – Someone who can create a team identity. Personally, I’d like to see the USMNT play some attractive, possession-based soccer, but I’d be happy if we were a bunker-and-counter team or a pressing team, or any other style so long as we had an identity.
- Pragmatist – On the other hand, I think the head coach needs to be practical. If the next head coach wants us to be a pressing team, we can’t run a high press every game, all game. Depending on our opponent, line-up, conditions, etc. it may be more beneficial to play a different style for that one game.
- Scout – Someone who will find talented Americans in all leagues and consider them for national team camps. You could also include winning over dual-nationals under this category. Recently the US lost a great potential player in Jonathan Gonzalez to Mexico because he got called into their camp first. That trend can’t continue.
- Developer of Youth – Someone who knows when to bring in a young player, when to stick with a young player, and when to let go of an older player. The USMNT has sorely missed this over the last decade.
If we can find a head coach who does all of the above, then we will be in a good position to achieve all of our future goals. With that said, I think Gregg Berhalter checks all of these boxes better than any other candidate. For those unaware, Berhalter is a former center back who currently coaches the Columbus Crew in MLS. Let me walk you through my thought process:
- Man-Manager/Motivator – Berhalter falls under the man-manager heading more than the motivator. The best example is Kei Kamara. In 2015, Kei Kamara lead the league in goals for Berhalter’s Columbus Crew. They lost the MLS Cup to Portland and proceeded to collapse the following year. It was no secret that Kamara was a toxic presence in the locker room when the results weren’t going their way. Soon enough Kei Kamara gets traded to New England. A vocal, bad attitude can ruin a locker room. Despite Kamara being the top goal-scorer, Berhalter wasn’t afraid to move on from him. And like I said before, with vocal guys like Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic in the locker room, a coach may be able to pass these duties onto those guys.
- Tactician – Berhalter’s teams regularly play some of the prettiest soccer in MLS. It’s possession-based, it’s methodical, and Berhalter has been able to plug and play different players into his system. Look at Gyassi Zardes. The LA Galaxy were playing him at right back at the end of last season because he wasn’t scoring goals. He gets traded to Columbus and he has 16 goals on the season. Ola Kamara scored a similar amount after being plucked out of a Scandinavian League, and before him it was Kei Kamara. Plug. And. Play. In the words of Will Trapp, Berhalter is great at “making guys on the field understand the clarity of the picture.” I have no doubts of Berhalter’s tactical know-how.
- Pragmatist – In 2015, the New York Red Bulls won their 2nd Supporter’s Shield in 3 years. They were playing a high-press style which was quite new and few teams knew how to counter it. The Red Bulls were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by none other than Berhalter’s Columbus Crew. One would expect New York’s high press to rip apart Columbus’ possession-based style. Instead, Columbus sat back, let New York have the ball, and killed them on the counter (a strategy which is effective against New York to this day). Point being: Berhalter wasn’t afraid to deviate from his tactical norm in order to get a result. That’s pragmatic coaching and something the US needs. He did something similar against Atlanta United in the 2017 playoffs, holding Atlanta scoreless and winning on penalties.
- Scout – Not only is Berhalter Columbus’ head coach, but he is also the sporting director, meaning he makes the decisions when it comes to signing, trading and releasing players. With that role, he has brought in players like Artur, Ola Kamara and Milton Valenzuela to Columbus. Artur has become the perfect partner for Will Trapp and Valenzuela is arguably the best left back in the league. Berhalter has also done this on a low-budget team in Columbus. It’s not like he has the money to buy the best players; he had to find the right guy and get him for the right price. It hasn’t been all good for Berhalter in that regard. Pedro Santos is one of Columbus highest paid players and he has one goal over the course of the last year as a winger. Everyone whiffs on a signing from time to time. Despite Pedro Santos’ poor play, I still think Berhalter has more good than bad in this category.
- Developer of Youth – This one is tougher as Columbus doesn’t exactly have the most prolific academy. Only Will Trapp and Alex Crognale are current Crew academy products on the roster and Crognale has been loaned out for the year. This is not the fault of Berhalter, as I doubt the Crew’s ownership has devoted that much money to their academy. That being said, Trapp is a commensurate professional. Say what you want about his play on the field, no one has a bad thing to say about him off the field. Additionally, half of developing youth is letting go of veteran players. Berhalter has shown a tendency to do just that as exemplified with Kei Kamara, and Tony Tchani. Tchani was Trapp’s partner in that 2015 season before he was traded and Artur filled the same role.
All of the above is why I have been on the Berhalter train for the past couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, there are other candidates I would be content with, such as Oscar Pareja, Jesse Marsch, or Tata Martino. But Pareja’s teams play more defensively than I’d like, and both Marsch and Tata seem to over-think big games and get the tactics wrong (For Marsh, look at the Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League exit to Chivas, and for Tata look at Atlanta’s loss to Columbus last year in the playoffs and their recent loss to the Red Bulls). No candidate is perfect, I could just as easily point to Berhalter’s inexperience with developing youth as a weakness. I would rather take that unknown with Berhalter than known flaws with other coaches.
And with that, I will see you next week where I will dissect the recent USMNT roster, examining my likes/dislikes, and project a starting XI!