[MY VIEW] The big meetings regarding the future of the U.S. national team are done and dusted; Sunil Gulati is back in the limelight, Bob Bradley is back in charge, and Juergen Klinsmann is back in limbo (though there's scant evidence he'd been encouraged to emerge in the first place).
In the next few weeks and months there will be more meetings. Bradley will meet with U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen, U-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera, and other staff coaches to plot the path forward. Yet getting outside his close circle of colleagues, and thus thinking outside the box, is one method by which Bradley can push the programs forward. There should be discussions with the players who have attained the most, those who have brought their unique qualities to the national team, players capable at critical moments of, in Bradley’s terse terms, “making plays.”
How this can be done is something U.S. Soccer President Gulati and Bradley must discuss in the coming months. Numerous former internationals – Mike Lapper, John Harkes, etc. – have worked with the U-20s as assistants, but perhaps Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride and Joe-Max Moore and Marcelo Balboa and Kasey Keller and Eddie Pope, et al, can counsel and advise and help train players at some phase of their development. Their input and thoughts are valuable, of course, what is sorely needed is their presence alongside their successors.
If Jose Francisco Torres is to become the next Tab Ramos, as is certainly possible, who best to learn from? Nobody on the national team, not even Landon Donovan, can slash and swoop up the left flank and get in behind defenses a la Wynalda. McBride owes much of his success to a strength of will that can’t be taught, but there were also countless hours of trapping, shooting, jumping, heading, and cutting on the training field. Moore was far from the most technical player ever to pull on the U.S. shirt, yet he knew his way around a crowded goalmouth and struck a mean free kick.
Wynalda as a full-time national team assistant coach is a foreboding thought, and aside from a short-term stint as an assistant with the U-20s, he’s out of the U.S. Soccer loop. It would be unfortunate if upon McBride’s retirement at the end of the MLS season, he would disappear from the sport, spotted only occasionally with his wife, Dina, and their three children at Fire and U.S. national team games. Many former national team players are involved at the game at various levels but their presence within U.S. Soccer is negligible in most cases.
Men like them must be given opportunities to impart their experience and expertise to the players who follow them, for in their play they brought elements and nuances and characteristics not many other players could. Wynalda and McBride are the No. 2 and No. 3 goalscorers, respectively, in U.S. history. Moore carried himself with a swagger not borne of arrogance, but an unshakeable confidence that no matter how dire the circumstance or difficult the opponent, he could scrape or conjure up a chance for a teammate or himself. Ramos is not among the all-time statistical leaders yet is still mentioned as perhaps the all-time best at unbalancing defenders and outfoxing back lines.
There could be conflicts. Donovan has referred on a few occasions to the “jealousy issues” plaguing Wynalda’s assessments of his play. There might not be much that Moore can teach Clint Dempsey. Bradley would function as a technical director, choosing the methods and means to utilize what the former players have to offer.
Younger national team players, and those coming up through the U-17 and U-20 ranks, can certainly benefit from the targeted messages and specialized training from players who have been there and not only done it, but done it well.