-- John Hackworth leaving his post as U-17 men’s national team last week marks the third head coach who has departed from the U.S. youth national team program within the last nine months.
-- Brad Friedel left the helm of the U-19s last November to become head coach of MLS’s New England Revolution.
-- In June, Omid Namazi left the U.S. U-18s team to take the helm of top-flight Iranian club Zob Ahan.
Tab Ramos, the U.S. U-20 men’s national team coach, also serves as U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director, and during his tenure, U.S. Soccer expanded its youth national program by creating teams at each age group, from U-14s to U-20s, with the addition U-16 and U-19 programs.
With Namazi’s departure, Ramos has also had to take charge of the U.S. U-18 men’s team, which is headed to the Czech Republic later this month. U-15 coach Dave van den Bergh has filled in with the U-19s since Friedel left for MLS. U-14 coach Clint Peay moved into van den Bergh's U-15 position, creating a vacancy at the U-14 helm.
We asked Ramos why the vacancies haven’t been filled:
“First of all, I am very happy for John, he is an amazing coach and person and will make any professional club better on and off the field," said Ramos. “But our youth national teams have been in a hiring freeze since our men’s senior national team missed qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
“It has been difficult year, having Friedel, Namazi, and now John Hackworth leave, and not replacing them. We all worked very well together as a staff for the success of all of our teams.”
Hackworth is on one more trip, to Costa Rica, with assistants Shaun Tsakiris (the U-16 head coach), John O’Hara and Mike McGinty, before taking the Louisville helm Aug. 13. The next U-17 trip is a four-team tournament in Mexico in October. U.S. Soccer has yet to decide handle that trip.
Ramos is now in his fourth cycle as U-20 boss. He guided the USA to the quarterfinals of 2017 U-20 World Cup after the USA’s first ever Concacaf U-20 Championship title win. Hackworth’s team also reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 U-17 World Cup, making the USA the only nation besides winners England to get that far in each tournament.
On the women’s side, the USA is currently competing at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in France, where it will open play against Japan on Monday. April Heinrichs is the technical director on the women’s side.
“April Heinrichs and I work together to try to advance both the boys and girls youth national teams and be as integrated as possible,” Ramos said. “We are all optimistic that the U-20 girls will have a great World Cup, they are playing really well right now and have very skillful players.
“As part of growing the program, April and I turned in a proposal to hire goalkeeper coaches a year ago and we are hoping that gets looked at soon. We continue to not have any full-time goalkeeper coaches or anyone running a goalkeeper program for the boys or the girls national teams.”
The next men’s U-17 World Cup will be hosted by Peru in October 2019 with the qualifying tournament likely to take place early next year. Poland hosts the U-20 World Cup May 25-June 16 and Concacaf qualifying is slated for November in Florida.
"Our U-20s always rely heavily on our U-19 and U-18 coaches," said Ramos. "The coaches of the various teams working together has been one of the reasons we've been successful."
One expected the 2018 World Cup qualification failure to prompt changes by U.S. Soccer. But putting brakes on the youth national team program is not one we would have recommended.