Hiring of a new men's national team coach can't lead us astray from what is wrong

The U.S. men's national team wrapped up its 2018 season on Tuesday in the Belgian city of Genk, where a pro-Italian crowd went home happy as the Azzurri beat the USA, 1-0, on a goal in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

The year under Dave Sarachan, coaching his last game as interim coach on Tuesday, was immediately panned as a complete waste.

I'd suggest that 2018 and how it ended are the best thing that has ever happened.

After Thursday's 3-0 to England at Wembley, it was hard to imagine that the USA could play more poorly, but it was only saved from a heavy defeat by some poor finishing by the Italians and the goalkeeping of Ethan Horvath.

England and Italy did what other teams have been doing for the last six months and exposed just how far behind the USA is from the world's top programs. The only difference is that the USA didn't manage to get results in its favor like it did with its 1-0 win over Mexico and 1-1 ties with France and Peru.

Photo: Icon Sportswire/Shaun Brooks/Action Plus

The worst thing that could have ever happened is the USA tying Italy, 0-0, and anyone coming away believing the year ended on a positive note. What positives can you take from a game in which the USA touched the ball 14 times in the opposing third in the first half or the USA was outshot, 17-3?

A permanent coach, presumably Gregg Berhalter, should be announced next week and all the attention will be on why the process took so long. It will then shift to what players he'll call in and how he'll have them play. All that will move the national team forward, presumably farther than Sarachan, placed in an impossible position, was able to do, but it will miss the point.

For three decades, from the afternoon at the Soccer Park in St. Louis when Lothar Osiander engineered the USA's 3-0 win over Canada that put the national team on its path to qualifying for the 1988 Olympics, until the USA-T&T game in Couva a year ago, results mostly went in the USA's favor, or at least more often than not, so we could all feel really good about the state of the game.

We like to focus on the progress that we see with young Americans breaking into the first teams of major European teams or teenagers as young as 16 making the game-day rosters of top MLS playoff teams. But it's all grasping at straws.

Getting opportunities on major European teams is one thing; staying in the lineup is another thing. Few young Americans are breaking into MLS teams. If everyone's healthy, only three Americans under the age of 25 -- Tyler Adams and Alex Muyl for the Red Bulls and Jeremy Ebobisse at Portland -- should start for the MLS conference finalists on Sunday.

More than a replacement for Sarachan as national team coach, American soccer needs someone to lead a national conversation about what is the reality.

How far we've come, but how much farther we have to go ...

-- How important it is for young players to challenge themselves and move to Europe but just how hard it is to make it.
-- How the MLS academies are helping but just what are the investments involved.
-- How much talent is in Latino communities but just how it has been neglected.
-- How MLS's controlled investment in new talent is raising the standard of the league but just how its closed structure with an emphasis on a playoff system is hindering development.
-- How much the college way impacts the American game but just how little is possible to change the college game.

No one at the federation in Chicago is capable of leading that conversation. Nor is its new president, Carlos Cordeiro.

Handed a bully pulpit, Jurgen Klinsmann told a lot of hard truths. When he wanted to be, Bruce Arena could be equally blunt. One was a German, the other a New Yorker. One the son of a baker, the other the son of a butcher. Both were taught the value of hard work and preached it.

But all too often, they got sidetracked by the task at hand of achieving short-term results.

Gregg Berhalter doesn't share the persona of Klinsmann or Arena. But he is a very thoughtful man. Let's hope he or whoever is named national team coach doesn't lead us astray in the search for a quick turnaround so we don't have an honest conversation about why the national team could look so badly as it did at Wembley and in Genk.

21 comments about "Hiring of a new men's national team coach can't lead us astray from what is wrong".
  1. Bob Ashpole, November 21, 2018 at 8:10 a.m.

    Interesting discussion. The difficulty that I see is that innovation does not come from conventional thinking or a national consensus. So I am not optimistic that a national discussion will change anything. 

    Quite the opposite. USSF and the pay to play industry have an economic interest in seeing that no change occurs. The problem is that adults give winning matches priority over developing players even during the early fundamental period of development. 

    Anyone who has watched a group of 10 to 12 year olds with excellent fundamentals play will understand where the possibility of good soccer on the senior international level lies. Anyone who has watched and compared the technical abilities of our senior MNT and senior WNT over the years should see what a difference excellent fundamentals can make to how a team plays the game.

    Excellent skills does not guarentee excellent soccer, but excellent soccer is impossible without the mastery of fundamentals. This is not foosball or a computer game. 

  2. Wallace Wade, November 21, 2018 at 9:14 a.m.

    Good article. The performance on the field was much worse than the results on the scoreboard. It’s Men against boys. Italy as a country are battling with a down period in the quality of their football, but they are still light years better than the US. I could drone on and on. Will the Federation and Cordeiro ever wake up? Only if the $ goes away. That’s the bottom line. If this disaster of a “search for a Coach” is any indicator, things have to get a whole lot worse

  3. David Decker, November 21, 2018 at 9:52 a.m.

    Hopefully they won't hire the son of a candlestick maker.

  4. Carl Neff replied, November 21, 2018 at 8:19 p.m.

    omg! very nice!  best comment i've read today. thanks for making my day.

  5. Richard Broad, November 21, 2018 at 9:57 a.m.

    Well stated, Paul. We live in a time of instant gratification and have a quick fix mentality. It was almost 30 years ago when Paul Caliguri's goal against Trinidad propelled the U. S. into the finals of The World Cup. It was almost 50 years ago when the North American Soccer League started up and we were talking about "In 5 years", "In 10 years", etc. Unless we take a hard look at the way soccer is run in this country, start drawing from, but not trying to imitate, other nations, and bulid on a solid LONG-TERM foundation, we will be no further along 30, or even 50, years from now. The definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  6. Steve Rustige, November 21, 2018 at 10:30 a.m.

    David, that is hilarious!

  7. frank schoon, November 21, 2018 at 12:32 p.m.

    The very fact that we should be greatful for these bad results otherwise we would have failed to notice how far behind we to top soccer countries. Even without these bad results, anyone with half a brain could see how bad it is. To even infer, if we tied Italy , 0-0, 1-1, no one would have noticed how bad we are; just watch the basics, the fundamentals ,that should tell you enough.  I used to write a soccer column back in the late 80's stating basically the same thing about our bad player development, it hasn't improved. And in those days we had naive individuals stating that we'll win the WC in 20years...they were clueless as they are today. I totally disagree with you on that.
    I strongly agree on your other points.
    I'm very pessimistic on the selection of the MNT coach, especially if we are going to make a major turnaround in our player development and philosophy and on how we should play. We need to bring in a high caliber coach, who has experienced all and not some coach from the MLS, sorry, for that implies continuing on the same road.

  8. James Madison, November 21, 2018 at 1:44 p.m.

    In re David Decker's comment, Lothar Osiander may have been a waiter and Bob Gansler I don't know what, but they both were terrific coaches and made something out of nothing.  So why not Tab Ramos?

  9. Philip Carragher, November 21, 2018 at 3:44 p.m.

    One of the great difficulties in starting anew is admitting that the past 20-25 years of U.S. player development was, at best, less-than-mediocre; so what to say to the players and families who devoted sometimes extraordinary resources to play competitively? They've been duped and paid handsomely for it. Lost generations of players and a sport uninspiring to the best athletes: yikes!

  10. frank schoon replied, November 22, 2018 at 10:24 a.m.

    Carl, I feel for you, buddy.....You and so many others have rooked. This has been going on for so long.. I hope at least your kids have gotten somekind of scholarship playing college ball....

  11. Goal Goal, November 21, 2018 at 4 p.m.

    A good article some good observations but the point is.

    Articles dont score goals or defend against or move the ball up the field.

    I don't even know what to say about that game yesterday.  Our problem is at the early training level.  Until that is recognized nothing is going to improve.

    The whole National Team program needs improving as far as coaching goes.  The Under 20's Ramos is the only hope I see.  And again I ask why isn't Ramos a consideration for the MNT.  

    The U17 Womens is a disaster
    The U17 Mens is questionable at best and with a temporary coach
    What comes after that.

    I don't know Berthhalter personally but the comment about him being thoughtful would be a real change from what we see now in the coaching at the National Team y ounger levels.  No consideration for the players and how they are handled.

    If the game would have ended in a tie we would still have been a big loser because as a unit we cant keep up.  I have been saying it from day one our first touch on the ball identifies exactly where we are at in the world of soccer.  You can go to the youth teams in England, Germany or Spain and they have a better feel for the ball than our senior players have.  In Spain it looks like the ball is sewn to the players feet.

  12. frank schoon replied, November 22, 2018 at 9:38 a.m.

    RW, Berthalter's comment about being real thoughtful is so deep,meaningful, insighful and thought-provoking <sarc>. Seriously, what are you suppose to do with that BS statement...
    What does "real thoughtful" mean in the annals of soccerminds. This says absolutely NOTHING...

  13. Eric Jensen, November 21, 2018 at 6:09 p.m.

    What comes after? A relatively big mess.

    US Soccer was advertising as late as this August for a u14 boys national team coach. The ad is no longer running so presumably they've found someone. However, this year to date there hasn't been a single u14 bnt camp, where as this time last year that had been four from Jan thru Nov 2017. There's serious talk/rumors that USSDA will get rid of the u12/u13 age groups for the academy, which would be a travesty. (The one good coming out of the academy is they're also looking hard at making u16 it's own age group.)

    None of this directly affects the problem w/ the USMNT now but it's exactly these kinds of details that, allowed to accumulate over time, led/lead to the kind of situation the USMNT program is in and could continue to be in for some time. And I won't even bring up Osorio, Martino and now Lopetegui, and those missed opportunities.

    Here's the outline for a multi-step plan on the USMNT side:
    1) Triage the current situation so that USMNT doesn't miss out on 2022

    2) Commit to developing a unique USA style of play that leverages and blends the unique advantages - our grit and our creativity - that we have across all our soccer communities, not just copy the Netherlands or another European country. That's fine to start with as a foundation, but let's take that foundation and make it uniquely American. A "me too" strategy is not good enough and we'll never win anything that way.

    3) Continue and extend the effort to develop every potential player from u12 up, whether they're from the usual sources of talent, from under-represented communities, from rural areas, are too poor for pay to play or born with birthdays from July to December.

  14. Kevin Leahy, November 21, 2018 at 7:26 p.m.

    Do we think that American coaches are totally devoid of tactical ability? The technical ability of the players and the soccer IQ is the difference. Personally, there have been a few national teams that, I have enjoyed watching over the decades. Style doesn't concern me as much as being able to execute. That takes the highest level of technical ability and a soccer IQ.

  15. Goal Goal replied, November 21, 2018 at 8:48 p.m.

    Kevin you hit the nail on the head when you have the lack of tech ability combined with the lack of soccer IQ.  Then you add the fact that our National Team coaches don’t know what to do with players who are technically gifted because the coaches only know how to kick the ball forward and have athletes who are in great shape chase it and hope they outlast the competition with being in better shape.  It’s pure nonesense.  I have had the privilege to be at a couple of NT camps for u15/16 and have seen kids who tried to be creative by carrying the ball be heavily criticized by the coaches and pulled from the game.  If they touch the ball three or four times after the initial touch they are labeled as show offs.  When you don’t respect the kids you are going to have problems.  We have kids who are technically adept and soccer smart scouted by foreign clubs because of it and end up playing there.  We have quality talented youth playing in academies in Germany, England and Spain and progressing well who were not given a second look by our youth NT’s .  Only because they the coaches don’t know what to do with them because it goes against the game plan of chasing the ball.  We now have MLS teams out of embarrassment signing local players because quote they fit into their program.  Watch a MLS team play and tell me what type of player fits into their program.

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, November 21, 2018 at 8:52 p.m.

    Kevin, imo the current conventional thinking about team tactics at USSF is deeply flawed. So yes the current conventional thinking about team tactics is garbage.

    Also USSF, if anything, is encouraging an even greater emphasis on teaching 11v11 team tactics during the fundamental stage of player development, which detracts from teaching fundamentals. I saw some indication this year that they are backing off this push, but imo damage to coaching education has been done.

    Also the idea that the US needs to select "1" style of play is based on a misunderstanding of the game. Our goal should be to develop players capable of playing any style and capable of switching between styles during the run of play.

  17. R2 Dad, November 21, 2018 at 10:36 p.m.

    I'd like to point out that Sarachan, a coach who supposedly knows american players, sent our Euro-based guys out in a 3-5-2 they didn't really know how to play and looked bad as a result. Tell me, again, why it's so important that our USMNT coach "understands american players" when this is the result? Remember, "understanding american players" has been code for only hiring old white american coaches. As Eric points out above, we slept our way through Osorio, Martino and Lopetegui because the Nats silo doesn't want them any more than they wanted Hugo Perez. 
    We get it--USSF wants a MLS fanboi as USMNT coach. Good luck with that.

  18. frank schoon replied, November 22, 2018 at 10:01 a.m.

    R2,Currently it is in vogue to immediately attribute statements to race or ethnic slights but the statement "understanding the American players" has nothing to do with race or ethnic group . It really pertains to preferring to having an "American" coach preferably with college coaching experience  for only Americans can understand the American players way of thinking. That particular statement was first mentioned by Bob Gansler back in the 80's or so because so many players had college playing experience. I still have this interview of Bob Gansler in which he talked about it. I never quite understood this idiotic reasoning of why American coaches should coach Americans for in Europe there has always been foreign coaches. 

  19. Goal Goal, November 21, 2018 at 10:57 p.m.

    After the game last night I caught the back end of a conversation where a very good Spanish coach expressed that he would like to be considered and US Soccer said no?

    anybody know anything about that

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, November 22, 2018 at 8:47 p.m.

    Julen Lopetegui

  21. Goal Goal, November 21, 2018 at 11:10 p.m.

    Youngster is chosen as a local talent and goes to a MLS team.  What is the future?

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