The troubling case of U.S. Soccer coaching vacancies

I would give the boys U.S. youth national team coaches a high grade for their work over the last couple of years. In fact, the boys YNT program under Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos  has had unprecedented success -- providing a reason to be optimistic about the state of American soccer in the wake of the USA’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Yet there is a reason to be concerned: U.S. Soccer has failed to keep its youth national team head coaches on board, while failing to hire replacements.

There are five boys U.S. youth national teams without head coaches. Three of the coaches who haven't been replaced left more than half a year ago.

The U-18s, U-17s (which have World Cup qualifying in two months), U-16s, U-15s and U-14s do not have a head coach.

YNT head coach departures:
Clint Peay (U-14/15): February 2019
Shaun Tsakiris (U-16): December 2018
John Hackworth (U-17): July 2018
Omid Namazi (U-18): June 2018
Brad Friedel (U-19): November 2017

You would think that U.S. Soccer, with its $5 million annual budget for its boys youth national team (including the U-23s), should be able to run a fully operational YNT program. Instead, Ramos, who is also the U-20 head coach, does double-duty with the U-18s. And for the last year he has shuffled coaches around to fill vacancies.

In 2018, U-15 coach Dave van den Bergh was re-assigned to the U-19s to fill the Friedel vacancy, and in January headed the U-17s, which Tsakiris had been coaching in Hackworth’s absence for the latter part of 2018. U.S. Soccer failed to land either Tsakiris or Van den Bergh for the U-17 job. Van den Bergh remains in charge of the U-19s.

The latest to leave was Clint Peay, the U-14 coach who also spent time heading the U-15s during the shuffle created by earlier departures. U.S. Soccer lost Peay to an assistant coaching position at North Carolina FC, one of the strongest USL teams.

So, the boys youth national team program finds itself with two head coaches for seven teams.

U.S. Soccer confirmed that one obstacle in maintaining some of its staff has been its requirement of relocating to its headquarters in Chicago, an issue that also narrows the field of new candidates.

Why is that necessary in this era of telecommuting? Besides, national team camps are never in Chicago.

“Having everyone together in a collaborative environment,” says U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe, “allows us to connect members of our men’s and women’s senior and youth coaching staffs with the other full-time people in the Federation, such as high-performance experts, team managers, talent identification directors, Development Academy leaders, and many others. Aligning our soccer philosophy throughout our national teams, Talent ID, Club Development and other departments is a priority. We made a huge step in this direction when our men’s national staff, including our General Manager [Earnie Stewart] and head coach [Gregg Berhalter] moved to Chicago.

“In terms of our soccer philosophy, that daily connection allows us to develop style of play, player profiles, methodology, curriculum and integrate high performance and analytics in a meaningful way across all of our programs.

“It’s not that we couldn’t have those conversations if we kept the status quo and continued to have everyone separated and living in different areas across the country. But we strongly believe that set-up isn’t as beneficial or productive to having everyone under one roof as often as possible. We all know we need to get better, and the question is how can we accelerate that process. One significant way is to have everyone in the same room.”

That room, however, isn’t filling up with the coaches who are crucial to the YNT program.

What I do not know is whether the salaries and terms offered YNT coaches are sufficient to encourage coaches to uproot themselves and their families. What I do believe is that the move-to-Chicago policy comes at a time when recent history shows the YNT coaches have done quite well without daily visits to Soccer House.

In 2017, the USA won the Concacaf U-20 Championship for the first time ever, and Ramos’ team repeated in 2018. Both teams included a large number of players who climbed the YNT ladder after U.S. Soccer expanded the program to include teams at each age group, with full-time head coaches.

The USA was one of only two nations -- besides England, which won both -- to reach the quarterfinals of the 2017 U-17 World Cup (with Hackworth coaching and Tsakiris assisting) and the 2017 U-20 World Cup.

U.S. youth national team players have been going pro at an unprecedented rate. Especially impressive recently, two members of the 2017 U-17 World Cup squad -- Timothy Weah and Josh Sargent – have already been capped by the full national team, while Taylor Booth has been signed by Bayern Munich and Chris Durkin played 23 MLS games for D.C. United in 2018.

Ramos attributes the YNT program success in this era to the improved environments for American players at the club level, especially the investment of MLS clubs in their academies. But there's no doubt that a well-run YNT program has played an important role.

Youth national team play led to the discovery by foreign clubs of players such as Weston McKennie, who was playing for the U-19s when Schalke 04 scouted him at the Slovakia Cup in 2016. McKennie, like former U.S. U-17 Christian Pulisic, is now getting UEFA Champions League experience.

The U-19 national team was one of the gap-year national teams – only the U-20s and U-17s have World Cups -- created on Ramos’ recommendation that have become crucial for young Americans getting international experience and exposure. Not having a coach for the World Cup-aspiring U-17s is especially troubling, but jeopardizing the programming for the other squads is also detrimental. Frankie Amaya, the No. 1 pick at the 2019 MLS SuperDraft and an 18-year-old star of the USA's 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship final win over Mexico, reached the U-20s via the U-19s. The 17-year-old Ulysses Llanez's play with the U-18s was a key part of his transition to the U-20s.

U.S. Soccer recently expanded its U-14 program and took steps to bolster its scouting network, after which Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Boys Talent Identification, spoke of the important role the YNT head coaches play. Another reason for U.S. Soccer to have them in place. Another case for the urgency of filling the positions.

In the wake of U.S. Soccer being heavily criticized for losing Jonathan Gonzalez and Efrain Alvarez to Mexico, the YNT coaches, especially Ramos and Tsakiris, succeeded in keeping players such as Alex Mendez and Llanez in the U.S. jersey. In the recent U-14 West camp, about 50 percent of the 80 kids were Latino -- a reassuring sign for those of us concerned about the YNT program’s appreciation of Hispanic talent.

So far, the USA is winning the tug-of-war with Mexico for FC Dallas’ U-17 Ricardo Pepi. But he recently went down to a mid-season camp in Mexico with FC Dallas, played fantastically, and is again being heavily recruited by El Tri. And now Pepi doesn’t know who his U.S. coach would be.

Who’s responsible for hiring YNT coaches? U.S. Soccer says it’s a collaboration between Nico Romeijn, U.S. Soccer's Chief Sport Development Officer, Asher Mendelsohn, who joined U.S. Soccer last month as Chief Soccer Officer, replacing Ryan Mooney, and Ramos – and they “provide recommendations to [CEO] Dan Flynn for approval.”

But U.S. Soccer’s Organizational Chart shows the Chief Sport Development Officer (Romeijn, the Dutchman who was hired by U.S. Soccer in June 2015 to be its Director of Coaching Education), and Chief Soccer Officer (now Mendelsohn) are in charge of the youth national teams. Ramos, who has been a part of six world championships as a player, head coach of three U-20 World Cups, and assistant coach at the 2014 World Cup, doesn’t appear in the chart.

I would trust Ramos, the Youth Technical Director, to pick the YNT coaches and decide whether they need to live in Chicago or not and have him make those recommendations to Flynn. But U.S. Soccer appears to take a different approach.

It’s a baffling approach that is interrupting some of the most impressive progress we’ve ever seen from the youth national program.

28 comments about "The troubling case of U.S. Soccer coaching vacancies".
  1. Jeff Toonkel, February 14, 2019 at 4:59 p.m.

    Thank you for your in-depth article and identying Dan Flynn as the responsible decision maker.
    Eager to hear from Dan Flynn!

  2. James Madison, February 14, 2019 at 5:04 p.m.

    A penetrating article, Mike.  So much for the men and boys.  Now, how about the women and girls?

  3. Bob Ashpole, February 14, 2019 at 5:18 p.m.

    Requiring everyone to move to Chicago is insane.

  4. frank schoon, February 14, 2019 at 5:41 p.m.

    I can fully understand it if we were still living in  the early 20th century but 
    in this day and age with all the advanced video communications  everyone is forced to move to Chicago...totally ludicrous to me. 

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, February 14, 2019 at 10:44 p.m.

    I wholeheartedly agree!  All I could think about while reading the article is that I remember back to '74 when I was offered and took a job in Chicago, and it gives the reader a sense that US Soccer is still trying to design a race horse but is keeps on coming out like a camel.                                  

  6. Goal Goal replied, February 15, 2019 at 5:15 p.m.

    Frank, US Soccer is in the Flintstone age.

  7. frank schoon replied, February 15, 2019 at 7:47 p.m.

    RW, or close to it....

  8. Wallace Wade, February 14, 2019 at 5:59 p.m.

    The trainwreck continues....wake up!

  9. Eric Jensen, February 14, 2019 at 7:49 p.m.

    solid commentary. hopefully someone at 1801 South Prairie Avenue is listening.

    it's important to also remember that first, there was a ynt coach hiring freeze (which Ramos called out publicly), and then the requirement to live in Chicago followed.

    Can't read minds and it'd be nice to assume constructive motives but, having worked in corporate america during mergers and sat ringside multiple times as new management takes over, this is exactly the kind of thing that is said/done when a new regime is clearing out an old regime. 

    To be fair, it's the right of the new guys, if they're going to be held accountable for results, to bring in the people they think can get the job done, but let's be smart about it.

    The YNT u14 group, for example, hasn't had a u14 training camp/national team camp since November 2017.

    And assuming the 2019 u14 YNT camp occurs this July/August that will be close to a two year gap between u14 YNT camps.  And US Soccer won't be doing the Futures Camp this year at all.

    For comparison, during the 17 month period from Nov 2017 back to Aug 2016, US Soccer held five u14 training camp/ynt camps plus one futures camp (for late developers and boys born in the 2h of the year). 

    Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn't.

    But there does seem to be a correlation - rightly pointed out in the commentary - between a fully staffed YNT coaching staff over the last five years, and multiple notable good results/products now in the 18 to 20 year old age groups currently coming out of the US Soccer program. 

    And with strong competition from Mexico for many of these up and coming players, I can hear the living room pitch now, "Esto es lo que podemos hacer por usted ahora ... ¿Quién es el entrenador de Estados Unidos para su grupo de edad?... Estoy seguro de que es complicado... ¿Por qué no solo vienes a un campo de entrenamiento mientras lo resuelven?"

    And, to end on a positive note, yes, agreed with the commentary, it's outstanding that previously unrecognized talent showed up at the Western Regional Training Camp.

    Would be nice if US Soccer also kept up its commit to recognizing and developing talent by bringing back the Futures Camp in 2019. (after all, it was good enough for a certain Columbus-based midfielder in 2015.)

  10. John DiFiore, February 14, 2019 at 8:15 p.m.

    Mike, why isn't Carlos Cordeiro being held accountable.. we've heard next to nothing from this guy.  And I'm sure Dan Flynn isn't going to say anything..  This is terrible.. Plus the dissolution of the residency program at IMG.. What in the world is going on??  

  11. James Rose replied, February 16, 2019 at 2:25 p.m.

    Ending Residency will go down as one of the biggest blunders of US Soccer for future National team development. US Soccer was being driven by MLS, who didn’t want to send their kids there for fear of leaving them and signing with Euro teams. MLS Academies had been seeking waivers for years to prevent their boys from going to residency. It was purely a monetary issue not one of development as MLS then cannot claim rights or recieve compensation when a player leaves them for residency at u16 and then for Europe at u17/18.

    Residency gave the boys familiarity with each other and the YNT coaches and a style of play that is different from their MLS clubs. That is part of the reason the 2017/2018 u17 World Cup teams did so well. The boys had familiarity with each other and knew where the other was going to be when they made the pass. You don’t learn that from playing with each other a few weeks a year.

    When you look at the number of Residency boys in the 2015-17 era that left for European teams instead of staying here to play in MLS.2 it is the largest group of players that had ever gone before. The US does not have a strong u20/u21 league. I am not including USL PDL that’s only during the college summer break. The UK and Europe do have a 10 month league season at this age. Players develop better in UK/ Europe at that age, as we have nothing comparable.

    Multiple UK/Euro scouts and coaches have told me that unless a player is in their system at/before the u18 (uk)/ u19 level that it’s nearly impossible to do so later. The funnel narrows dramatically with fewer teams to play for at the u20(uk)/21 and later u23 levels (2nd team). MLS Academies now want to close ranks and split the Development Academy to only play with themselves in order to further prohibit their players from moving to Europe or other DA clubs that regularly beat them in DA play and at the annual playoffs. This will further close down the opportunity of the pre-u18 players from having the ability to go develop further in the UK/Europe and hinder future US National team development further.

  12. R2 Dad, February 15, 2019 at 1:56 a.m.

    My only data point here is Hackworth. I've refereed his team before, and maybe it's best he's moved on. It's been a couple of years, and maybe things have changed for him, but his team has always relied on very fast wings to run on to through balls. Hes always won, his Santa Clara Sporting team has been highly rated and effective, but the major premise of the team was team speed and speed of play. He didn't have overly technical players, so probably wouldn't know what to do with them as they would only slow down his system.

  13. Eric Jensen replied, February 15, 2019 at 11:44 a.m.

    r2dad, great point. key is not that the previous coaches were all that. most of us probably don't have much insight into how good/not good the previous coaches were/are. however, getting rid of existing coaches without having an effective plan for quickly adding in new coaches, with the result that ynt teams to sit idle for extended periods of time, is poor management and shows a lack of reasonable foresight.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, February 15, 2019 at 12:01 p.m.

    R2 Dad, although I understand what you are saying and agree with you, for the record, against zone defenses, speed of play (which is not running very fast) is extremely important and there is nothing inherently wrong tactically with wing play or through passes. What is wrong is relying on it and not developing alternatives. I know what you meant, but others might not.

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, February 15, 2019 at 12:04 p.m.

    John Wooden: "Be quick but don't hurry." That is speed of play.

  16. Goal Goal replied, February 15, 2019 at 5:17 p.m.

    When you said he wouldnt know what to do with technical players you hit the nail on the head.  

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, February 15, 2019 at 5:38 p.m.

    Eric, the U15 coach from 2012 to 2014 was Hugo Perez, who many people regard highly.  

  18. Eric Jensen, February 16, 2019 at 11:59 a.m.

    Bob, from what I've heard, would agree about HP. seems like he's also done good things at SVSA. I was trying to say (maybe unsuccessfully, which is on me not communicating as well as I could) is that it seems like there's a bigger problem w/ the ynt program than whether any one coach is good or bad.

  19. James Rose replied, February 16, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.

    At SVSA it’s Hugo’s two kids that coach, not Hugo himself, although he is occasionally around.

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, February 16, 2019 at 1:24 p.m.

    I think you made that good point quite well in your posts.

    We should also think of the head coaches of representing coaching staffs for an age group. It isn't just one position that is in turmoil, but rather the whole program.

  21. Eric Jensen, February 16, 2019 at 1:38 p.m.

    JR, thanks for the clarification. Bob, agreed. any sense on how the new guy from GB's Crew org - Asher M - is culpable for what's going on?

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, February 16, 2019 at 10:16 p.m.

    I have no idea, but it seems to me that any new guy cannot be responsible for old problems.

  23. Eric Jensen, February 17, 2019 at 12:01 a.m.


  24. Philip Carragher, February 17, 2019 at 10:10 a.m.

    After reading last Sunday's New York Times piece on the resurgence of Ajax's development system and then having the pleasure of seeing them play against Real Madrid (unfortunately we only had the 60 minute version here in Chicago), I'm wondering how we can transplant "Dutch football genius" into the US soccer scene?

  25. frank schoon replied, February 17, 2019 at 12:05 p.m.

    Phillip, that isn't done overnight. You have to establish a culture which takes a least a decade to follow. And in order to do that you need to bring in perhaps some Ajax "Alumni" who have grown up and played in the system. Ajax selects its youth players, first and foremost on technique not on size or speed or pure athleticism.  Cruyff began the revolution back about 8 years ago for he saw the Ajax youth development being totally ruined back in the 90's. Their was a lack of individual development and more focus on team oriented. As Cruyff states we have plenty of talent , but it is how you deal with it. 
    He blamed van Gaal and Co Adriaanse for ruining the Ajax youth development for both men have a backround as classroom teachers, along with that comes the usual characteristics of that profession, like pedanticism, the process, dogmatism and more, all of which began chip away at individualistic expression of the youth...and of course there is more...

  26. Bob Ashpole replied, February 18, 2019 at 1:14 a.m.

    The 80's I remember were full of information about and admiration for Ajax development and Dutch Style of play. But my recollection also is that there was very little adult soccer outside of ethnic leagues. A lot of the youth coaches were parents that had not played and the coaching showed it. My recollection is that everything Dutch was later subsumed by the commercialization of youth soccer and a flavor of the month approach to selling clubs to parents. Dutch>Brazil>Spain. I am not sure what the trendy focus is now, maybe England and the EPL.

    Philip, the Dutch don't have a monopoly on genius or a lack of rather ordinary coaches either. Quite a few people of all nationalities don't follow Dutch Style priniciples or development practices. The principles are what is important, not the nationality. 

    The biggest difference I see is the US fixation with "formations" and "positions" as the essense of team tactics instead of skill and positioning. We don't need to change everyone's mindset. Just a few MLS clubs would do.

  27. John Polis, February 19, 2019 at 1:02 a.m.

     The story is right in saying that VAR intervenes when there is a clear and obvious error. But there is one other item included in the DFB regarding the use of VAR. The referee is also supposed to intervene if there is something apparent that the referee clearly could not see because of his position. That opens a lot of other options, which may have come into play in the games described in this story. IMO allowing VAR to intervene in cases or situations that the referee could not see, makes it much more prevalent in German games. That said, the mistake or out of position situation is brought to the referee's attention, so that he can go to the sideline for a review. 

  28. Mark Mallon, March 13, 2019 at 10:24 a.m.

    Thanks for another great article Mike Woitolla.   

    Great points in this article and the SA article about U17 hiring a foreign coach in consideration of the Chicago residency requirement.  

    As an American coach who has developed (8) players that went on MLS careers, attained a USSF A, NSCAA Premier Diploma, FA Badge - England, and FA Badge - Scotland with youth club, ODP, and US Soccer Development Academy Director, with NCAA Div. I coaching at Yale and UC is perpexling that US Soccer has openings and isn't actively recruiting coaches from within the country.    It doesn't take a world class former player to be a worldclass coach.   

    I would move to Chicago if that's a requirement.  Maybe they don't have my email - and phone 813-955-4145 to invite me to coach the U14 or U15 team.    :)  ha ha  

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications