Commentary

Swiss coach gets a gift from U.S. Soccer

Raphael Wicky  is a lucky man. For the last seven months, he was an unemployed Swiss coach. Now, he has a chance to take the most talented generation of American boys in history to the U-17 World Cup.



So many American coaches have contributed to the unprecedented level the teenage players of the USA have reached in the last few years. Now those American coaches get to watch an imported coach who has contributed zilch to that progress enjoy the most glamorous phase – taking a national team into qualifying for a youth World Cup.

For whatever impresses about Wicky’s resume – we’ll get to that later – there are scores of American coaches very well suited, and deserving, of the job.

In fact, U.S. Soccer didn’t even need to go beyond the coaches they were already employing in the youth national team program. But U.S. Soccer came up with a requirement – moving to Chicago – that made the position unfeasible for them.

Wicky agreed to move to Chicago. That in U.S. Soccer’s eyes makes him a better pick than coaches who have spent years coaching American kids, in the American system, navigating all the complexities and taking on all the challenges of American soccer. And doing very well at it.

Although we’re all so disappointed about the USA failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, we have never seen as much progress by as many young American players as we see now. Even the U-17 team that Wicky gets to coach has players who have already been signed by European and MLS clubs. American coaches should get credit for that.

But U.S. Soccer did not consider any American coaches qualified for heading the U-17s. If it did, we know U.S. Soccer has enough in its coffers to convince at least one American coach to uproot his family from elsewhere in the nation, move to Chicago, and take the job.

So Wicky will be living in Chicago for a couple months before U-17 World Cup qualifying. That U.S. Soccer values that more important than coaches having spent so much of their lives in the USA working to make us a better soccer country is a slap in the face to the American soccer coaching community.

None of this is Wicky’s fault. He’s a former Swiss national team player, with 75 caps and World Cup experience. The last stop on his playing career, which included a long stint in Germany with Werder Bremen and Hamburg SV, was with MLS’s now defunct Chivas USA in 2008, when he played five MLS games.

He then went into youth coaching in his home country with FC Thun, Servette and FC Basel, a team that does have an impressive track record of launching pro careers from its youth academy.

Wicky only lasted a year as head coach at FC Basel, reaching the Champions League round of 16 before getting fired two games into the 2018-19 season.

In December of 2018, he married an American woman, Laura Junker, in Los Angeles – covered by the Swiss tabloid press -- and according to Blick, Switzerland’s largest circulation newspaper, he owns a house in California. According to the Lucerner Zeitung, he stayed in California after the wedding while considering foreign coaching jobs. But he wasn’t in a rush, according to Blick, because he was still getting paid by FC Basel through June 2019.

“I follow MLS very closely,” Wicky, who speaks German, French, Italian, English and Spanish, told Blick. Two months later, Wicky was awarded the U.S. U-17 job, which had been vacant since last summer when John Hackworth departed.

American coaches – from the ones who have been coaching youth national teams to those at the clubs that have been producing the players courted by European and Mexican clubs -- now know how little faith U.S. Soccer has in them.

For however successful Wicky might end up being, that is something U.S. Soccer should keep in mind when it starts filling the other four youth national team head coaching vacancies on the boys side.

27 comments about "Swiss coach gets a gift from U.S. Soccer".
  1. Bob Ashpole, March 8, 2019 at 1:24 p.m.

    I feel frustrated too. Bringing in foreigner who is a better coach than any available US coach is understandable, even laudable. But bringing in a foreign coach and not even considering a US Coach is inexcusable. This particular coach was not a standout in Europe and has never coached in the US. 

    USSF's job includes developing, not just players, but coaches and officials too.

    None of those comments reflects negatively on Wicky. He may turn out to be an outstanding developmental coach, but that is not why he was hired. I wish him and the U17s well. He is part of the team now.  

  2. Tony Marturano replied, March 8, 2019 at 6:10 p.m.

    And you know they didn't contact any American coaches how?

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 7:04 p.m.

    This article.

  4. Ric Fonseca, March 8, 2019 at 2:18 p.m.

    Wow and holy smokes!!!  When I first read the headline I was puzzled, and then when I began reading the article, at first I thought - apologies to the author - I began to see red.  Mike approached the topic cautiously, but he for SURE hit the nail on the head, especially when it is duly noted that the move to Chicago appears to be the key.  Imagine, I took a job in chicago in '74, all be it for ten months, (not soccer related) and while it is an interesting city, I was single then and didn't hesitate to make the move - though I returned to grad school that fall of '74.
    What rankles me, and for sure the author and very possibily other readers, is the mere fact that US Soccer reached out across the pond, while at the same time turned it's back on the many very well qualified U17 potential coaches. And no, this isn't a barb at the Coach, maybe having been part of the old Chivas USA helped him yet it ain't cheap to buy a house in our Golden State, still US Soccer has now made its bed, and now let's all hope (since "hope" springs eternal...) the team performs and does well. 

  5. Tony Marturano replied, March 8, 2019 at 6:17 p.m.

    I'm glad that USSF held firm on their requirment to have all coaches located at one location - Chicago. For too long, US Soccer teams have been led by experienced coaches - all of whom have their own style and their own systems to be implemented and as a result we have never seemed to get our youth players developing into consistent teams of consistent players.
    Developing a USMNT style/approach requires ALL coaches to be on the same page and using the same book - which is almost impossible unless they are all showing up to work in their office in the same building.

  6. R2 Dad replied, March 8, 2019 at 8:23 p.m.

    I don't know anything about this Swiss coach, but being centralized in Chicago didn't prevent Michelle French from playing Neanderball. So in this day and age personal proximity is overrated. Perhaps one issue overlooked is that an outsider isn't going to question lame practices at US Soccer, because no American employee wants to hear "how we did it back in Switzerland".

  7. beautiful game replied, March 9, 2019 at 5:14 p.m.

    Ric F...opined :What rankles me, and for sure the author and very possibily other readers, is the mere fact that US Soccer reached out across the pond, while at the same time turned it's back on the many very well qualified U17 potential coaches."  Who are these  very well qualified U.S. coaches? IMHO, I would have rather contracted the likes of Paolo Maldini et al as a hands-on advisor to an American U-17 coach whomever it would have been.

  8. frank schoon replied, March 10, 2019 at 11:16 a.m.

    BG, good suggestion...

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, March 11, 2019 at 12:33 a.m.

    Somehow I can't see USSF, which has reduced the authority of head coaches, going along with hiring outside coaching experts to advise the head coaches.

  10. frank schoon, March 8, 2019 at 2:19 p.m.

    Bob, I need a break....don't get me started!!!!!

  11. Right Winger replied, March 8, 2019 at 3:32 p.m.

    Frank, as I said before, many times.  I read the strangest things on here.  Full speed ahead!!

  12. David Kaggwa, March 8, 2019 at 5:02 p.m.

    Has any one of you who is commenting on here read about the entire process that the federation went through before hiring this guy?  Do any of you know of his history, whom he has worked with..etc?  It is stuff like this that has been holding us back when it comes to progression in soccer.  Words alone cannot begin to describe how disappointed I am in Mike for putting an article of this nature out in such a respectable new outlet like Soccer America.  Anyone who just reads this, is going to go off and tell thousands of their friends how things are messed up at US Soccer, when in reality, that couldn't be farther from the truth, if we are speaking of our U17 Men's National Team specifically.  YOU KNOW BETTER. 

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 7:28 p.m.

    USSF hides everything. I did google and read about Wicky's background before commenting. I don't just read SA.

  14. David Kaggwa, March 8, 2019 at 5:08 p.m.

    I am sickened to my stomach after reading this, and even the fact that someone gave it a blessing to be published.   Wicky was coaching a team in the Champions League, but wanted so much to be a part of the soccer growing landscape in the US, that he was asking people about whether or not there were any USL team positions available. 

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 7:16 p.m.

    David, you are confused. He never coached a team in the Champion's league. He was  a youth team coach promoted to first team manager for the top Swiss club, but they finished in second place after 8 straight titles. and then he left the club. 

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 9:08 p.m.

    I have to retract that. I am the one confused. The article says he coached in the Champion's league. 

  17. George Mcnee, March 8, 2019 at 5:54 p.m.

    Wicky sounds pretty awesome TBH.  I could see him being great for the program. 

  18. Tony Marturano, March 8, 2019 at 6:21 p.m.

    Interesting that all the positive comments are above the "Read more comments" line and all the negative comments are hidden by it.

    If a professional, experinced American coach wanted the job to be the Head Coach of the U-17 USMNT, then he needed to be willing to uproot everything to pursue that job. Period.

  19. Tony Marturano replied, March 8, 2019 at 6:25 p.m.

    Which American coaches applied for this job - and were willing to relocate to Chicago - yet were passed over??

  20. James Madison, March 8, 2019 at 6:35 p.m.

    1.  Computers, Skype and airplanes mean coaches can live anywhere and be together.  My younger son lives with me and works remotely for an employer in Salt Lake City, traveling there one week a month for all to press-the-flesh, so to speak. 2.  Is he licensed?  If not, US SOccer speaks out of both sides of its mouth---authortarian re residence, but flextible re licensure.  Disrespectful of US coaches any way you cut it.


  21. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 7:20 p.m.

    I was a trial attorney in DC with coworkers located California. We had no trouble whatsoever in coordinating our efforts on very complex major cases. I also worked with people with offices a few feet from mine. The distance made no difference. 

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 7:24 p.m.

    I forgot to mention the advantage of dispersed locations. Less time lost to travel and less jet lag (which is actually a major benefit for frequent business travelers). No one needs to travel coast to coast to attend depositions and such.

  23. Brian McMillen, March 8, 2019 at 7:43 p.m.

    The definition of irresponsible journalism—and the same handful of gents spouting off their eternal wisdom on every topic!  Let me just be the first to say, that the nationality of the coach has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are the best candidate to do the job.  Best of luck to the team and their new coach!

  24. David Kaggwa replied, March 8, 2019 at 9:32 p.m.

    Thank you!  I am so angry, I am not even going to waste time responding to anyone who hasn't taken the time to read up on Wicky's background, but they feel informed enough to comment about how unfit he is for the role.

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 11:24 p.m.

    No one said Kaggwa was unfit. No one said that the nationality of the coach determines suitability. I said that he wasn't a "standout" in Europe, and also said that he hadn't coached in the US before. I don't understand why you find my comments controversial and offensive. 

  26. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2019 at 11:25 p.m.

    Sorry meant to say Wicky, not Kaggwa.

  27. Tony Marturano, March 9, 2019 at 1:15 a.m.

    So Mike - how many qualified American coaches have contacted you to inform you that they have been willing to move to Chicago AND were not selected for this coaching position?

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