U.S. Soccer has been without a men's national team head coach since Gregg Berhalter's contract expired at the end of December.
His future was put on hold while the federation conducted a review of the cycle that ended with the 2022 World Cup and an independent investigation was conducted into an incident in 1991 when he kicked his now-wife and how the information of those events when they were college freshmen came to the federation.
Brian McBride's contract as men's national team general manager also expired at the end of 2022. It was not renewed -- he said he made the decision in October to seek a "new challenge" -- and he will stay on through January before departing.
U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, who hired Berhalter in 2018 and McBride in 2020, will depart on Feb. 15 to take a position as director of soccer affairs at PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where he grew up and his family lives.
That leaves U.S. Soccer without a sporting director to hire a new men's national team head coach or new men's national team general manager. The federation has hired Sportsology Group to head the search for a new sporting director and review of the entire sporting department.
U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone on a media call on Thursday morning said she hoped to have the sporting director in place prior to the Women's World Cup (July 20-Aug. 20) and would then work with the sporting director to "join me in leading that search" for a new men's national team head coach.
"We would like to have our new GM and our men's national team coach in place by the end of the summer," she added. "As for the GM role, we're going to be working together with Sportsology to evaluate our entire sporting department. And once we have more clarity on what that department should look like moving forward, we'll determine the leadership and support that is needed."
Anthony Hudson is the acting men's national team coach for the two January matches — the USA lost to Serbia, 2-1, on Wednesday night in Los Angeles — and will likely remain in place through the summer. On the women's side, Vlatko Andonovski is the head coach of the national team and Kate Markgraf is the women's national team general manager ahead of the World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand.
Stewart was hired from the Philadelphia Union in 2018 to fill the newly created position of men's national team general manager. He was moved into the new role of sporting director to oversee the sporting department in 2019 at the same time as Markgraf was hired following the Women's World Cup in France.
"This isn't the process that we chose to go down," Cone said of the new departures. But she added: "I know this moment feels a bit uncertain, for you in the media, for our staff, for players. What it actually is is a clean canvas."
U.S. Soccer's leadership has been overhauled in recent years. It has had two presidents since Sunil Gulati decided not to run for a fourth and final four-year term in 2018, and it hired two CEOs since Dan Flynn's departure after almost 20 years in his position in September 2019. JT Batson was hired to replace Will Wilson as CEO four months ago.
In his remarks in recent weeks, Batson has emphasized how impressed he's been with the federation staff in place.
"We have a sophisticated leadership team broadly and we have a sophisticated leadership team of our sporting department," he assured the media on Thursday morning.
In a statement, U.S. Soccer outlined the sporting leadership team that will report directly to Batson:
• Barry Pauwels, Senior Director of Technical Development
• Elaine Lemos, Director of Sporting Operations
• Tom King, Managing Director of Administration
• Rick Cost, Director of High Performance
• Dan Russell, Senior Director of Sport Development
• Dr. George Chiampas, Chief Medical Officer
Still, Stewart's departure leaves the position of men's national team head coach up in the air for months, just as it was in 2018 when a decision on Bruce Arena's successor was delayed until after Gulati's successor (Carlos Cordeiro) was elected and the new position of USMNT GM was filled (Stewart).
It was almost four years from the date of Berhalter's hiring as USMNT head coach until the start of the 2022 World Cup. It will likely be less than three years from when the USMNT head coach is in place — Berhalter or his successor — and the 2026 World Cup — which the USA will co-host — starts.
That would make the time frame for having a head coach in place within the 2026 World Cup cycle more than a year shorter than it was for Qatar when the hiring delay — and the circumstances of Berhalter's selection — came in for heavy criticism.
There's one big difference, though. The USA didn't qualify for Russia 2018; it qualified for the 2022 World Cup and reached the knockout stage in Qatar.
There was considerable urgency to begin the rebuilding process ahead of qualifying for Qatar (whose start was eventually delayed due to Covid). Yes, there will be two tournaments — Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup — at which the USMNT will likely have an acting head coach in charge, but the foundation of the 2026 World Cup team is at least in place and qualifying won't be an issue.
The work on preparing the USMNT for 2026 will begin in earnest next year when it's expected to compete in the Copa America, which will be the most competitive event it will play in ahead of the World Cup.
That gives U.S. Soccer a little breathing room to get a head coach up and running. But it will do nothing to alleviate the load on the federation's young leadership — Cone and Batson — as it tries to build on the momentum of the success of the 2022 World Cup in showcasing the USMNT and jump-start the task of preparing for and taking advantage of the opportunity to boost American soccer that organizing the World Cup provides.
Photo: Earnie Stewart (left) and Brian McBride in March 2022. Credit: ISI Photos.