Matt Crocker: U.S. Soccer's new Sporting Director promises to learn quickly on job

U.S. Soccer has hired 48-year-old Welshman Matt Crocker to set its “sporting vision,” to oversee its women’s and men’s (and girls and boys) national team programs, to develop “sporting culture, philosophy,” and implement the technical development plan.

During Tuesday’s 45-minute press conference introducing Crocker as U.S. Soccer’s next Sporting Director, he referred a dozen times to his eagerness to learn.

“The U.S. has always been a passion of mine and I’ve always followed the soccer,” said Crocker, who arrives after serving as  Southampton’s Director of Football Operations (2020-2023), the England FA’s Head of Development Teams, Coaching (2013-2020) and Southampton’s Academy Director (2006-2013).

“To see the developments in the MLS, to see new teams coming into the franchise, the development of stadia. The MLS Next programs, the academy development — I've seen that from a distance. …

“I've also been close enough first-hand when I worked at the English FA to play across both the boys and the girls sides with the U.S. national teams and see their developments. … In particular, that 2000 age group that we played in the [2017] World Cup at the U-17 level, some outstanding talent and obviously many of those players have now gone on to make that jump through into the seniors. …

“I’ve watched it from afar. Clearly, I've got a lot to learn, both in the men's and the women's game. … I'm really excited. But I'm under no illusions of what I need to learn and I need to learn quicky."

We asked:

The U.S. population under the age of 18 is about 26% Latino, and in recent years on the men's side the youth national team rosters have been from about 25% to 40% Latino. How familiar are you with Latin American soccer? What is your opinion about the Latin style of soccer and how does that demographic impact you as you set the sporting vision for U.S. Soccer?

Crocker: “As I mentioned, there's a lot of things about U.S. soccer that I need to learn and I need to understand. And that would be one of the significant landscapes. You've given me a statistic that I hadn't researched yet. As I mentioned, I've got a great amount to learn in a short space of time and I'll be doing all I can behind the scenes to pick that up.

“What I want to make sure is that we've got real diversity across our teams. It's about the best players being picked for the best teams at the right moments in time. And what we want to do is to make sure the most important part is the pathway.

“So we want to make sure our selection process is right at the very, very youngest ages, to make sure that the players can grow and develop with us, and I'll be doing all I can behind the scenes with the staff to support that process.”

During his first stint at Southampton, Crocker directed an academy that spawned stars such as Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Ward-Prowse. (Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott made their first-team debuts coming out of Southampton’s academy shortly before Crocker’s arrival.)

When Crocker moved to the English FA in 2013, England had not won a major title since lifting the World Cup on home soil in 1966.

In 2017, England won for the first time both the U-20 World Cup and the U-17 World Cup, which it had only qualified for three previous times since biennial tournament’s 1985 inception. In 2019, England won the UEFA European U-19 Championship.

Crocker led the establishment of the “England DNA" project, worked with the English Premier League on the Elite Player Performance Plan, and designed an “aligned pathway” from youth national teams, starting at U-15 to the full national team — combined as “a four-year project, [with] a real clear vision about us wanting to be successful at the top senior level, targeting 2022 and podium finishes thereafter in terms of World Cups.”

England’s shootout loss to Italy in the final of the European Championship that England hosted in 2021 was its best performance in the tournament’s history. (Previous bests were semifinal losses in 1968 and 1996.) At the 2022 World Cup, England, which played the USA to a scoreless tie in group play, exited with a 2-1 loss to France in the quarterfinals.

In February of 2020, Crocker had returned to Southampton, which won promotion to the Premier League in 2012, after playing in the second tier in 2011-12 and 2005-09, and the third tier in 2009-11.

Southampton finished 15th in the EPL in 2020-21 and 2021-22, and is currently in last-place of the 20-team league. (Southampton announced in December that Crocker would be leaving the club at this season's end.)

In February, the BBC reported that Southampton considered hiring American coach Jesse Marsch a week after he was fired by Leeds United.

As Crocker is charged with leading the hiring process for head coach of the U.S. men’s national team, currently led on an interim basis by Anthony Hudson, Crocker was asked about Marsch and the possibility of re-hiring Gregg Berhalter.

"It would be unprofessional of me right now to talk about individual names,” Crocker said. “Gregg has done a fantastic job and I intend to follow up with a number of candidates, both internally within the organization and externally, to begin to understand more and to assess my learning. I'll be doing that as quickly as I possibly can."

On his criteria for U.S. coach, Crocker, who succeeds Earnie Stewart in the Sporting Director role, said:

“What I see from the current team is an aggressive, a forward-thinking, a fearless team that went to the World Cup and did some great stuff. And I’m really, really keen to make sure that we produce a coach that can replicate and continue to drive forward some of those behaviors. Clearly, there’s been some great foundations put in place by Gregg and by Anthony around the style, and we want to continue to evolve that style of play. …

“And we clearly want a head coach who is a role model and a cultural leader as well, and can inspire the next generation. So the legacy piece around the future is as important, if not more important, than build up to the next World Cup.”

Crocker begins work full-time on Aug. 2 but “will immediately begin the process of hiring the head coach of the men’s national team and supporting the U.S. women’s national team,” stated U.S. Soccer.

Including the nine extended national teams (beach soccer, futsal, CP, deaf, power), men’s and women’s full national teams, eight youth national teams down to U-14s at both genders, Crocker will be overseeing 27 teams.

“Both on the boys and the girls side,” Crocker said, “to have the opportunity to step in and build on those foundations, and be part of that, and listen and learn in the early months to understand the landscape is something that is really exciting. And then obviously you've got the amazing tournaments that are around the corner."

Crocker, who was born in Wales, served as Academy Manager of Cardiff City FC in 1999-2005 after earning Sports Coach & Physical Education degrees at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

He said his first coaching experiences were in the USA.

“First of all, in Little Rock, Arkansas, when I came over a few summers,” he said. “Then I had the opportunity to spend some time in Kansas City, with the Louisburg Legends, under-12 boys and U-12 girls teams. …

"My history [with the U.S.] actually goes back a long way.”

This time around, he’ll be based at U.S. Soccer’s headquarters in Chicago.

Photos: U.S. Soccer & English FA.
15 comments about "Matt Crocker: U.S. Soccer's new Sporting Director promises to learn quickly on job".
  1. Michael Bernard, April 25, 2023 at 7:25 p.m.

    So we go back to an international flavor and set ourselves back, and in the end, they all have taken the money and set the USA back further in development.
    Hope you can change my mind. I think we should leave the women's program be as it is already successful

  2. Ben Myers replied, April 25, 2023 at 10:01 p.m.

    Well, yes and no.  The USWNT HAS BEEN successful, past tense.  In the current era, other national teams are catching up, fueled by greater investment, flourishing domestic leagues and a women's Champions League. This upcoming World Cup will not be a cakewalk for the USWNT.

    There appears to be no strategic thinking whatsoever at USSF regarding wonen's soccer and what it takes to keep the edge.  Of course, that's no different than the strategic thinking re. UWMNT.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, April 26, 2023 at 2:17 a.m.

    The key to USWNT success has been excellent players who were not "developed" by USSF, and great coaches that also were not "developed" by USSF.

    Anson Dorrance, a college coach, was an excellent choice to start the program which consisted of amatuer players. He used his attacking view of the game, which featured 3 forwards and high pressure. The USWNT would literally run opponents into the ground. That formula has been pretty successful for the program.

    Other key coaches were Tony DiCicco, April Henrichs and lately Jill Ellis. 

    I won't list the great players but one thing a lot of them had in common was playing against males while they developed. All of them were highly disciplined and intense competitors. This was the team culture. These players weren't made with a cookie cutter.

    For a while the USWNT played like the USMNT with a 442 and a target forward. There was a long dry spell between 99 and 2015. Ellis transistioned away from the 442 long ball attack and toward a classic 433 high pressing attacking system exploiting 1v1 skills in the final third. She was excellent at game management, but her difference maker was her tournament management. If this was chess she was thinking 10 moves ahead of her opponents. 

    Right now I think USSF wants to play like 2019 again, but they don't really understand what Ellis was doing. Even if they did understand, replaying 2019 is not how you win championships. 

  4. humble 1 replied, April 26, 2023 at 12:19 p.m.

    Bob, you are so correct.  U.S. women and the coaches final phase of development - has been for many many years the college context.  All you write is correct, only one thing I add, recent dynamic, observed empherically, no studies to back up, but appears more and more ladies college roster spots are going to internationals every year.  This has two effects - opportunity lost to domstic talent - and - development of our future national competition.  Not a complaint - as I am for competition, observation.  The growth of the ex-usa academies is the to the point that college are recruiting from them now.  Just another form of creep - allowed by our most ineffective development platform based on behemoth youth clubs that create barriers to small community clubs.  Thank you!

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, April 26, 2023 at 3:32 p.m.

    Humble1, that isn't my impression, but that is based on no observations. When Title IX started, US colleges were the only opportunity for women to play soccer with very few exceptions. So we had a lot of foreign students playing soccer intermural and otherwise. Now many countries have increased opportunities for women so I don't think that pressure on college soccer remains as high.

    The development of leagues in Europe from its effects seems intended to deprive the USWNT of quality opponents for friendlies as well as provide a development opportunity that excludes US players. It directly competes with USSF's NWSL of course. I think USSF's best option is to improve NWSL, not send players to Europe but to keep the NWSL door open to foreign players.

    While I can see the business sense in distributing the USWNT pool among the various clubs I think a lost opportunity is playing the USWNT team in friendlies against NWSL teams. Maybe not the senior team, but the youth teams, especially U18 and U20 would benefit greatly. USSF does not provide them friendlies. They should do something similar with the men's youth teams too.

    The regular WNT international matches in Europe is where we are seriously falling behind in playing opportunities. 

  6. Kevin Leahy, April 26, 2023 at 9:42 a.m.

    Understand that being diplomatic is necessary but, G. Berhalter is a non starter. Please settle on a coach soon. The path needs to be clear.

  7. John Foust, April 26, 2023 at 9:58 a.m.

    "“What I want to make sure is that we've got real diversity across our teams. It's about the best players being picked for the best teams at the right moments in time." unfortunately these are mutually-exclusive and contradicting goals. Where we are sorely lacking is in developing strong attacking players (like everyone else in the world), but there are potential coaching options who have a hugely better track record than others with that. Melding talent, strategy, team-building, and tactics is a rare combination, but needed to the USMNT to improve, and GB ain't it, nor is Marsch.

  8. Santiago 1314 replied, April 26, 2023 at 10:16 a.m.

    I am NOT Interested in "FORCED" Diversity in Sports.!!!! (Using 2010 Stats)
    Should we make the NBA 16.3% Hispanic.???
    Should we make the NFL 63.7% White.???
    How about Forcing an "Asian" on to the USXYT, 4.7%

    I want the BEST Damn Players that can win Games, that have USA Passports.!!!

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, April 26, 2023 at 10:52 a.m.

    Santi, in that context I think he meant it like in the dictionary, not the political context. In other words the program needs to be as inclusive as possible. A big net thrown from which to select the best fish.

  10. Ric Fonseca replied, April 26, 2023 at 4:53 p.m.

    Sr. Santaigo, de donde es Usted?  Should there be apologies for this question?  Seems to me that we've played this song and dance now, since the 1970's, and yet, where in the heck are we?  And, that he really doesn't seem to have any knowledge ofto Mike Woitalla's question regarding our Latino/Hispanic players orthe statistical numbers, is very and quite alarming to me!  IMHO, i feel that US Soccer as made another soon-to-be-humbling error in bringing someone over from abroad, that has, again IMHO, a very limited awareness of our "situation..."  but has promised to learn as quickly as possible, as "time flies when one is having fun!"  

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, April 26, 2023 at 7 p.m.

    Ric, I interpreted Santi to mean that there should be a natural diversity achieved through equal opportunity, not a quota system. Granted his statement was a bit ambigous.

    The problem I see is that there is very much a lack of equal opportunity. Maybe not in the NT program but everywhere else. I started to say more, but then realized who I was speaking to. You know the situation much better than I. I will just say this. Pay to play is for profit and so it discriminates based on economic status. Until we get more elite development opportunities that aren't profit motivated that type of discrimination will continue.

    For me personally, since I moved to Arizona from Northern VA, I see a big difference in the inclusiveness of elite USSF youth soccer. It is by no means ideal, but its much fairer than back East. The clubs I saw were very motivated to develop good players, although there was still a fixation on winning matches.

  12. Santiago 1314, April 26, 2023 at 10:39 a.m.

    Good Announcement/Press conference. (Except for limited ability to hear the Press Questions)
    For the FIRST Time I saw C-P-C "Comfortable" in her Skin as Presidenta of the USSF.
    I was IMPRESSED that they did NOT Go for the "Diversity" Hire, just for the Sake of WOKE.
    MC suprised me with his "Background" in USA "CAMP" Soccer Business, though, after Working with these "Summer Blokes" for over 30 years, it should NOT have been a Suprise.
    Good to know that he Does have a "Grassroots" Background in the US Soccer Scene.
    I would like to know more about, WHO he came over to Work with.???
    How did he end up Coaching u12 Teams in Kansas City.???
    How Long was he There.???

    I liked his Vision of Teams that can "CONTROL MOMENTUM"... versus 90+ minutes of GegenPressing.... That would seem to exculde Marsch... 
    That is will actually NEED to be the PLAYERS that "Step-Up" and Dictate the Tempo on the Field.
    I am NOT Too Keen on EVERY TEAM in the System; XX and XY,  from u14 to Senior, playing the Same, or Doing the Same Drills, or "Group Think" of Soccer 


    The Youth National Teams need to be set up, to produce 3 players per Cycle(Year), that could EVENTUALLY end up on the Full National Team.
    If you can get 3 players per Birth Year... EVERY YEAR; That means that you will have approxiametly 30 Players in the 10 Year Pool for the Senior National Team... (Age20-Age30)

    If we are NOT doing that.... Then The Director should be FIRED.!!!
    That means you have to give the New Director about 3-5 years to see if that Result is happening.

  13. humble 1 replied, April 26, 2023 at 12:31 p.m.

    Sanit YNT cannot produce players.  The gave up the DA, for good reason.  Now production is in hands of MLS Next, ECNL, USL Academy, etc.  They are supposed to ID and curate/cultivate the players.  We know that in the DA years - YNT scouts were on record that 99% of scouting was done in DA academies.  This resulted in almost a decade of barren years, youth players could not break into the MNT, missed 3 straight Olympic U23 tournaments, and culminating in the missed WC of 2018.  This is the real challenge - identifying the talented youth.  They key for Crocker will be finding the right people to help him get this job done right.  The challenge for anyone in his seat is the size, scope and the dynamic and also static nature of youth development in the US, constantly changing, but people also fighting to keep it the way it is to protect their income streams, this is why getting the right people will be key.  Spend as little time in Chicago as possible would be my advice.  Make it happen!    

  14. humble 1, April 26, 2023 at 12:33 p.m.

    Santi - 'scuse me - no time to edit.  As always - appreciate your perspective.  Keep it going! 

  15. R2 Dad, April 26, 2023 at 5:03 p.m.

    I'm hoping his answers during the hiring process were more specific than those above. He's already found US media much more timid than that in the UK. And " It's about the best players being picked for the best teams" can mean almost anything. Did he get a hall pass because of his "need to learn" comments? USSF must have spoon fed him this pablum. I don't care about U results, I want to understand his--and USSF--development plans. So far we got nothin'. Did he promise a monthly or quarterly public updates? I don't trust USSF to do anything correctly at this point.

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