PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago — When Bruce Arena was shown the door 11 years ago as U.S. national team coach, he went out fighting, refusing to believe it was time for him to go.
This time around, there will be no fighting, no slamming his former employers. Arena knew the deal the second he heard the final whistle Tuesday night and realized he had become the first coach in more than 30 years to fail to lead the U.S. to a World Cup. He didn’t need U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to tell him he was fired. He knew.
So who will Gulati turn to next to try and steer the national team in the right direction? Gulati’s grand hire of Jurgen Klinsmann six years ago was supposed to offer a program-changing philosophy and approach, and while some Klinsmann defenders will insist he helped the U.S. national team, that is far from a popular consensus.
Will Gulati turn to another foreign coach to turn things around, or will he go to an American to clean up the mess? Might he consider a true outsider with no ties to American soccer, or will he give a coach developed in the U.S. the opportunity to steer the ship?
Here is a look at some candidates who could merit consideration as the next U.S. national team coach:
You might think that Tuesday’s debacle will lead to a complete housecleaning of U.S. Soccer coaches, but Ramos is one who should be sticking around. He wasn’t an Arena appointment, having come in as the Under-20 coach under Klinsmann. Ramos has done a good job with the U-20 program, earning plaudits for his man management.
Perhaps most importantly, Ramos has coached many of the young stars who will make up the nucleus of the national team going forward, from Christian Pulisic to DeAndre Yedlin, Paul Arriola to Matt Miazga. There’s no player who knows that group of players better, and he could be the best equipped to build the team that finds success in 2022. Also working in Ramos’ favor is that he could be chosen to step in as an interim coach while U.S. Soccer takes its time choosing a long-term option, which could serve as an audition for him.
The Sporting Kansas City boss has developed a reputation as an excellent man manager, developer of talent and tactical mind. Vermes is a no-nonsense coach who could be just what the program needs.
What Vermes doesn’t have is international coaching experience. The former U.S. World Cup veteran isn’t a stranger to the international game, having worked the foreign player market well. But in terms of managing a national team on any level, and navigating international competitions, Vermes doesn’t have that experience.
JUAN CARLOS OSORIO
The Mexico coach has just led El Tri to a first-place finish in the Hexagonal, and another World Cup, but continues to be criticized by Mexican media and fans who have not embraced him. The former New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire coach lived in the U.S. for many years, has plenty of ties to the country, and wouldn’t be a stranger to how the American soccer scene operates. Osorio might also be able to help strengthen an underdeveloped relationship between U.S. Soccer and the Latino community, which has continued to be neglected.
Will Osorio be available? If he leads Mexico to a strong showing at the 2018 World Cup he could parlay that into one of his dream jobs, be it managing in the English Premier League or leading his native Colombia. Whether or not El Tri does well in Russia, there seems to be little chance Osorio would manage El Tri beyond 2018, and having the opportunity to lead the U.S. to new heights would be tough for him to pass up.
In terms of young American coaches, few are more impressive than Vanney, who has helped build Toronto FC into the class of Major League Soccer. The 43-year-old former U.S. national team defender has shown himself to be tactically astute, and sharp at man management and lineup shuffling.
All that said, he’s still very young as a coach, and doesn’t have international experience. He could still be someone who develops into a national team coach later in his career, but with his club coaching career just taking off, he may want to give it some time before jumps into the international pool.
GERARDO ‘TATA’ MARTINO
The Atlanta United coach has helped steer the MLS expansion team through a very impressive first season, and his experience coaching in the U.S. might be enough to convince the federation he has the familiarity with American soccer to step in.
But would Martino really leave the Atlanta project after just one year? And was his time as Argentina manager enough to convince Gulati he would be able to guide the U.S. team to glory?
Gulati isn’t seen as much of a risk-taker, but if he were to try something outside the box, he could be tempted to give enigmatic Argentine manager Bielsa a call. Gulati has expressed his admiration for the coach in the past, and it’s tough to argue with Bielsa’s track record as an international manager with Argentina and Chile.
What works against Bielsa? He has no experience with any aspect of American soccer, and doesn’t speak English — which kept Gulati from seriously considering him back when he hired Klinsmann. Bielsa is also known as an unpredictable character, and his short fuse might lead to conflict if he isn’t happy with how things are run. Some would argue that might be a good thing, and that an outsider like Bielsa could be just what American soccer needs.
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