The interregnum that defined the U.S. Men’s National Team is likely coming to a close after Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to Italy, and it’s really about time. By the time the fall friendlies rolled around, the Dave Sarachan era was dragging on and should have ended over the summer.
Sarachan’s tenure as USMNT head coach had a singular purpose: prepare the young American talent for the competitive matches that begin again in the summer of 2019. He more or less did what he could in that regard. He handed 23 different players their first National Team cap, including 20 this year alone. That 2018 debut list is the largest since 1992, when 21 players put on a U.S. shirt for the first time.
But the debuts fizzled out after the pre-World Cup friendlies. The last significant player to come on for the first time was Josh Sargent in the May friendly against Bolivia. Since then, Reggie Cannon has been a nice addition, but after Sargent, the backbone of the 2019 Gold Cup team, and, really, the 2022 World Cup Qualifying squad, has been formed. Those teams will rely on Sargent, Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and, of course, Christian Pulisic. As cool as it was to see Luca de la Torre, Keaton Parks, and Jonathan Amon, they will be role players at best for the next slate of competitive matches and could have made their debuts after a full-time head coach was brought on with a consistent style of play coming into view.
Waiting until the end of the year has cost the USMNT the time it takes to develop a system of play, something Sarachan has admittedly not been focussing on.
“I don’t get too caught up in systems as much as communication and movement,” Sarachan said after the team’s 3-0 loss at England last week. That communication and movement is important to develop in young players, but even recent performances showed that he wasn’t drilling that into the team well enough.
These last two matches against Italy and England were perfect examples of how the USMNT doesn’t have any sort of clear vision under Sarachan. Defending was erratic in both matches. England consistently took advantage of poor defensive organization and blew them out of Wembley Stadium. The heroics of Ethan Horvath were the only reason Italy didn’t do the exact same thing in Gent on Tuesday.
The delay in hiring anyone falls in line with the popular theory that U.S. Soccer has been set on hiring an MLS coach (Gregg Berhalter) for quite some time, which is fine. However, if that’s been they case, why have they kept everyone, including their own team, in the dark? You imagine that MLS coach (Berhalter) wanted to finish the season with his team, but the federation still could have announced the move early on. That way the MLS coach’s team (the Columbus Crew) would know what was up in the future and they could get started on some coaching ideas for next year. Meanwhile, the coach himself (Berhalter) could relay instructions to Sarachan to start building they system he eventually wants to implement.
Now, the new coach will have limited time to get the team ready for the 2019 Gold Cup. He will come in for January Camp, where the most important players won’t even be available, and be forced to start building his program with a bunch of players that won’t matter when the real games begin. The next FIFA window doesn’t take place until March and there will only be three or four friendlies before the competitive fixtures begin in June. That’s not enough time to implement a system capable of defending their Concacaf title.
U.S. Soccer taking its time to find a new coach is understandable. The program was at a low point following the failure to qualify for the World Cup and the federation wants to make sure it has the right guy to drag the USMNT from the ashes.
That said, the search for the next USMNT coach has gone well past being long, and reached a point where it has become detrimental to the development of a program in desperate need of repair.