Arena is the most successful coach in American soccer history, but unless they coach small nations that don’t see a lot of success, coaches normally don’t get another cycle when they fail to qualify for the World Cup. Arena proved no exception, submitting his resignation on Friday.
After going through Jurgen Klinsmann and Arena in this cycle, it’s vital that the United States pick the right person to lead the national team going forward. While the defeat to Trinidad and Tobago and failure to qualify is an embarrassment for the USMNT and U.S. Soccer Federation, it’s also an opportunity. It’s quite common for a country to have success after a major failure, and by picking the right man, the U.S. can make that possible.
Who is the right man? These are a few names the U.S. might consider, in order from most likely to least.
Ramos has long been seen as the heir apparent to this job. He’s a former player, having spent 12 years with the USMNT, and he’s been the coach of the Under-20 national team since 2013. He’s guided the team to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in each of the past two cycles after crashing out of the group stage, so he has strong familiarity with the next generation of U.S. options.
However, after failing to qualify under Arena, the USSF might be in such a mood to blow things up that Ramos’ continuity could work against him. He’s a safe hire who would have time to experiment before the next competitive matches come in 2019, but he wouldn’t do anything to quell angry fans.
This would be a great way for the U.S. to change things up without really changing things up. Pareja is the coach of FC Dallas, and has achieved consistent results in the regular season while running into some bad luck in the MLS postseason. He knows MLS well and would have no issues coaching the talent that the league has produced. Plus, he’s a Colombian, so he’d bring a perspective from outside the United States to the job. Given that the U.S. has never had a coach from South America, this would be a gutsy move. However, the lack of a title because of a lack of postseason success could work against him.
If Pareja’s lack of a title scares off the USSF, Vermes is a solid option. He’s the coach of Sporting Kansas City and has an MLS title to his name as well as experience with the national team. He’s got plenty of experience and would provide a different voice from what the federation has put out for the past several years. Going this route would mean betting a lot on MLS, which isn’t necessarily the wisest move given how this version of the U.S. flamed out this time around. Still, Vermes knows the U.S. players and the state of U.S. soccer quite well, making him a strong candidate.
He’s likely in line for a shot at the national team job someday, as he was a player in MLS and won coach of the year with the New York Red Bulls in 2015. Plus, he’s only 43 years old, marking a major generational shift from the 66-year-old Arena. But the Red Bulls have yet to even reach an MLS Cup final under Marsch, which could give the federation pause on hiring him at a critical time.
Porter has a college national championship from 2010 and an MLS Cup in 2015 on his resume, so he checks the boxes for proven success. He’s been successful with the Portland Timbers and, like Marsch, represents the next generation of American soccer minds. However, he was the coach of the 2012 Olympic team, and if you watched the 2012 Olympic soccer tournament, you might remember that the United States wasn’t there. Porter’s time will come another day, but probably not in a cycle after the USMNT just failed to qualify for the World Cup, given the Olympic failure.
If the USMNT really wants to change things up in a hurry, Martino would be the way to go. He’s the coach of first-year MLS side Atlanta United, and under his leadership, Atlanta became the first expansion side to make the playoffs since the Seattle Sounders in 2009.
Martino checks every box to satisfy the fans’ wishes, given that he’s from Argentina and has a wealth of experience on the international level. At the 2010 World Cup, he led Paraguay to its best-ever finish at the event, topping a group that included Italy and defeating Japan to reach the quarterfinals, marking the first and only time Paraguay has won a match in the knockout stage. Following Paraguay, he became the coach of Argentina and led the Albiceleste to two second-place finishes in Copa America.
So why isn’t Martino higher on the list? Because the fans don’t select the coach. The comments made by USSF head Sunil Gulati suggest he’s looking for smaller changes rather than a drastic overhaul. Plus, Martino is just one year into building something special at Atlanta. Would he want to give that up to step into a situation like this one?
This would truly be thinking outside the box. Allardyce was the coach for England for all of one game, as a scandal where he revealed how to skirt English rules on player transfers cost him his job. But no such transfer rule exists in the United States, so Allardyce would be judged strictly as a coach. As a coach, he’s been a pretty good one at getting results. Allardyce will never wow anyone with his tactics, but he has always seen his job as defined by his ability to win and draw matches, and does those things well. But the way he left England could leave Big Sam radioactive, even in the U.S.
Bert van Marwijk
Like Allardyce, van Marwijk is available. Unlike Allardyce, van Marwijk left his old job in triumph, guiding Saudi Arabia to qualification for the 2018 World Cup before leaving because he had no desire to move to Saudi Arabia permanently. Van Marwijk is also a believer in the Dutch idea of total soccer and gets results, as he led the Oranje to the 2010 World Cup final and proved he could win without the likes of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Two negatives persist with him, however. First, he’s 65 years old and might not want to commit to a cycle that would ideally see him coaching a new team in the World Cup at age 70. Second, van Marwijk is known to want a large amount of control over his team, and the USSF might not be inclined to offer that after the failure of Klinsmann.
Nobody (for now)
The USMNT doesn’t have to name a coach right now. It won’t be playing competitive matchups for a while with no World Cup on the horizon, so there’s no need to rush. It could let Ramos try for a couple friendlies, or it could wait to see who is available after the World Cup. Whatever they do, the USSF’s decision makers cannot make a panic hire and get this wrong. One miss is bad enough for U.S. soccer, but a second would be a catastrophe.