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U.S. Soccer might not hire a coach until after the World Cup

The U.S. men’s national team has been without a full-time head coach since Bruce Arena stepped down following the Oct. 10 defeat at Trinidad and Tobago. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

The U.S. Soccer Federation is not planning to hire a men’s national soccer team coach before the organization’s presidential election in February, and with no major competitions in the near future, it might wait until the pool of potential candidates grows after next summer’s World Cup, multiple people familiar with the situation said over the weekend.

The full-time job has been vacant since Bruce Arena stepped down last month in the wake of the failed qualifying campaign. His assistants, headed by Dave Sarachan, oversaw last week’s friendly at Portugal and likely would return for a three-week training camp and friendly against Bosnia in January. The federation also could appoint coaches from the junior teams.

One person said a long-term appointment before the election is “highly unlikely,” while others said the federation has not even decided what process to use in identifying and hiring a coach. In the past, USSF President Sunil Gulati has led the search in consultation with chief executive Dan Flynn and the the board of directors.

The federation has not interviewed anyone for the job or created a formal list of candidates, said the sources, who are forbidden from speaking publicly about the matter.

The federation could change its hiring approach by forming a search committee, appointing a general manager of sorts or inviting outside voices to contribute to the effort. The board will meet next month, Front Row Soccer reported, to review hiring history and discuss the next course of action.

Since Arena’s departure, the federation has issued one official statement on the coaching situation:

“As this is the start of a five-year project to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and grow the national team, we want to give ourselves the best opportunity to find the right coach to lead the program. As such, there is no specific timetable. We are developing a strategic approach to selecting the next head coach, and we will be thorough and methodical.”

USSF officials said they did not want to comment further.

Gulati has been in power since 2006, but in the aftermath of the World Cup qualifying fiasco, a growing chorus of critics has called on him to resign. He has declined to do so, but he’s also remained mum on whether he’ll seek reelection. The deadline to enter the race is Dec. 12. The election will take place Feb. 10 at the USSF’s annual general meeting in Orlando.

Several candidates have launched campaigns, including USSF executive vice president Carlos Cordeiro, former players Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri and Kyle Martino, and Boston-based attorney Steve Gans. Gulati ran unopposed in the previous three elections.

With Gulati’s future unclear and the national team in a slow period, the federation is in no rush to hire a permanent coach. “There is zero urgency,” one person close the situation said.

After the winter camp, which involves an MLS-heavy roster, the U.S. team probably will play two matches with a full squad during an official FIFA window in March and additional games in May and June. The USSF and MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing are exploring the possibility of hosting a series of matches at U.S. venues for teams that didn’t qualify for the World Cup, such as the United States, Italy, Netherlands and Chile.

Missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986 has left the U.S. program without a meaningful tournament until the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

By delaying the hiring exercise until this summer, the USSF would be able to consider coaches returning from the World Cup and those who just completed the season with a club from abroad. One person said it’s “possible” the federation would wait until after the tournament.