Without the World Cup, the U.S. national soccer team has precious few opportunities to play high-end opponents. And by failing to qualify for the World Cup, it has become harder to arrange friendlies with Russian-bound teams.
The next FIFA window is March 19-27. So far, the U.S. Soccer Federation has not announced anything. The federation’s aim was to schedule two games, both in Europe or one in Europe and the other on the U.S. East Coast, or just a single match. At this late stage, it seems likely the Americans will settle for one game.
Through a process of elimination, U.S. hopes of facing European World Cup teams in that March window are shrinking. Eleven of the 14 Euro squads heading to Russia this summer have already secured two matches.
The Americans would like to play World Cup teams, but those World Cup teams want to play other World Cup teams. For the first time since 1986, the United States is not one of them. Yes, the ramifications of failing to qualify are wide-ranging.
Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland have scheduled only one game apiece and appear to have open dates. The Belgians will face Saudi Arabia on March 27 in Brussels. The Danes will host Panama on March 22. The Swiss will visit Greece on March 23. It’s unclear, though, whether they are seeking additional friendlies or have already engaged in serious talks with other World Cup programs.
Switzerland is going to be a busy place in the March window: Portugal will play Egypt in Zurich and the Netherlands in Geneva, and Egypt will also play Bulgaria in Zurich.
Going across the Atlantic would allow the U.S. technical staff to conduct an extended camp without extensive travel for those candidates based in Germany, England and elsewhere on the continent. (No matter where the team gathers, of course, all players are available in a FIFA window.)
The United States played its first friendly of 2018 on Sunday against Bosnia, a 0-0 draw in Carson, Calif. The game fell outside a FIFA window, so the U.S. squad was almost entirely out-of-season MLS players. After the European club seasons end, the Americans will have a stronger roster for a friendly June 9 against France in Lyon and perhaps an additional game in Europe.
Soccer United Marketing had floated the idea of an alternative World Cup with failed qualifiers at U.S. venues in late May and early June, but that went nowhere.
Starting this fall, the CONCACAF League of Nations is slated to fill many international fixture dates. Soccer United Marketing and the USSF would also likely arrange a friendly against a prominent opponent.
Who would coach the team in March? Dave Sarachan, Bruce Arena’s former top lieutenant, has served as the interim boss since Arena’s resignation last fall. He and assistants Matt Reis and Richie Williams are under contract through the end of March, though all have the freedom to pursue other jobs. Assistants Kenny Arena and Pat Noonan left the program this winter to take similar positions with MLS’s Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union, respectively.
The USSF had no plans to begin a formal search for a permanent head coach until a new president is elected Feb. 10 in Orlando. Without a World Cup on the horizon, there is no urgency to fill the position. And with the candidate pool promising to expand after the World Cup, a U.S. decision might not occur until later this year.
Here are the March schedules for Europe’s World Cup teams:
March 27: Saudi Arabia in Brussels
March 23: vs. Peru in Miami
March 27: vs. Mexico in Arlington, Tex.
March 22: Panama, venue tbd
March 23: at Netherlands in Amsterdam
March 27: Italy in London
March 23: Colombia in Saint-Denis
March 27: at Russia in St. Petersburg
March 23: Spain in Düsseldorf
March 27: Brazil in Berlin
March 23: vs. Mexico in Santa Clara, Calif.
March 27: vs. Peru in Harrison, N.J.
March 23: Nigeria in Warsaw
March 27: South Korea in Krakow
March 23: vs. Egypt in Zurich
March 26: vs. Netherlands in Geneva
March 23: Brazil in Moscow
March 27: France in St. Petersburg
March 23: vs. Morocco in Turin
March 27: vs. Nigeria in London
March 23: at Germany in Düsseldorf
March 27: Argentina in Madrid
March 24: Chile in Solna
March 27: at Romania in Craiova
March 23: at Greece in Salonika
Three notable European non-qualifiers:
March 23: vs. Argentina in Manchester
March 27: at England in London
March 23: England in Amsterdam
March 27: vs. Portugal in Geneva
March 23: at Turkey in Antalya
March 27: Japan in Dublin
South America’s World Cup teams:
March 23: vs. Italy in Manchester
March 27: at Spain in Madrid
March 23: at Russia in Moscow
March 27: at Germany in Berlin
March 23: vs. Croatia in Miami
March 27: vs. Iceland in Harrison, N.J.
March 23: at France in Saint-Denis
March 27: vs. Australia in London
March 22: vs. Czech Republic in Nanning, China
March 23: vs. Iceland in Santa Clara, Calif.
March 27: vs. Croatia in Arlington, Tex.