RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. Soccer Federation has extended Dave Sarachan’s contract as men’s national team interim coach through the end of June, almost assuring no permanent hire until after the pro leagues and World Cup are completed.
Sarachan, the former top assistant, has been in charge since Bruce Arena resigned last fall in the wake of the Americans’ failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
Sarachan said Monday that he agreed to a new deal about a month ago. His previous pact would have expired at the end of this month. A USSF spokesman confirmed the updated arrangement.
The U.S. team opened training camp in nearby Cary, N.C., on Monday and will face Paraguay in a friendly next Tuesday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The search for a permanent replacement will not begin in earnest until the federation hires a general manager, a new position.
Meanwhile, Sarachan will remain in charge for three additional friendlies: May 28 against Bolivia in Chester, Pa., June 2 at Ireland and June 9 at France. The Americans will then resume play this fall with two home friendlies in September, two home friendlies in October and two away friendlies in November. Several high-end opponents are being lined up. The last two matches will take place in the same country, presumably in Europe, against separate foes.
Sarachan oversaw a 1-1 draw at Portugal in November and a 0-0 draw with Bosnia in January in Carson, Calif., capping a three-week camp of almost entirely MLS players. The current get-together features several European-based prospects, including Weston McKennie, Tim Weah and Shaq Moore.
Sarachan, 63, has had two head coaching jobs: Cornell University for 10 years and the Chicago Fire for 4 1/2. He was Arena’s assistant at the University of Virginia, D.C. United, Los Angeles Galaxy and twice with the national team.
He wanted to stay on this job longer, even if his long-term future with the program remains clouded.
“It was something I wanted to do,” he said during an extensive interview at the team hotel. “I knew what the games coming up were in May and June. They are important and, for me personally, to keep this thing going with the group would be important. And I think the federation realized that as well.”
He also believes the USSF should retain him in some capacity, whether with the senior team or perhaps the under-23 squad that will attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
“When they start identifying candidates for these positions, I think I have enough experience at all levels that you would want to keep a guy like me around. As much as we want to continue to progress coaches in this country, there are steps and there are experiences that you need at this level that I’ve obtained and I think they’ve recognized. Whether I am truly a candidate for the national team coach, I think I have a lot to offer with my background that can help move this along and I’m willing to have those conversations.
“It sounds corny, but I do have a soft spot for the national team and the program. I’ve been around it and fortunate to be a part of it in ’02 [when the United States advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals]. And now especially where there has been so much chatter about how we can get this back on track, I think the program needs experience and right person with temperament. I think I can offer that.”
Tasked with integrating several young players comprising the bulk of the current 23-man roster, Sarachan said he doesn’t worry about what his future holds.
“I don’t think about it only because we have to keep the program moving forward. I feel very comfortable in using my experience of identifying prospects who I think can transition to the next level — that’s my job right now. No matter who takes over, if there’s a takeover at some point with a new coach, these guys are all part of the playing pool. So for me, I don’t think about whether I am in or out at the end of the June. This is the progression I think needs to take place, and I’m in charge to do that.”
The average age of the group here is about 24. The only regulars in camp are DeAndre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe and Bobby Wood.
Sarachan would have loved to have had McKennie (Schalke), Weah (Paris Saint-Germain) and Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) in camp together, but because of Pulisic’s Bundesliga circumstances, Sarachan allowed him to remain in Germany ahead of the March 31 showdown with Bayern Munich.
This camp and friendly fall inside a FIFA window, so the USSF could have demanded Pulisic’s release. However, Sarachan said: “I don’t think in the big picture that is the way to go. You pick and choose your moments when you have to use your chips. It wouldn’t have done anyone any good. It was the right thing to do.”
Sarachan said he spoke with Pulisic several times.
“From the interaction we had, I truly believe in his heart he wanted to be here. He really did. He knows these [young] guys. It’s back home [in the United States]. There’s a lot of reasons why. In the back of his mind, maybe closer to the middle of his mind, he wants to get back on the [national team] horse.”
Pulisic, as well as veterans such as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, are likely to rejoin the squad for the May and June matches.
“I still believe some of the older guys — the Michaels, the Jozys — are going to be very valuable as we get through this year,” Sarachan said. “As these games become more magnified in terms of quality and importance, it’s fair to say some of these familiar faces will join in with some of these younger guys. I believe there has to be mentoring in this process. These young guys are awesome because they come in wide-eyed and eager and with no baggage, and yet they are young and still have to get to know the ropes.”
One veteran who is not in the immediate plans is Geoff Cameron, who, after not appearing in the decisive qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago, blamed the coaching staff for the program’s failure. Cameron, who turns 33 this summer, is one of the few Americans employed in the English Premier League. But he had also gained a reputation under both Arena and the previous coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, for being disruptive when things weren’t going his way.
Asked to respond to Cameron’s recent barbs, Sarachan said: “There are two sides to every story. People on the outside can never know what happens on the inside. Geoff just never helped himself, to put himself in position for consideration [to play]. As an athlete, you have to be prepared to be a starter and you have to be prepared to come in and help the team. At the time, we felt he wasn’t ready to be a starter [against T&T] given the physical issues [from injuries suffered in England]. And he wasn’t in a position to help the team mentally. It was too much about him.”
Sarachan did not rule out Cameron’s return at some point.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say yes or no. I think people and circumstances and timing changes. One of the first things the coach of a national team wants to see is that a player understands what it really means to be a part of it and has the passion and the desire to be a part of it. As this whole program progresses and each camp happens and each game happens, you get a sense of who wants to be there. Obviously, they have to be good enough and in good form. It’s that whole package. It’s a new slate now. When we get into the thick of things, some guys may age out, but I can’t speak to one individual.”
Aside from technical qualities, Sarachan is assessing leadership qualities in the young players. Who has stood out?
“In the January camp, Wil Trapp did. He has that type of personality. When Weston showed up in Portugal, I didn’t know him well, but he walked in like he had been there before. He’s got that personality. Tyler Adams is getting more comfortable. Each camp they become more comfortable and understand what we want and the demands of the national team.”
Playing time with clubs will also become a factor in receiving future call-ups and starts. Bill Hamid was Sarachan’s top-choice goalkeeper in the January camp, but the former D.C. standout has yet to make an appearance for his Danish club, Midtjylland. He has been the backup keeper in seven league matches.
“It’s really important for these guys, whether you are a goalie or a forward, to be playing,” Sarachan said. “It’s always a little bit concerning when guys aren’t seeing real minutes. In Bill’s case, I’ll be curious to see what he looks like [this week], if he’s rusty. He is a good competitor, and I’m sure his fitness and mind-set are right — he’s a good pro. But again, playing games is the important thing.”
Notes: Kekuta Manneh, who moved to Mexican club Pachuca from the Columbus Crew this winter, was added to the roster Monday. He fills a slot that initially had been reserved for Werder Bremen forward Aron Johannsson. However, Johannsson suffered an injury over the weekend and withdrew before the roster announcement Sunday. …
Only about half of the team arrived in time for Monday morning’s workout. The full squad is expected to participate in Tuesday’s training. … Few tickets remain for the friendly against Paraguay at the 10,000-seat venue, which is home to USL’s North Carolina FC and NWSL’s North Carolina Courage. … Many players and staff will attend an NHL game Tuesday night between the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers at PNC Arena.