EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The first anniversary of U.S. soccer’s darkest day in recent memory — its failure to qualify for the World Cup — is fast approaching, and still the sport’s governing body has not hired a permanent head coach.
In the interim, Dave Sarachan, top assistant to the ousted Bruce Arena, has earned praise for moving things along and introducing young players. At first, Sarachan was slated to stay on the job for just a few months. Then the U.S. Soccer Federation had to wait for the outcome of its presidential election, followed by the hiring of a national team general manager, who would oversee the coaching decision.
“I laugh when I read interim coach; all coaches are interim,” Sarachan said this week. “I’ve been doing this since November; it’s been quite a while.”
But as the Americans enter a six-game stretch against world-class opponents, beginning here Friday night against Brazil and continuing Tuesday against Mexico in Nashville, the federation’s plans to hire a permanent coach are gaining clarity.
Earnie Stewart, a former U.S. national team winger who has been the GM for about five weeks, said Thursday that he aims to name a coach before the end of the year. He said he has spoken to between six and eight individuals — most of whom called him with interest in the job — but has yet to interview anyone.
His priority, he said, is establishing a profile of what he and the federation want in a coach. His search committee includes chief soccer officer Ryan Mooney and chief sport development officer Nico Romeijn. They might interview several candidates, Stewart said, or perhaps one will jump out in the preliminary process. “I’m not going to sit down with 18 people,” he said.
He will then recommend his choice to the USSF’s board of directors. In all likelihood, the board would go with Stewart’s decision.
He declined to discuss individual candidates, other than to dismiss speculation that Columbus Crew Coach Gregg Berhalter, a former U.S. teammate, is all but certain to get the job. Another name to have surfaced is Louis van Gaal, the former boss at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and the Dutch national team. (Like Stewart, van Gaal has Dutch roots.)
Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes, Atlanta United’s Gerardo Martino and U.S. under-20 team coach Tab Ramos also have been mentioned. One potential candidate, Mexican World Cup coach Juan Carlos Osorio, accepted the Paraguay job this week.
“I want to make the right choice,” Stewart said, “and not a choice that is hasty.”
He said the new coach must speak English and be willing to relocate to Chicago as part of a federation-wide initiative to bring coaches on all levels together. Not to seem behind the times, Stewart, 49, said he understands technology allows people to communicate from afar, but “the culture I believe in is sitting face to face.”
He said the prospects of having a new coach in place for next month’s friendlies against Colombia and Peru are “pushing it,” but he didn’t rule out the November matches against England and Italy.
The Oct. 11 game against the Colombians in Tampa will fall one year and one day after a 2-1 defeat at lowly Trinidad and Tobago extinguished the U.S. team’s hopes of qualifying for an eighth consecutive World Cup.
Asked about Sarachan, Stewart praised him for his work over the past nine months but wouldn’t say whether he would receive a formal interview.
“I’m human,” Sarachan said. “You think about your future and what’s on the horizon. I can’t allow myself to dwell on it because I have an immediate task at hand.
“Eventually the question will be, ‘Okay, what’s next for Sarachan?’ We’ve got two trains going: Earnie has a process and I have a process. At some point, we will get to the depot — or whatever it’s called — and have that sit-down. At that point, we’ll see.”
By next week, despite his uncertain status, Sarachan will share 11th place in program history for most matches coached (eight).
The U.S. team is 2-1-3 under his guidance, but more importantly, he has integrated rising prospects such as Weston McKennie, 20; Tim Weah, 18; and Tyler Adams, 19. The average age of the current 24-man roster is about 23 1/2. (German-based star Christian Pulisic, who turns 20 later this month, will miss these two games with a leg injury.)
A good showing against Brazil wouldn’t hurt Sarachan’s cause, but results in friendlies aren’t likely to sway Stewart, who said the decision will involve factors that align with the “overarching view” of what he and the federation want the program to become.
The task against Brazil is enormous, even with nothing at stake. The only time the Americans have defeated Brazil was in the 1998 Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals, 1-0. The other 17 results, including the past 10, have ended in defeat by a 39-11 aggregate count.
Brazil has brought 13 World Cup players, including Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, for its first match since losing to Belgium in the quarterfinals in Russia.
“What’s coming up are these six games,” Sarachan, a former D.C. United assistant, Chicago Fire head coach and Los Angeles Galaxy assistant, said of his priorities. “Whether they name a head coach during these next few months, I don’t know. That is Earnie’s job in figuring out the timing. I’m in this role, or in with the federation, for the remainder of the year and hopefully beyond.”
United States vs. Brazil
What: International friendly.
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m. (kickoff around 8 p.m.).
TV: Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes.