The metaphorical laundry list of would-be American football coaches narrowed this weekend when Zinedine Zidane “politely declined” the role.
News came out on Saturday that the former Real Madrid manager and World Cup winner with France rejected the United States. L’Equipe reported that Zidane turned down the role in a bid to secure the France head coach seat. However, the outlet added that France is preparing to renew current manager Didier Deschamps, who took France to the 2022 World Cup final after winning the tournament in 2018.
Regardless of the denial, it is a statement for US Soccer to approach Zidane for the job. In the past, USMNT head coaches have been those involved in football in the United States. The exceptions are Jürgen Klinsmann and Bora Milutinović, who coached the United States at the 2014 and 1990 World Cups, respectively.
Bob Bradley coaches in MLS and then the US U-23 team. Bruce Arena has never coached outside of the US, but has still coached more games than any other person in USMNT history. Most recently, Gregg Berhalter spent five seasons with the Columbus Crew before taking over the USMNT in 2018.
However, the latter’s absence from the USMNT due to an ongoing investigation into a domestic violence incident from 31 years ago made potential new hires more likely. In addition, the link with Zidane testifies to a genuine desire on the part of US Soccer to hire coaches with credit and expertise.
Zidane may not be on that list, but there are still notable names circling the USMNT.
US Soccer should be targeting these coaches
Like Zidane, some of these potential hires are lofty. It’s not as lofty as a small island nation investigating to hire Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti. Still, the United States doesn’t necessarily have the pull to get everyone they want right away.
However, the following coaches could be influenced by the emerging talent in the United States and the fact that the 2026 World Cup is in the United States.
If US Soccer notices coaches following that American trend, Jim Curtin is the favorite to take over. The Philadelphia Union manager has coached the team since 2014. He turned a mediocre team with one playoff appearance into one of the stronger teams in Major League Soccer. Under Curtin’s tenure, Union has qualified for the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons. In 2021, the team narrowly missed its first appearance in the MLS Cup. Then, last season, Union reached the MLS Cup Final for the first time, losing a stunner to LAFC along the way.
The Cup’s success is one of Curtin’s main draws for the USMNT post. In his first two seasons, although one was cut short when he took over midseason, Philadelphia reached the final of the US Open Cup. It lost both, one in extra time and the other in penalties. Philadelphia reached another US Open Cup final in 2018 and lost again. With somewhat regular tournament success and a knowledge of American football as it stands today, Curtin is a popular choice, if not one of Europe’s top managers or Gregg Berhalter.
If you ask USMNT supporters who they think should take over, the general answer might be Marsch. The current boss of Leeds United is an American who both played and coached in Major League Soccer. Yet his management style and approach to the game is much more European. Credit that to his time at RB Salzburg, RB Leipzig and now Leeds United. He has seen mixed results at clubs. It flourished in Salzburg, but flopped in Leipzig. Now he has Leeds in the bottom half of the Premier League table, fighting to keep his place alive.
Marsch is familiar with many of the USMNT players. Yes, he currently coaches Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams. But his time in MLS brings some exposure to coaches and players in that league. He also coached in three different countries in Europe, giving a glimpse into talent from that area.
Jesse Marsch took over at Leeds when the club sacked Marcelo Bielsa, an icon for The Whites. Bielsa transformed Leeds with his compelling and wild style of play, propelling the club back into the Premier League for the first time in decades. Bielsa is more than a club coach who switches sides. He has international experience, including at World Cups.
The main example of this was Argentina from 1998 to 2004. Argentina reached the knockout stage at the 2002 World Cup and came second in the Copa America in 2004. However, he managed one victory and won gold at the 2004 Olympics. be a change for the USMNT. He is a character and loved by fans.
The former manager of Chelsea, PSG, Borussia Dortmund and Mainz recently oversaw Christian Pulisic. On the surface, the two had a rapport. And Pulisic, one of the main players of the side, could easily adapt to a Tuchel system. Of course the two had problems. It may not have been anything personal, even though Pulisic’s father expressed his concerns, but Pulisic had limited playing time under the German.
Still, Tuchel is a gifted coach. In 2020, he led PSG to the final of the Champions League for the first time. A year later, he won the league as manager of Chelsea. His career achievements include a pair of Ligue 1 titles, a DFB-Pokal, the FIFA Club World Cup and a number of 2021 Coach of the Year accolades.
His system showed success in cup competitions. The patented back three that Tuchel uses allows for an easy transition from a strong defense to a fast attack. Reece James blossomed and became a first class fullback. The same goes for Ben Chilwell, who suffered a serious knee injury and also flourished under Tuchel. Sergiño Dest, one of the bright young talents in the USMNT camp, could develop quickly under Tuchel. Plus, Dest already has a knack for offensive ability.
Tuchel has no experience in the international game yet, but he had an interesting possibility in mind.
Not so long ago, Mauricio Pochettino was the most popular product among coaches. He led Tottenham Hotspur to the most successful moments of the past decades. A Premier League battle came up short against Leicester City. A few years later, Tottenham played in its first UEFA Champions League final. Dramatic second legs against Manchester City and Ajax may have propelled the side to more glory than it deserved.
He saw PSG as the logical step, a team ripe for Champions League success. Pochettino arrived in winter 2021 as a replacement for the outgoing Thomas Tuchel. Despite beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the knockout stages, PSG fell to Manchester City, losing in both legs of that semi-final. The Argentine manager then had all the expectations in the world for his second season, as the club took over Lionel Messi. However, it was a relative disaster for the Parisians. PSG won the league, but that was the only trophy. It was the first time since the 2012/13 campaign that PSG won just one trophy. PSG changed managerswith Christophe Galtier entering.
Pochettino remains unemployed but a well-known name in the potential job market across Europe. The United States was one of those jobs, albeit not the familiarity of club management in Europe. Gregg Berhalter remains the coach on a new US Soccer deal, but Pochettino exudes desire and dedication. He showed tremendous growth at PSG and Southampton and took those clubs to new heights. He could have done the same with the United States.
Another manager without a job after the 2022 World Cup, Luis Enrique, was hailed as a top manager. He made Spain hum along and play beautiful football. At least that was after the opening game of the tournament. The next three matches at the World Cup, a draw, loss and elimination on penalties, showed the flaws in Enrique’s system. If a team can gain possession from Enrique’s team, they are vulnerable.
Still, Enrique has the experience and the knowledge to develop a young American team. Berhalter tried to dominate in possession. In fact, the United States had massive possession in three of their four World Cup games. The only one that didn’t was against Iran, a match that saw the team hold on to a 1-0 lead. Even then, the USMNT held 49% ownership.
Therefore, Enrique could easily dig into the asset-based system Berhalter used. However, he would incorporate the fast passing and clinical finishing that the United States sometimes lacked against the Netherlands. Still, like Martinez, Enrique wants to return to the club game. He doesn’t bring the tiki-taka and passing style to Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
If US Soccer wants to stick with coaches from the MLS and US scene, then Seattle Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer could be a strong place to look. The problem is that Schmetzer is ingrained in Seattle football. Born in Seattle, Schmetzer played for the Sounders in the NASL and the American Professional Soccer League. His coaching history dates back to indoor soccer in Seattle and Tacoma, when he played in the 1980s. He has been a member of the Seattle Sounders coaching staff since 2002 and served as head coach from 2002 to 2008. He regained the role in 2016 and still holds it.
Schmetzer won a pair of MLS Cups and lost in two more finals since taking over in 2016. Plus, he did something no MLS coach has done, which is to win the CONCACAF Champions League. As a result, Schmetzer and the Sounders go to the FIFA Club World Cup to potentially face Real Madrid and Flamengo. Schmetzer is one of the best MLS coaches of all time and could fit US Soccer’s profile.
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