USMNT 'prepared to invest' in 'serial winning coach,' targeting hire by September

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U.S. Soccer fired men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter on Wednesday after the squad failed to advance past the group stage of Copa América, and the process to find the next manager who will lead the group to the 2026 World Cup on home soil is underway.

Speaking with a small group of reporters late Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker said that, after conducting a review of the program, he spoke with Berhalter, his technical staff, the heads of different departments and the player leadership group to inform them of his decision.

“Winning is the yardstick, and we didn’t do that,” Crocker said. “We are looking for a serial winning coach and a coach that can also build on the work that has already been put in place. Clearly, there’s still a lot of potential in the group and we have to turn out the performance and results, so that’s what I’ll be looking for and that’ll be my absolute No. 1 priority. 

“All my energies and efforts will be going into that straight away.”

In an ideal world, Crocker said he would love to have a full-time replacement by the September international window. The USMNT plays Canada — the Copa América semifinalists coached by American Jesse Marsch — on Sept. 7. But he understands, as was the case in hiring USWNT coach Emma Hayes last fall, that the right person for the job might not be available for various reasons at that time.

Crocker said he has “a really robust contingency plan if we needed to operate that,” though he did not share what that would entail. He did not want to name a potential interim head coach, because Plan A is to have the next boss hired by then.

“I want to make sure that I can work and do what I can to try and get that head coach in ASAP,” Crocker said.

After the USMNT was eliminated from Copa América, Crocker conducted a review of the program, which is something the federation always does after a major tournament on both the men’s and women’s sides. He acknowledged that progress had been made since Berhalter first took over in 2018. But when he looked specifically at Copa, he felt that despite the way things unfolded — Tim Weah’s red card in the second game against Panama changing the trajectory for the team — that “we needed to have found a way to win.”

“Now is the time to turn that progress into winning,” Crocker said. “We did have some clear benchmarks of where we wanted to get to in that tournament and we didn’t achieve that. 

“Ultimately, that put a significant weight on my decision.”

Crocker said that he and Berhalter had a “clear plan” of what success would look like over the last 12 months, and that some of those measures were not met. He elaborated a little bit, mentioning “game metric measures around chance creation” and wanting to get better on set plays, “which was a critical point that we weren’t successful in a World Cup.” He pointed to “general evolution of the group” as an area of improvement for the next boss.

This will be the third national team head coaching decision that Crocker must make in just over a year on the job. He re-hired Berhalter last June and hired Hayes in November. He’s previously spoken of putting coaching candidates through a rigorous process that includes data analytics, various metrics and other evaluation methods. 

Will this time be any different?  

“I think I’m a lot clearer and a lot more confident in what I see and also doing reviews with both Gregg and with [former USWNT coach] Vlatko [Andonovski],” Crocker said. “I’m a lot clearer in what I think we need going forward. I’m in a better place to have a much more targeted search where I’ll be more inclined to go hard and go early with specific candidates that I feel meet the criteria that we’re looking for.”

Crocker used the term “serial winner” in describing the kind of person he’s looking for, which is the same language he used while hiring Hayes. At the top of any fans’ wish list might be Jürgen Klopp, who recently left Liverpool where he earned a reported $20 million per season. A more reasonable name might be former USMNT defender and current LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo. Whoever it is inherits a team two years out from its biggest opportunity yet in co-hosting the 2026 World Cup.

When Crocker hired Hayes last November, she became the highest-paid women’s coach in the world, with a reported base salary of $1.6 million. When it comes to finding her male counterpart, Crocker said he understands “it’s a really competitive market out there salary-wise and we have to be competitive to get the level of coach that I believe can take the program forward.”

“I’m also really conscious that we need to continue to drive for higher standards in equality,” Crocker added. “But I don’t think that’s going to be a stumbling block in terms of our investment from a national team as a priority. It’s something we’re prepared to invest in and something that we will be invested in.”

[Related: 10 USMNT coaching candidates to watch, including Jürgen Klopp]

Crocker will consider a “really wide pool of candidates” and said he intends to make U.S. players a part of the process. He doesn’t have a preference on whether the coach is from the U.S. or not, and asked if speaking English is a requirement, as it had been in the past, Crocker said “effective communication is critical when you need to get a message across to the players. That hasn’t changed.”

“Whether they’re from the U.S. or elsewhere, they’ve got to fit the profile, which is a serial winning coach,” Crocker continued. “Somebody that can continue to develop this potential group of players, somebody that’s got a huge interest and a passion for player development. It continues to still be a young group – the second-youngest group in Copa América – but also a group that now is sort of in the realms of having a number of experiences that we should be qualifying [for] and getting out of the group for sure. 

“So that’s gonna be my intention.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.