On the recommendation of highly-rated soccer organization company Double Pass, U.S. Soccer created five new youth national team programs to address gaps between the Under-17s, Under-20s and Under-23s. With eight national team programs, it put U.S. Soccer in line with the rest of the world’s soccer powers as far as being on a level playing field for youth development.
And yet, if the rumors about Raphael Wicky are true, U.S. Soccer will have eight full-time youth coaching vacancies.
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With the Chicago Fire hiring Swiss national and former FC Basel sporting director Georg Heitz to the same role, there’s been talk that Wicky could follow Heitz back to MLS, and across town, after a short stint with U.S. Soccer. In one sense, Wicky’s departure wouldn’t be that surprising. In his first cycle as the head coach of the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, he led the U.S. to the final of the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, but his squad flamed out at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, getting bounced in the group stage. It could make sense that the former FC Basel manager would look forward to coaching adults again after working back with the youth players.
But if Wicky leaves, it would leave U.S. Soccer without a single full-time coach in their youth programs, which is a further gut punch to USMNT fans who see the USMNT program in an atmosphere of total negativity. Jason Kreis, who works full-time with Inter Miami CF in an undefined role in the technical department, is the U.S. Under-23 MNT coach. Steve Klein, an academy director for PA Classics, has been stepping in to be the Under-15 Boys National Team coach.
It’s all just incredibly sad for an organization that has slipped down, both in terms of on-field performance and administrative efforts since the summer of 2014. Say what you want about Sunil Gulati, but – even if it wasn’t his authority – he wouldn’t have let roles go unfilled for so long. Under current president Carlos Cordeiro, we’ve seen the U-19, U-16, and U-15 coaches stay open for vast amounts of time, while the long-time U.S. U-20 coach, Tab Ramos, left for his first MLS head coaching job.
Even worse, Dan Flynn, who let U.S. Soccer know for more than a year that he was going to leave the organization, finally stepped down in September of 2019. There still hasn’t been a replacement.
Ultimately, it’s unclear if having full-time coaches really matters in terms of USYNT youth development. Perhaps bringing in different voices can help players get a different perspective, and without the old U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla., the U.S. U-17s don’t necessarily need a steady head coach to constantly train the players.
But on the other hand, it’s the latest sign that dysfunction at the top of U.S. Soccer is making its way down, and it could certainly have harmful effects on U.S. youth development, or at least building chemistry with players who may end up suiting up for the USMNT one day.
It seems unlikely, but hopefully in the first few weeks of 2020, U.S. Soccer will be able to fill many, if not all of these vacancies, as well as work out the internal work environment problems they’re dealing with. Step No. 1? End the mandate to work in Chicago. That could start and help get more candidates excited for the job.