EL BARIO, EL FALLS – In my Rain Man journeys I have come across some great people who should write for MTM. Today, I introduce Ed Crocker. Ed will be pinch-hitting from time to time, so everyone should be happy. With the USA failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and this weekend being Soccer Saturday and Sunday, here is a piece of a brilliant argument by Ed not to fire the head guy.
An Argument for Dave Sarachan?
Shortly after the 2018 World Cup is over, I believe that US men’s national team (USMNT) general manager Earnie Stewart, in consultation with the US Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro, very likely should sign US interim head coach Dave Sarachan to a two-year contract to be head coach of the USMNT. If Sarachan’s does a good job with the team over the course of the next two years, then Stewart would sign Sarachan to another two-year contract after the first one expires. If Sarachan were to sign this second contract, it would give him the chance to coach the USMNT in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup and, should the US qualify for the 2022 World Cup, in the 2022 World Cup itself. Stewart’s signing Sarachan shortly after the 2018 World Cup to a two-year contract to be head coach of the USMNT probably is the decision that Stewart could make regarding who to hire to coach the USMNT after the 2018 World Cup that would give the USMNT the best chance of qualifying for, and doing well in, the 2022 World Cup.
The advantage of Stewart’s signing Sarachan to a two-year contract rather than a four-year one is that if things don’t go well with Sarachan, Stewart could choose not to re-sign him after two years, and the US wouldn’t have to continue to pay Sarachan. But if all Sarachan would accept is a four-year contract, Stewart still probably should sign him. First, perhaps Stewart could convince Sarachan to sign a four-year contract in which the money is not guaranteed—in which Sarachan’s being paid the full amount of the contract is conditioned on US Soccer’s not letting him go. Even if Sarachan would demand a four-year contract in which all the money is guaranteed, Stewart still should seriously consider signing Sarachan. I doubt Sarachan would demand a huge salary. And if the team were not to do well under Sarachan, Stewart could let Sarachan go and pay out the remainder of his contract. And the US Soccer Federation currently has a significant financial surplus.
Another reasonable option available to Stewart is to retain Sarachan as interim head coach of the USMNT at least until after the team’s two friendlies in September and see how the team does in those friendlies before deciding whether to sign Sarachan or someone else to a two-year or four-year contract, or whether to retain Sarachan as the interim head coach. According to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, the USMNT’s September friendlies will be against Brazil and Mexico.
However, there is one variable that is particularly important to discuss as to whether Stewart should sign Sarachan to be head coach the USMNT, namely whether, shortly after the 2018 World Cup, current Belgium national team head coach Roberto Martinez would be available to coach the USMNT. And if Martinez is available, should Stewart try to sign Martinez instead of Sarachan? I discuss this issue below.
1. Sarachan’s Tenure as Interim Head Coach
Sarachan took over the USMNT in the midst of the incredible disappointment that the US soccer community felt after the team’s staggering loss to Trinidad and Tobago in the October 2017 World Cup qualifier in Couva and stunning failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time the USMNT has failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1986. At the time, the morale of the US soccer community was at the lowest point that I can remember in my lifetime. Moreover, my sense is that when Sarachan took over the team following Bruce Arena’s decision to resign, the US men’s national team program’s self-confidence had been significantly shaken. And people were trying to figure out what happened, how we could fail to qualify. In the midst of this deep sadness, perplexity, and self-doubt, Sarachan took over the team and only one month later helped it play well and earn a 1-1 draw in Leiria, Portugal against the Portugal national team, currently the fifth ranked team in the world in terms of the World Football Elo World Ratings and a team doing well in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Sarachan managed to do this with a young team that was inexperienced at the international level. The US’s game against Portugal was the fourth cap for Dom Dwyer; the third cap for Matt Miazga, Bill Hamid and CJ Sapong; the second cap for Ethan Horvath and Lyndon Gooch; and the first cap for Tyler Adams, Weston McKinnie and Cameron Carter-Vickers. And remember: in the match, Horvath, the US’s young goalkeeper, made an egregious goalkeeping error (the ball went through his legs on an unremarkable cross) or the US could well have won the match. Here are the highlights:
The sequence involving Weston McKinnie’s goal starts at minute 1:07. The sequence involving Horvath’s mistake starts at minute 1:45.
Two and one-half months after the US-Portugal match, Sarachan’s US team went on to get a draw with Bosnia & Herzegovina in Carson, California. Although the quality of the US’s play in the match and the 0-0 result—which came against some of Bosnia & Herzegovina less accomplished national team players—was mildly disappointing, the team Sarachan put out on the field was again young and inexperienced. The game was the fourth cap for Bill Hamid, CJ Sapong and Kelyn Rowe; the third cap for Wil Trapp and Rubio Rubin; the second cap for Tyler Adams, Walker Zimmerman and Cristian Roldan; and the first cap for Zach Steffen, Ike Opara and Matt Polster.
Two months later, Sarachan’s squad faced Paraguay in Cary, North Carolina. Paraguay fielded a good team, which included Miguel Almiron, one of the top players in MLS and whom apparently is being eyed by Fiorentina, as well as Bruno Valdez, a starter for Club America in Liga MX. Moreover, in 2018 World Cup qualifying in the formidable South American region, Paraguay finished 7th out of 10 teams, only two points behind Peru, the fifth and final team to qualify for the World Cup from the region. Paraguay is currently ranked tied for 36th in the world in terms of the Elo World Ratings and reached the semifinals of the prestigious 2015 Copa America.
As in the other matches he coached, Sarachan assembled a young but talented squad. It was the fourth cap for Matt Miazga and Wil Trapp; the third cap for Tyler Adams; the second cap for Zach Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Kenny Saief; and the first cap for Tim Weah, Andrija Novakovich’s and Marky Delgado.
The US won 1-0, with Bobby Wood scoring on a penalty kick. The US drew the penalty after a terrific through-ball from Marky Delgado to Tyler Adams, which led to Adams’ getting taken down in the box. Here are the highlights:
In the match, the US played well. They out-possessed Paraguay 53 percent to 47 percent, and the US’s defense basically shut down Almiron and the rest of Paraguay’s attack. And remember: The last time the US played Paraguay in a friendly in the US the US lost 1-0. The match was played in 2011 in Nashville under Bob Bradley. The next time the US played Paraguay was in the summer of 2016, in the Copa America Centenario. The US won 1-0 on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 27th minute, but it was a tough match for the US. At the beginning of the second half, DeAndre Yedlin got two yellow cards in quick succession, and the US had to hold on to win. The US were out-possessed 66 percent to 34 percent. So, Paraguay has been a difficult team for the US to beat, even at home.
Sarachan’s next game was two months later (May 28) against a fairly weak Bolivian team. The US played well and got the result that they should have had, a 3-0 win. Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson received their first caps. Robinson, who was born in England to an American father and who many of us had hoped could be convinced to play for the USMNT, played the entire game at left back, an historically shaky position for the US and one in which Robinson generally plays at the club level. Tim Weah got his second cap and his first goal for the US, and Josh Sargent, who is only 18, got his first cap, started the match, and scored his first goal for the USMNT.
Five days later, Sarachan’s squad faced Ireland in Dublin, where Ireland is difficult to get a result against. In Ireland’s last 32 games in Dublin, they have 17 wins, 8 draws and 7 losses. Moreover, the last time the US played Ireland in Dublin was in November of 2014, a match in which the US lost 4-1 and played poorly. Prior to that, the last time the US played Ireland in Dublin was in April of 2002, a 2-1 US loss. Under Sarachan, the US played fairly evenly against the Irish and lost only 2-1. The Yanks outshot The Boys in Green 15-13, had 9 corner kicks compared to Ireland’s 3, and had a respectable possession-percentage of 43 percent. But for a goalkeeping error by Bill Hamid, who should have stayed on his line on Ireland first goal, the US would have drawn the match. Ireland managed the victory only in the 90th minute, when Matt Miazga was beaten one-on-one. Here are the highlights:
Finally, in their most recent game under Sarachan, the USMNT played France, currently the 4th ranked team in the world in terms of the World Football Elo Ratings and one of the favorites to win the 2018 World Cup, in a nearly sold out stadium of 58,000 fans in Lyon, France. France wanted to play well in front of its home crowd in its final tune up before the World Cup. With a young team that included Tim Parker, who played a good game in only his second appearance for the US, the US surprisingly drew 1-1, with Julian Green scoring an opportunistic goal. Following the France game, Wil Trapp spoke of the cohesiveness that the young Yanks showed against the ultra-talented Les Bleus. According to Trapp, “I think it’s a huge step for us as professionals, and as a group, not listening to outside noise. And believing in ourselves and believing in each other in adverse situations, that’s a huge experience for young players, and of melding together and continuing to grow.” Here is a link:
So, Sarachan has done a good job as interim head coach of the USMNT. He took over a program whose confidence was shaken, brought in some exciting young players with fresh legs and boldness, got the team to play cohesively and with resolve, and compiled a solid record, especially considering that two of the games were against European powers on their home soil and a third was against Ireland in Dublin, a difficult place for visiting teams to get results.
But how good is the rest of Sarachan’s resume? And how does it stack up against the resumes of the other reasonable candidates for the job?
2. Sarachan’s Resume
It’s a good resume. For instance, Sarachan coached Cornell University, his alma mater, for 10 years. He also was an assistant coach—first under Bruce Arena and then Thomas Rongen—with DC United when United won two MLS Cups, the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup (now the CONCACAF Champions League), which included an upset victory over the strong Mexican club Toluca, and, most impressively, the 1998 InterAmerican Cup. By winning the latter, DC United was crowned the champion of the entire Western Hemisphere, and, in order to win it, United beat the legendary Brazilian club Vasco da Gama in a two-legged series. DC United accomplished this despite MLS’s being in only its third year of existence and United’s probably having a much less expensive roster than that of Toluca or Vasco da Gama.
Sarachan then joined Bruce Arena to be Arena’s assistant with the USMNT. With Sarachan as his assistant coach, Arena’s US team qualified for the 2002 World Cup and advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament, the USMNT’s second-best finish in World Cup history and its best finish since 1930. In the quarterfinal match against Germany, the US played evenly with the tournament’s eventual runner-up, and Die Mannschaft may have been saved by Torsten Frings’ deliberate handball on the goal line that the referee missed. If the referee had gotten the call right, the US would have been awarded a penalty kick, and Frings would have been sent off, forcing Germany to play the remainder of the match down a player. With Video Assistant Referee, Frings’ handball probably would have been called.
Here is a link to highlights of the match:
The sequence involving Frings’ handball starts at minute 1:15.
If the referee had not made this error, the US well could have advanced to the semifinals of the tournament, where they would have played South Korea, with whom they had already drawn 1-1 earlier in the tournament.
After the 2002 World Cup, Sarachan left to be the head coach the Chicago Fire. He coached the club for 4 ½ seasons. In 2003, the Fire’s first season under Sarachan, the Fire won MLS Supporter’s Shield (which goes to the team with the league’s best regular-season record), the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and made it to the MLS Cup Finals, where they lost 4-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes, led by Landon Donovan’s two goals. Sarachan was named the MLS Coach of the Year.
In 2004, the Fire were the runner-up of the US Open Cup, but otherwise they had a down season. Key players Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley left to play for European clubs, and the Fire finished with the worst record in the league. However, in 2005, the Fire made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2006, they made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals (losing to the New England Revolution in penalties) and again won the US Open Cup. In June of 2007, Sarachan was let go. His 2007 record at the time of his firing was 4 wins, 6 losses, and 2 draws. His overall record in MLS (regular season and playoffs) was 60 wins, 52 losses and 33 draws.
In calculating a winning-percentage in soccer, a win should count as one point, a loss should count as zero points and a draw should count as .333 points. These point totals most closely match the number of points teams get in the standings in official FIFA leagues and tournaments, namely 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. So, Sarachan’s winning-percentage in MLS regular season and playoff games is .489 percent. Moreover, his record across all competitions for the Fire was (according to Wikipedia) 75 wins, 57 losses and 33 draws, for a winning percentage of .521 percent.
In addition, from 2008 until 2016, Sarachan was assistant head coach to Bruce Arena when Arena led the LA Galaxy to three MLS Cups. Sarachan was also Arena’s assistant in the latter’s second stint as head coach of the USMNT. Although Arena’s second assignment as national team coach started off well and included winning the 2017 Gold Cup, it ended with the devastating loss to Trinidad and Tobago and failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
3. Sarachan as a Recruiter of Dual-Nationals
For at least some national teams, it’s at least fairly important for the national team head coach to be a good recruiter of so-called dual-nationals, players who are eligible to play for more than one national team. For instance, Jürgen Klinsmann’s recruiting ability helped Germany acquire Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski (two players that helped Germany win a World Cup) and helped the US acquire Fabian Johnson and perhaps John Brooks. If I’m not mistaken, Bob Gansler recruited Earnie Stewart to play for the US, and Bob Bradley recruited Jermaine Jones to play for the US. Luis Aragonés helped Spain acquire Marcos Senna, and Vicente Del Bosque helped them acquire Diego Costa. For that matter, Eusebio, one of the greatest players of all-time, was born in Mozambique, but was persuaded to play for Portugal. And Joe Gaetjens, who scored the US’s only goal in their improbable 1-0 upset of England in the 1950 World Cup, was born in Haiti.
The ability of national team head coaches to be good recruiters of dual-nationals is especially important for national teams that are solid but not elite—such as the USMNT—and that have as many dual-nationals as we do. We are a diverse country, for instance, we have many people who were born here and grew up somewhere else (for instance, Kenny Saief), many who were born somewhere else and grew up here (for instance, Tab Ramos, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Fagundez), and many who born here and left around the age of 12 (for instance, Giuseppe Rossi). And getting our best dual-nationals could be the difference between our doing well in a World Cup and our disappointing in one, or even failing to qualify for one. For instance, it would have been good for the US to have had Giuseppe Rossi in 2006. And it might have been helpful for the US to have had Bjørn Maars Johnsen, who was born in New York City, in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
How would Dave Sarachan be as a recruiter of dual-nationals? First, he might have been partly responsible for the US’s losing Jonathan Gonzalez to Mexico. Prior to the US’s November 2017 friendly against Portugal, Sarachan failed to call Gonzalez in for the match or even call him on the telephone to ask him if he wanted to be called in for the match. It would have been easy for Sarachan to do this. Moreover, if Sarachan had called Gonzalez and asked him if he wanted to be called in for the Portugal friendly and Gonzalez said that he did, then Sarachan should have called him in. The match was on an official FIFA date, so Gonzalez wouldn’t have missed any games with his club Monterrey.
Although Gonzalez’s playing in the Portugal friendly would have required that he miss some training sessions with Monterrey, it’s important for the USMNT not to lose a player such as Gonzalez. He is a talented Latino player who was born and raised in Northern California, played for US youth national teams, and plays a position (d-mid) at which the US may be a bit thin this World Cup cycle. Moreover, it would have been okay for Gonzalez to miss a few practices with Monterrey. And he made a decision—namely switching from us to Mexico—that I believe wasn’t good. If Gonzalez had not switched from the US to Mexico when he did, he always could have made this switch at any time in the future, as long as he didn’t get cap-tied to us, and our November 2017 match against Portugal would not have cap-tied him to us, as it was only a friendly. In the case of Gonzalez, Sarachan should have been a more proactive recruiter.
However, Sarachan did call in Antonee Robinson and Tim Weah, and now they both look like they are committed to playing for the US. Moreover, according to a tweet by Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy, Sarachan has said that there have been conversations between the US Soccer Federation and the talented French-American forward Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu:
Siebatcheu is a 6-2, 22-year-old forward who was born in Washington, DC and grew up in France. Last season, Siebatcheu scored 17 goals (second highest among all players in Ligue 2) and had 7 assists for Reims in France’s Ligue 2. This season, Reims won promotion to Ligue 1, but Siebatcheu was sold at the end of the season to Rennes, a more prestigious Ligue 1 club. The US could use another tall, fast, skillful and productive forward, especially as it tends to be reasonable today for teams to start matches with only one true forward. It’s helpful for that one player be tall and fast. Here is a highlight of a goal that Siebatcheu scored this season:
And here is one that he scored in a Coupe de France match against Paris Saint-Germain:
It’s good that Sarachan knows that US Soccer has been in communication with Siebatcheu. Although at the moment Siebatcheu may prefer to play for France than for us, he may not get the opportunity to play for France. They are loaded right now. We might be a good fallback option for him. Sarachan’s proactive approach to Siebatcheu may indicate that he learned from his less than adequate recruitment of Gonzalez.
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