The aftermath of the US men’s national team failing to qualify for the World Cup continues to reverberate around the American soccer landscape, and the latest discussion has been centered around the future of the managerial position. Bruce Arena officially resigned on Friday (not yet followed by Sunil Gulati, unfortunately) and it seems likely that U-23 and U-20 manager Tab Ramos will take over as interim head coach while US Soccer begins a presumably meticulous search for person who will lead the program into the 2022 qualifying cycle.
Many candidates have been discussed, the majority of which are based in Major League Soccer. Those are the people we will discuss in this article, but there are more than a few very good candidates based abroad, and those just might be the best options. I’m not going to talk about them here — Thomas Tuchel, David Wagner, Miguel Herrera, among others — because I’m not familiar enough with them and their coaching styles.
Also be aware that it’s very possible we won’t see this position permanently filled until after the 2018 World Cup. Ramos, who knows the youth in the player pool very well and should be willing to play 100 percent kid-filled lineups for the foreseeable future, will be a capable caretaker until then.
Without further ado, a ranking of the top five MLS-based contenders:
- Caleb Porter: He won the 2015 MLS Cup with Portland and previously managed the U-23s in the failed 2012 Olympic qualifying campaign. His name has been thrown around a lot, but he has been very reluctant to play young players with the Timbers and has made a lot of questionable decisions this season. He’s not a great on-field manager despite 2015 success.
- Peter Vermes: A prominent name in these discussions and longtime Sporting KC coach, Vermes is a very talented defensive coach and always puts his SKC teams on the field in an organized and concrete tactical system. Concerns are centered around his lack of flexibility in his lineups and strategy, and his occasional struggles to integrate depth and, by extension, young players.
- Gregg Berhalter: The Columbus Crew SC coach was the one I had the most trouble leaving off the final list. His inventive and innovative-yet-reasonable tactical tendencies — shown in the Crew’s entertaining brand of soccer and recent switch to a 3-4-2-1 — make him an attractive option, but Columbus have struggled to win despite a talented roster, and their system often looks vulnerable.
5. Greg Vanney (Toronto FC)
The leader of the best team in MLS history (the current Toronto FC squad) deserves a real look here, and not just on the back of his extraordinary results. Vanney has shown an ability to craft a very good-looking 3-5-2 that utilizes TFC’s best players in the best ways, as well as designing an alternate formation (4-4-2 diamond) that can plugged in when adjustments are needed or some of the starters are out. This flexibility is the best of any MLS manager.
He also plays TFC’s kids a lot, to the point where many of them are regular contributors. Whether he is a good international fit has yet to be seen, though.
4. Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas)
Once the frontrunner to be Arena’s replacement, FC Dallas’s steep fall off a cliff in the second half of this season has plummeted Pareja’s USMNT stock. His “everything is fine, keep starting Atiba Harris and Maynor Figueroa on the backline” reaction to the situation has also not helped his case here. But he still is talented at player development and on-field management, and he heads US Soccer’s most productive academy.
3. Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls)
It could be argued that Marsch is MLS and US Soccer’s smartest tactician. He has employed a stout, consistent, adjustable high-press system with NYRB since their Supporters’ Shield win in 2015, and when things started to falter earlier this season, he designed a unique 3-1-3-3 formation that dialed back the press while also confounding opponents with the bizarre tactical set-up. Every Red Bulls game is a chess match, and there is little doubt that he could provide similar managerial fireworks without excessive tinkering.
Another attractive quality is the New York’s high-caliber academy, which is one of MLS’s best thanks to Marsch’s willingness play guys like Tyler Adams, Aaron Long, and Alex Muyl. You’ll notice that four of the five coaches on this list lead four of MLS’s five best academies.
2. Patrick Vieira (New York City FC)
Marsch’s greatest rival, the Arsenal legend and novice head coach (his first senior team gig was 2016, when he signed on with NYCFC) has shown a ton of tactical intelligence and knowledge of his team’s personnel, leading NYC to a place in second in the Eastern Conference this year and a second-place finish last year. The Light Blues play an entertaining and pretty-looking build-from-the-back brand of soccer.
1. Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino (Atlanta United)
Tata Martino’s reputation as one of the best coaches in the world as well as Atlanta’s magnificent success in their expansion season put him atop this countdown. He has managed the Paraguay national team, FC Barcelona, and the Argentina national team, all in this decade. Martino’s attacking soccer based around coordinated pressing, constant movement, and an emphasis on possession has helped ATL dominate with a South American-heavy starting XI. It would be a joy to see him take charge of the USMNT.