Why U.S. Soccer promoting an interim coach from within is nothing to complain about

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Dave Sarachan talks to <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/graham-zusi/" data-ylk="slk:Graham Zusi">Graham Zusi</a> before a July U.S. friendly agains Ghana. (Getty)
Dave Sarachan talks to Graham Zusi before a July U.S. friendly agains Ghana. (Getty)

The United States Soccer Federation needs change. It needs fresh faces. It needs new ideas. Which is why some fans were confused or agitated by the news that the federation had temporarily promoted from within for its men’s national team interim coaching job.

Dave Sarachan, Bruce Arena’s top assistant, will take charge of the team for a November friendly against Portugal, and when U.S. Soccer confirmed the appointment Tuesday, pockets of supporters were up in arms. How could the staff that oversaw the team’s World Cup qualifying failure stay on?

But this is really nothing to get worked up about. It is a temporary appointment that has no bearing on who will be managing the Yanks at this time next year. And there are good reasons the interim tag wasn’t used as a tryout for the permanent gig.

There are also good reasons for why the federation is waiting to appoint a permanent boss. The men’s national team won’t play a competitive game until the summer of 2019. Meanwhile, there is a United States Soccer Federation presidential election in February 2018. So not only is there no rush to make a decision; it’s unclear who exactly will be making that decision. That’s the first order of business.

The federation will likely wait until after February’s election to hire a manager that will chart the team’s course in the long term. There would also be good reasons to wait until next summer. Many viable candidates are currently employed by either European clubs or 2018 World Cup participants. A significant number of them will become available – or more available – in July, after both the World Cup and European club season have ended.

But U.S. Soccer did have the option to look outside its own castle walls for an interim manager. So why isn’t Tab Ramos, or an MLS manager with no playoffs to look forward to, or a high-profile unemployed European or South American coach leading the team into the Portugal match?

First of all, Sarachan and the current staff are already on USSF payroll.

But second, and more importantly, that question assumes others would want the interim gig. Ramos, the current U.S. under-20 coach and youth technical director, reportedly didn’t. A big-name European or South American almost certainly wouldn’t. An MLS coach wouldn’t if the interim tag required him leaving his current job. And even if it didn’t, that situation would be messy, and far from ideal.

The reason a coach from one of those three categories might have considered the interim tag would have been to use it as a proving ground. If there had been an indication from the federation that impressive performances in the Portugal game and a potential January friendly or two could have helped the coach land the job full-time, perhaps it would have been intriguing.

But that’s precisely why it made no sense for U.S. Soccer to make an interim hire with a view toward making it permanent. And it’s why U.S. Soccer probably shouldn’t do that prior to January camp. Because the federation’s interests and those of an interim manager eyeing up the permanent job wouldn’t be aligned. A directive to bring in young players, teach, experiment, and begin to lay a foundation for the next World Cup cycle aren’t compatible with the interim manager’s personal incentives: to win, and to put on a show.

And if the interim manager aligned himself with the idea of prioritizing the integration of fresh faces and new ideas, and the disincentivizing of results? Then there’s no point to bringing in an outsider in the first place. What could that outsider prove, with respect to his qualifications for the full-time job, in such a situation? Not much, if anything.

Choosing Sarachan for the Portugal friendly is just about the least consequential newsworthy decision the federation has made or will make in the weeks and months following the debacle in Trinidad. There will surely be plenty that deserve legitimate criticism. This is not one of them.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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