U.S. assistant coach Josh Wolff named first manager of MLS expansion side Austin FC

20 August 2016: Columbus Crew assistant coach Josh Wolff during the national anthem. The Columbus Crew SC defeated the New England Revolution 2-0 in a regular season MLS match at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. (Photograph by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Longtime MLS and U.S. assistant coach Josh Wolff was named Tuesday as the first manager of Austin FC, the expansion team that will enter the league in 2021. (Fred Kfoury III/Getty)

United States men’s national team assistant Josh Wolff was named Tuesday as the first head coach in the history of Austin FC, the MLS expansion team that will enter the league in 2021.

A standout MLS player who represented the U.S. at two World Cups, Wolff, 42, has no previous head coaching experience. But after paying his dues as an apprentice for most of the last decade, first as a player/coach for Ben Olsen at D.C. United and then as Gregg Berhalter’s No. 2 with both Columbus and the national team, the Georgia native believes he’s ready to run his own shop.

“There’s a lot that’s gone into my preparation — 20 years in MLS, the last six or seven years coaching,” Wolff said in a phone interview shortly after being introduced at a gala unveiling in the Texas capital. “All of those experiences are what have prepared me for today.”

Wolff has plenty to draw from. He played for legendary MLS coaches Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena and Peter Vermes during his playing career. Bradley’s first stint as a professional head coach came with the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998, so Wolff has been part of a successful startup under a first-year manager. (Chicago won MLS Cup in its debut campaign.) Wolff was a rookie on that team, which also featured current New York Red Bulls boss Chris Armas and Jesse March, who is about to begin his first season at the helm of Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg.

“I take a little bit from all of them.” Wolff said. “What all of these people have is exceptional leadership and their ability to build an organization and culture and cultivate players.”

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Austin owner Anthony Precourt knew Wolff well from their time together with the Crew and agreed he deserved a shot. Before and during Tuesday’s press conference, Precourt referred to Wolff as a “rising star in the coaching ranks of our league,” and said he hired him 18 months before Austin’s maiden season kicks off because other suitors were circling.

Sources told Yahoo Sports last year that Wolff interviewed for the FC Dallas job that eventually went to Luchi Gonzalez. Colorado was interested in Wolff this spring, by which time talks with Austin were already well underway. FC Cincinnati is still without a full-time coach, as are fellow incoming expansion sides Inter Miami and Nashville SC.

With time on his side, Wolff will remain with the USMNT until the end of the year. That job will remain his top priority, although there’s natural overlap that might not hurt when it comes to identifying potential recruits.

“It will give me great opportunities to continue assess players in and around our region,” Wolff said of his final few months at the international level. “Along the way I’ll have some time to explore things from an Austin FC standpoint.”

It’s not just players he needs. One of the early aims will be to settle on a backroom staff able to help him — and the club — hit the ground running.

“Obviously we have a lot of work to do here in Austin,” he said. “Getting the right people in place will be a big part of that.”

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