Analysis / US Soccer / USMNT

US Soccer’s new sporting director and the USMNT head coaching search

Photo: Sasha Wagner

The US Soccer Federation officially announced the hiring of Matt Crocker as sporting director on Tuesday. Crocker is leaving his current role as sporting director at Southampton, where he oversaw both the men’s and women’s teams, and spent seven seasons as an academy coach.

The new hire also has experience at the international level with England’s Football Association, overseeing the U15 through U20 youth national teams.

At face value, this hire is an overall win for US Soccer. Crocker’s experience at a Premier League club as both a sporting director and academy coach should bode well for the men’s and women’s programs and talent pipeline. Though currently in a relegation fight, Southampton has garnered a reputation for its development of young talent. The Southampton women’s side has earned promotion in each of their last two seasons after re-forming a team in 2017.

The hire is a distinct departure from the recycled “Old Boy’s Club” that has been a hiring trend within the USSF. Though the jury will be out until the decision, and subsequent performance, of the new USMNT coach is in.

It is unclear if the role of US Men’s National Team General Manager will be filled or if Crocker will assume those duties, as Brian McBride left the job in January.

A fork in the road

There is no lack of debate on which direction is the “correct” direction to go for US Soccer. It is especially important that the USSF finds the right person for the job, considering the next World Cup will be played on US soil.

As far as tactical adeptness and man management are concerned, there truly are a variety of options in the marketplace. Let’s dive into some options:

Running it back

Gregg Berhalter: The most recent USMNT coach whose side advanced to the knockout round of the 2022 World Cup, where they got worked by a Netherlands side in a chess match. Crocker made it a point in his initial press conference on Tuesday to complement Berhalter on his work and not rule out him as an option. Though, without diving into the Reyna-Berhalter saga at the World Cup, is more of the same actually a step forward?

We know what Berhalter likes tactically — a positional 4-3-3, a high press, and loads of possession. Which is great against inferior Concacaf competition but was not exactly successful against superior international footballing nations. Running Berhalter back at coach certainly wouldn’t be short on storylines for the media to latch onto.

Anthony Hudson: The interim USMNT coach has a limited sample size of games under his belt. The former Berhalter assistant’s record is 2-1-0 while at the helm. His two victories have come against Grenada and El Salvador in the Concacaf Nations League. More recently, Hudson oversaw a 1-1 draw against Mexico in a friendly, where he called in a group made up of mostly MLS players.

Hudson’s on-field tactics seem a little less concerned with dominating possession, and definitely less positional than Gregg Berhalter. Hudson notably switched up the 4-3-3 formation used so often under Berhalter. He’s chosen to go with a 4-2-3-1 and even more notably, has started Gio Reyna as a roaming 10.

Inside the box

Jesse Marsch: The former Leeds manager and manager of the great Red Bull trio (New York, Salzburg, and Leipzig) has achieved success to varying levels in his previous stops. Most recently, his 12-month stint at Leeds involved dramatically saving the team from relegation in 2022, to struggling to keep them out of a relegation battle before his firing in February of this year. Marsch’s time at Leeds saw him manage some of the core talent in this national team pool, including Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams. More recently, Marsch was almost hired, ironically, by Matt Crocker at Southampton in an attempt to help the men’s side stave off relegation. The deal fell through before anything came to fruition. Could there be a connection there to be rekindled?

Tactically, Marsch is partial to the press. He has mostly used the 4-2-2-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations. His aggressive defensive style could be a nice shake-up for the player pool. However, there is still a question mark on whether a pressing style translates well to the international game.

Jim Curtin: Not much to say here that we don’t already know. We’ve seen first-hand how much respect Curtin’s players have for him. Curtin is someone that will not stand in the way of his players and that type of management may benefit this player pool.

Similar to Marsch, Curtin has worked with a lot of the players in the current player pool, as well as future pools. Fundamentally, his pressing and defensive-first tactics are not much different from Marsch’s. Curtin seems to like the more direct route, as we have seen with the narrow 4-4-2 diamond. Strong outside backs like Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest would thrive in this system. But much of the top-end talent in the player pool are wingers who thrive in more advanced roles, which Curtin would surely welcome and adjust to.

Pat Noonan: Once Noonan left for Cincinnati, it was clear his departure had an impact on Curtin and the Union. Noonan has his Cincinnati side playing well since taking over, finishing fifth in the east last season and currently second in the east in 2023.

Noonan has deployed three in the back throughout most of his time at Cincy, which could be interesting with the depth at the center-back position in the pool. Familiar names like Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty may get more of an opportunity in such a system. Like Curtin’s system, the outside backs would have the opportunity to display their attacking abilities as wing-backs. But also like Curtin, Noonan would need to change things up to support the minutes of the elite potential the USMNT has at wing.

Peter Vermes: The Sporting KC manager has seen success within MLS, though his club is currently the front-runner for the wooden spoon. He was originally hired as technical director for KC in 2006, promoted to interim manager in 2009, and hired full-time to be the manager and sporting director in dual roles the following season. He is currently the longest-tenured MLS coach and the only person to win the MLS Cup as a player and coach of the same team.

Vermes loves the 4-3-3 and tactically isn’t far off from Berhalter in his love affair with possession. His Sporting KC team has had its fair share of beautiful attacking football throughout his tenure.

A little more farfetched

Pep Guardiola: If Manchester City end up harshly penalized with a points deduction, transfer ban, or even relegation, for their financial fair play breach, will Guardiola want to stay with the club? That is a question that many are asking. And would the USMNT be a good fit should he want to move on to… less green pastures?

A fellow 4-3-3’er, Guardiola has coached some of the top talents to ever lace up boots. His Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City squads are some of the best compilations of skill, talent and elegance that have played the game. A role like the USMNT would be a step in a different direction for Guardiola, but it is definitely a move that would elevate this country’s chances in competition immediately. It could even have ripple effects throughout the States as the interest in the sport could be grown.

In summation, this list is by no means comprehensive. It is merely a small sample of the names that have been mentioned or that could succeed as head coaches with this player pool. Maybe we could even see several of these names working together at the USMNT in some fashion.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    In the dim of a corner bar there sits a round table encircled by high backed old peeling and crusty leather seat… the springs are broken in the cushion… around this table is a cloud of smoke, the dingy air of well vodka soaked towels mal-ligering… it’s an acrid smell.. the heads of state around this table all agree in private….
    This hire is about swinging one player~
    ~ Folarin Balogun.
    A transcendent type talent who would immediately solve the USMNT striker problems for three world cup cycles.
    He’s that good. And he is on the fence….

    • Exactly…. and if anyone thinks this hire changes anything, just look at Earnie.

      We, more than anyone, knew why he took the Union GM role, and we gratefully accepted his loyalty to Curtin, Albright, the fans, etc… so Earnie could move on to his heritage job… everything in his career pointing to this role of influencing US Soccer for years to come.

      But like many, he got steamrolled… Earnie got ‘Reyna’d’… and smartly realized he nor anyone could do anything with the ingrained, abusive nature of the organization at its core.

      FIFA was dirty to it’s core, but US Soccer is dysfunctional to it’s core.

      The affects of all the drama can be seen, even on the field… and no matter who is the head coach, nothing will change.

      It simply can’t unless resignations at the highest levels (Board and Upper Management) happen soon… so we won’t be embarrassing when we host the World Cup in 2026.


      BTW… Last night’s CONCACAF game was one hell’uva game. Just sweet to watch, despite the rain!

    • I’m not sure an American manager fits this job description. To be honest, none of the candidates above seem up to the task of getting us further along in the knockout rounds. I mean Pep, but that’s not a serious possibility. Would Ancelotti do it? Or would he get as frustrated by our MNT as he did with his Everton squad? He’d be my dream hire.

      • santo bevacqua says:

        Is Ted Lazzo available? i would want a staunch american to lead the usmnt, and show the globe that we are footballers and can compete.

  2. John P. O'Donnell says:

    I can’t understand how Don Garber has let this happen? Hopefully this was just a compromise to get Bruce Arena back before 2026 to lead this team where they have to go.

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