Sunday, September 3, 2006
While national teams in Europe have taken only a small respite from soccer, it seems that the US is taking its sweet time to recollect and move past the bad memories of Germany.
Here at Yanks Abroad, we are already clamoring for hints of what the national team will look like as you can see in our 23 Tickets to South Africa predictions, but it seems that Sunil Gulati has a different, painfully patient modus operandi.
For all the questioning of the direction of the USMNT right after World Cup 2006, it seems that the powers that be are dragging their feet.
Within minutes of the final Gelsenkirchen whistle, pundits were asking whether Bruce Arena would stay or go. Who would be the best candidate to replace him? What kind of coach is Gulati looking for as a replacement? What happened to Project 2010?
Now I know that all the US has to prepare for immediately is the Gold Cup - not exactly the all important or immediate tournament when compared to what our European counterparts have to look forward to - but I will ask again: what did happen to project 2010?
This week Brazil is on a short tour of north London, playing friendlies against Argentina and Wales, mixing some of the stars with fresh blood that deserves a look and not wasting any time moving past their failure in Germany.
They are led by one of their former World Cup stars, Dunga, who was given his position to lead the Samba Boys not long after the former coach Carlos Alberto Parreira resigned, giving both new manager and players a chance to work out kinks well in advance of any future tournaments.
Meanwhile, US Soccer seems to be stagnating at a moment when signs of forward progress are needed most. To go three months without a figurehead to look to for organizing the national team seems like an eternity in soccer.
While I know MLS is in full swing at the moment, it is important that during a week like this one with two open dates for international friendlies for the US team to get together and begin to work out kinks in the system.
It is also time to begin to incorporate some of the younger players abroad like Michael Bradley, Jemal Johnson or Lee Nguyen. Get them into the system so that they can get some minutes on the full international level.
Just an idea of what kind of direction the national team is planning on taking in the post-Arena era would be good to see. Will we adopt more adventurous formations like the 4-3-3 that YA's Greg Seltzer wants to see, or even play with two actual strikers as I prayed for every night during this past summer?
The US does not even have to play a top level team, just some warm bodies that can be used to simulate what a bigger game might feel like. It would give whoever the new coach is a chance to see what he has to work with.
The crux of the problem is, of course, the fact that we lack a coach on the books, which essentially prohibits the USMNT from putting a team on the field.
It could be argued that not having this problem solved has affected other Americans trying to make the jump across the pond.
Hypothetically speaking, Josh Wolff would have stood a better chance with the UK's Home Office in his work permit hearing if he had been able to earn a cap during the first friendly window in mid-August.
Perhaps Oguchi Onyewu would have shaken off some doubts that English clubs have had if he was given another game with a wider audience to prove himself.
These scenarios are purely fanciful, but that does not eliminate the primary problem, that over two months down the line the US should have already found a new manager.
We are not England, so I don't expect to have one lined up before the old one is out. As I said before, we don't have any pressing tournaments to play in this fall, but a potential three month replacement time (or more!) is a bit much.
I know Gulati likes socializing with the international soccer elite and has the network of contacts to get US Soccer a big name coach with the credentials to continue Project 2010, but what is it going to take to get that search done?
Unfortunately, it is not as easy to unseat Gulati for the sake of progress as it was to unseat Arena, but if project 2010 or 2014 or 2018, for that matter, is going to happen, US Soccer needs strong leadership to make strong decisions now.
They don't need to be sitting on their hands though unduly extended interview processes or waiting for a figure like Guus Hiddink to finish his responsibilities elsewhere.